The vulnerability of our ecosystems has never been more acute. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change, has demonstrated the need for “immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors” if global warming is to be limited to 1.5° C. Accordingly, the organisation has called for economies to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, yet also cited that there are options to at least halve emissions by 2030.
Industry is accountable for approximately a quarter of global emissions and is, therefore, a critical player in achieving a sustainable future. However, as the IPCC acknowledges, “achieving net zero will be challenging”. It will require new production processes, reconfigured manufacturing lifecycles, and collaboration with stakeholders at every stage of the supply chain.
Achieving change at this scale is not possible at pace, nor is it possible by treating sustainability as just another business initiative. The road to net zero has to be considered a strategic driver and fundamental to any organisation’s future. However, the good news is that, with the right approach and roadmap, making substantive progress can start today, as Adem Kulauzovic, Director of Automation, Domino Printing Sciences, outlines.
The time to act is now
As the IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair, Jim Skea, recently commented: “Climate change is the result of more than a century of unsustainable energy and land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production.” Yet, scientists also cited increasing evidence of climate action and its early effectiveness. IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee stated: “If these [policies, regulations and market instruments] are scaled up and applied more widely and equitably, they can support deep emissions reductions and stimulate innovation.”
Within these statements are three key points:
- Unsustainable practices will take time to reverse and cannot be changed overnight;
- Even seemingly small sustainability actions can have a positive impact – and lay a foundation for continuous improvement;
- Taking early action can drive innovation and competitive advantage.
So why are these relevant for industry – and manufacturing organisations in particular?
Experience in facilitating any significant change, whether due to new legislation or out of a need to achieve better operational efficiency, has shown three key components to success: physical capabilities (e.g. technology), funding, and people/culture. A common mistake many organisations make is to wait and try to drive change too quickly, which frequently leads to poor planning and execution, a lack of ROI to support senior-level buy-in and further funding, and cultural resistance.
By taking action on sustainability now, however, these commonplace hurdles can be readily addressed in bite-size chunks while gaining a competitive advantage. Indeed, research indicates that consumers (Gen Z in particular) are willing to pay more and demonstrate increased loyalty to brands that are seen as more sustainable – a win-win scenario for all stakeholders.
So, what might a successful roadmap to net zero comprise?
The IPCC evidence makes clear that many factors impact an organisation’s execution of a net zero target and that these will impact organisations at different times and in various measures, as supported by research from McKinsey.
However, there are some universal considerations that manufacturers need to make on their journey to net zero, including product concept and design, production line efficiency, workforce requirements, and data needs. Let’s explore each of these in turn.
As highlighted, consumer preferences are changing as awareness increases of the need for more sustainable and greener products, and they are voting with their wallets. Manufacturers may want to consider the opportunity to incorporate new, sustainable, ethical, and alternative (e.g., plant-based) raw materials in product design and production. They may also want to look at improving a product’s energy efficiency to reduce cost and waste during production and/or highlight how their product forms part of the circular economy by making it easier to repair, reuse, or recycle.
Any changes to product design need to be considered with respect to the potential knock-on effects they might have on production lines – from product handling and packaging design, to the way in which key new information is conveyed through coding and marking. Companies therefore need to assess that the changes being introduced are not going to add to production inefficiency.