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07 June, 2019

Despite the Brexit-induced state of limbo, it seems that UK manufacturers are still managing to work on other issues. For example, a new survey by Make UK (the successor to EEF) shows that many UK manufacturers are making considerable efforts to improve their sustainability. Half of those surveyed say that they are making headway with sustainability programmes, with 71% of those who have implemented environmentally friendly processes reporting a reduction in their costs.

Energy saving is the most common first step for businesses to take because the cost benefits are easily quantifiable. Replacing outdated equipment is delivering energy cost savings to many of the companies surveyed. Unfortunately, the report does not give any details of the types of equipment that they are installing but, hopefully, variable-speed drives and high-efficiency motors are high on the list.

However, the report does say that nearly a fifth of companies surveyed are going further with “imaginative” energy efficiency projects, such as demand-side management – essentially turning off some equipment at times of peak electricity demand. Using batteries to store excess energy, as well as generating heat and power onsite from their own renewable sources are widely reported by the manufacturers in the survey.

Pressure from supply chain partners can be a major driver for businesses to implement “green” policies. A quarter of the companies that Make UK spoke to said that they were taking actions to comply with customer demands. Almost two thirds had achieved, or were working towards, compliance with standards such as ISO 4001.

Inevitably, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union is affecting sustainability policies and actions. Until now, much of the UK’s environmental policy has been driven and overseen by the EU. A new framework is now being developed for long-term management of the environment in England, with separate initiatives for Scotland and Wales.

Almost 80% of the Make UK member companies in the survey reported that reducing costs was the main driver for them investing in sustainability – more than 20% ahead of the next-biggest reason, improving the company’s image and ethos. Less than half report that their main motivation is to replace outdated and inefficient equipment.

The biggest barrier to implementing more far-reaching sustainability policies is insufficient return on investment. Even for those improvements that clearly save money – particularly improvements in energy efficiency and raw materials – the rate at which the investments pay for themselves can be an issue. Most companies won’t invest in projects with paybacks of more than two years, and a third see a lack of government support as being a barrier to further investment in this area.

There is no doubt that environmental issues have climbed up the agenda in recent years with hugely improved awareness, for example, of the risks of unfettered use and disposal of plastic materials. It seems that many UK manufacturers are doing their bit to improve sustainability and to reduce their environmental impacts. But, as always in these issues, there is much more that could be done.

Tony Sacks, Editor

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