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Manufacturers cannot afford to ignore climate change

01 October, 2023

The Government may have watered down its measures for achieving net-zero, but climate change remains a pressing issue which is having a variety of effects on manufacturers. Nikesh Mistry*, Gambica’s sector head for automation, examines some of them and argues that focusing on sustainability can deliver benefits.

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing the world today, and last month our Prime Minister set out his “more realistic” approach to tackling the issue. He set out both long- and short-term frameworks which the UK will aim to adhere to. Climate change is already having a significant impact on our daily socioeconomic norms, but what does it mean for manufacturing in the UK, and is this impact is likely to grow in the future?

One of the most direct, but not thought about, ways in which climate change is affecting manufacturing is through extreme weather events. These can disrupt manufacturing operations, damage infrastructure, and lead to shortages of raw materials. The effects of climate change are usually in the form of knock-on costs, and not usually immediately visible, but the UK has, over the years, been hit by a series of floods, which can cause widespread damage to factories and warehouses. This, in turn, leads to supply chain disruptions and production delays for manufacturers.

One of the main ways that climate change is affecting Gambica members is through its impact on resource availability. For example, water scarcity is a growing problem in the UK, and could have a significant impact on water-intensive industries such as food and beverage processing. Additionally, rising sea levels could threaten manufacturing facilities located in coastal areas. These issues are often overlooked in the government’s plans. 

Government policy and consumer behaviour also have an indirect impact on manufacturing. Not only are the net-zero targets becoming more stringent – as mentioned by the Prime Minister – but consumers are also becoming increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of the products that they buy. Whether climate activists, social media or “trending” false information are responsible, these pressures can result in a growing demand for sustainable products, which puts pressure on manufacturers to reduce their environmental footprints.

Another positive for manufacturers is the increased demand for industrial automation technologies that can help to improve their energy efficiency and cut their waste. This could be one of the most direct ways to tackle the issue, because manufacturers can discover possible returns on investment through reducing their waste and energy use. Secondly, the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is likely to lead to a growing demand for industrial automation systems that can help manufacturers to make their operations more resilient to these events.

This is similar to way that it became essential for manufacturers to be more resilient during the Covid pandemic, leading to remote machine maintenance and hybrid working setups. Furthermore, the growing demand for sustainable products is likely to lead to increased demand which, in turn, will help manufacturers to produce their products in a more sustainable way.

Through improved knowledge, and better training and upskilling, our industry is learning that consumer habits, manufacturing protocols and worldwide connectivity can all be influenced by improving environmental footprints and working towards net-zero. Yes, there are pressures which are forcing these changes to happen before we may be ready, but if we don’t start now, the issue may delayed continually. If manufacturers and end-users are actively taking steps to learn how these changes will improve their efficiencies and profitability, then inevitably the pressures will reduce as the problems are addressed.

It may not be easy, and there is evidence that climate change is getting worse, but, as an industry, we know, that after the pandemic, as devastating as it was, the fightback by UK manufacturers was second to none. If despite suffering such a shock, the automation industry was able to bounce back even stronger so rapidly, then we can certainly work towards hitting the net-zero target. 

 

* Gambica is the trade association for the automation, control, instrumentation and laboratory technology sectors in the UK. You can get in touch with Nikesh Mistry on 020 7642 8094 or nikesh.mistry@gambica.org.uk, or via the Gambica Web site: www.gambica.org.uk 




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