Manufacturers unsure if they can meet sustainability targets

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

More than half of manufacturers don't think they'll achieve their net zero goals. Image: Getty, Drs Producoes
More than half of manufacturers don't think they'll achieve their net zero goals. Image: Getty, Drs Producoes

Related tags Research Sustainability

Sustainability goals are a high priority for UK manufacturers, but more than half don’t know if they’ll achieve their net zero targets, according to new research.

Investigations by management consultancy Vendigital found that UK manufacturers’ progress in decarbonising products, processes and supply chains is ‘patchy at best’ and could cause UK industry to fall behind global competitors in the race to net zero.

While 70% of UK manufacturers surveyed said they had set ‘net zero by 2030’ targets, two thirds didn’t know if they will be achieved. Despite this, 63% said sustainability was a ‘high priority’.

Even though most manufacturers have mature sustainability strategies in place, the research suggested that their plans for delivery may be underdeveloped and under progressed.

Delivering sustainability

Alessandra Del Centina, managing consultant at Vendigital, said: “Manufacturers don’t know if their sustainability strategies are deliverable. In many cases, they have targets and plans in place, but they are unsure about whether they will be achieved.

“This lack of certainty could be rooted in a lack of reliable data – for example, only one in five (19%) respondents confirmed that their business is measuring GHG Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Some may not even realise that Scope 3 emissions must be tackled to achieve net zero.” 

The search for carbon reduction opportunities was highlighted as a primary concern amongst manufacturers, only 31% were actively looking for them. Alessandra pointed out that without clear information about the carbon cost of specific products or processes, it is impossible to identify and prioritise decarbonisation initiatives.

“For example, it’s usually possible to identify ‘quick wins’ where a relatively small change, such as a low-carbon product switch or a process efficiency measure designed to minimise machine downtime, can deliver a significant reduction in carbon emissions,”​ she continued.

Taking time to plan

“More complex initiatives that involve supply chain collaboration and project support can be planned in over a longer time frame.”

Major barriers standing in the way of any potential sustainability improvements are the same as any industry at the moment ­– rising costs, high interest rates, geopolitical uncertainty, increasing global competition and the risk of supply chain disruption the biggest distractions for decision makers.

When asked to rank barriers to achieving progress on the way to net zero, half of respondents (50%) identified that maintaining board-level engagement with sustainability issues was the biggest issue. Other key barriers included a lack of resources, skillsets, capital and data.

“Board engagement (in sustainability) is still an issue despite growing pressure from customers, stakeholders and regulatory bodies,”​ Alessandra concluded. “It could partly be a result of the misconception that decarbonisation strategies automatically bring extra cost.

The right investment

“While they often require investment in areas such as renewable energy systems, hiring people with the right skillsets and developing AI-led decision-making models, they can also deliver significant cost savings in the short, medium and long-term.

“Developing decarbonisation plans that leverage cost benefits upfront to help offset investment further down the line can help businesses to decarbonise and realise their sustainability goals.” 

Meanwhile, waste expert Lee Marshall, policy and external affairs director at CIWM, explains how anaerobic digestion works and the perks of deploying such as system within your manufacturing facility.

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