Sustainable manufacturing: unlocking the future

By Mark Jolly

- Last updated on GMT

Sustainable manufacturing has much to offer food and drink manufacturers
Sustainable manufacturing has much to offer food and drink manufacturers

Related tags: Manufacturing

Sustainable manufacturing is the process of creating products through economically-sound processes that minimise the negative environmental impacts, while also conserving energy and natural resources. It carries significant promise for food and drink manufacturers.

Much progress has been made in this area, with businesses around the world working to better utilise materials, make more efficient use of resources such as energy and water, and reduce waste. But more can be done. Manufacturers also have the opportunity to positively contribute to their local communities and society at large.

At Cranfield University we aim to generate and transform knowledge, translating it for the benefit of society, government and commerce. This is a vision we share with Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE), and it provided the motivation to embark on a joint research partnership with them to explore the future of sustainable manufacturing in the food and drink industry – looking ahead to 2050.

The project, launched at an initial roundtable event with industry and academic peers, has seen us undertake several stages. Our preliminary report, released in June 2015, was based on the discussions of that roundtable and identified six major themes for more detailed analysis.

Six major themes

Those themes – which we believe must be addressed in the coming years to achieve fundamental, industry-wide change – were: People, Big Data, Technology, Collaboration, Value and Resilience.

The core topics also formed the starting point for our next phase of research, where we delved deeper into the future of sustainable manufacturing. This culminated in our recently released final white paper: ‘The journey to 2050​: Research on the vision and pathways for sustainability in the food and drink industry in Great Britain’.

Lean and green webinar

Sustainable manufacturing was the subject of Food Manufacture’s recent free, one-hour webinar – Lean and green manufacturing: realising world class potential​.

The document shared a vision and roadmap towards sustainable manufacturing for the future, presenting the challenges and opportunities the industry needs to address to achieve rapid change.

We unearthed five pathways, with specific actions that businesses great and small can apply. We believe these will truly impact not only their own organisations, but also their employees, their consumers, their customers and the wider society in which they operate.

These pathways were:

  1. Anticipating the future – sharing more information with customers
  2. Providing nutrition – offering new services that deliver on a broader value
  3. Sharing the benefits – engaging with society in product creation
  4. Inspiring the next generation – integrating with educational organisations
  5. Joining forces – becoming agents of change.

What should manufacturers do?

But why are the findings significant, and what should manufacturers do?

The manufacturing industry in Great Britain has been through many eras of transformation. In the face of major challenges to the price and availability of resources, it is currently undergoing another period of change.

Manufacturing has brought about massive benefits to society through the provision of products that make our lives easier, more enjoyable and enhance our wellbeing. For the food and drink industry to continue to serve the needs of society and to match the expectations of customers it will have to demonstrate a commitment to change. To enhance the sustainability of operations, organisations must work boldly together on the pathways we have identified through our research.

We should celebrate the fact that Great British manufacturing is extremely progressive in terms of technical advancements, product innovation and its ability to react to customer demand. However, leadership will be key in accelerating progress towards a truly sustainable future whilst facing a new set of business challenges.

Collaboration and leadership by both individuals and organisations featured strongly as core themes throughout our research and it is my personal belief that actions taken by forward-thinking businesses, such as Coca-Cola Enterprises, will be crucial in leading the industry on the journey to a sustainable future.

  • Mark Jolly is Professor of sustainable manufacturing and head of the Sustainable Manufacturing Systems Centre at Cranfield University

Lean and green webinar: still time to listen

There’s still time to listen to Food Manufacture’s free, one-hour webinar on lean and green food and drink manufacturing. First broadcast at the end of last month, the webinar features contributions from: 

  • Louise Nicholls​, M&S, head of responsible sourcing and packaging and Plan A
  • Helen Sisson​, Greencore, group technical director 
  • Jeremy Praud​, partner at Lauras International and event sponsor
  • Simon Spanyol,​ FMCG improvement specialist

Reserve your free place at the webinar here​.

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