The green agenda, net zero, carbon neutral, sustainability; these words are being batted around the board rooms of manufacturers large and small across the UK. The goal is to reduce emissions that are damaging to our environment and improve operational efficiency, but how we achieve this is the big question.
We recently partnered with E.ON to deliver one of our Directors’ Forum virtual round tables on building a sustainable manufacturing business. E.ON are committed to helping their customers meet their sustainability goals, and Richard Spencer and Stuart Beasley from their Solutions team co-hosted the session.
The company has pledged to cut their own emissions by 75% by 2030 and 100% by 2040 compared to their 2019 levels. The scope of their ambitions is huge when you consider what they do as a business.
The discussion in this session was very varied and not just focused on energy and power consumption. Building a sustainable manufacturing business touches everything from protein to plastic, from conservation to carbon and everything in-between. No two journeys to net zero are the same, as companies face different obstacles in realising these ambitions. The main theme that resonated throughout the session as that we have to work together to find solutions.
The conversation has rightly changed over the past few decades. Saving energy is not just about turning the lights off when you leave a room, or fitting bulbs that are more energy efficient. It goes much deeper: just consider the carbon footprint of an international business trip. The emissions given off by the plane you travel on, the hotel you stay in, the food you eat on the trip. All these elements leave a lasting trail. It is essentially taking responsibility for our own impact on the world.
Manufacturing businesses have always had the goal to achieve mass customisation i.e., producing enough to fulfil the demand without waste. A lofty thought, yes, but it segues rightly into the consumer journey. It was mentioned in the discussion that any business not undertaking their sustainability journey now might not be in business in 10 years’ time, as attitudes of consumers rightly shift to environmentally ethical models and regulations evolve.
An interesting insight from one of the CPG attendees of this forum was around a product launch being halted due to the lack of sustainable suppliers for the raw materials; that product is shelved indefinitely.
To put it simply: you cannot put a price on the cost of carbon, you cannot just pledge to be more environmentally friendly, you must live it. Customers might be willing to pay more for a product that is sustainable. They are taking notice of what is on the packaging of products and making their choices based on its sustainability.
In a two-hour discussion we heard how individual organisations are making real progress in achieving their sustainability goals. There are plenty of sustainability champions working in the UK manufacturing sector, implementing solutions that are making a real difference to their businesses and the environment.
The one thing I will take away from this session are the four Ps: ‘people, planet, profits and pollution’. It takes people to protect the planet, the planet produces the materials we need to make profits and we can reinvest that profit to cut pollution to have healthier people, repeat.
We have a long journey ahead, but rest assured we are forging a path to a sustainable future. E.ON are committed to helping UK manufacturers build and maintain sustainable business models that reduce emissions.
E.ON recently conducted some research on renewables returns, surveying 2,000 of their customers across the UK, and this shift in attitude to sustainability was certainly reflected. It provided some fascinating insights into what motivations are behind net zero objectives. It emphasised the importance of all businesses ‘selling’ sustainability and being more aware of what goes into the products we use daily.
Some of the standout results from this survey included that 72% of people pay attention to whether a business they buy from acts in a climate and environmentally friendly way. 65% feel it is important the products or services they buy do not harm the environment. 51% think the environmental credentials of a product or service is just as important as that as the price, and 80% were more likely to continue buying from a business making a concerted effort to be sustainable.
By coming together as an industry and thinking more ethically about where we source our raw materials, how we reinvest in our planet and how we take our partners and suppliers on this journey with us, we will see real progress over the coming decades.
This ethos is becoming ingrained in businesses’ culture, both internally and externally. You cannot put a price on the cost of a better world, but you can create a vision of one and it is everyone’s responsibility to take UK manufacturers large and small on that journey with them.