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Claire Petricca-Riding

Head of Planning, Environment and Manufacturing, Irwin Mitchell

With manufacturers under pressure from all sides, this might not seem like the best time to join the green revolution. Yet doing so can benefit the planet — and their balance sheets.

From cars to clothing and food to pharmaceuticals, manufacturing is an industry that makes the world turn. However, like many other sectors, it’s now having to deal with the aftershocks of the pandemic, increased energy costs, staff shortages and supply chain issues, among other problems.  

Long-term investment in sustainability 

With so many pressures to cope with, this might not seem like the best time for manufacturers to jump on board the green revolution and start the journey to net zero. Yet, it’s imperative they do so, insists Claire Petricca-Riding, Head of Manufacturing at legal and financial advice firm, Irwin Mitchell.  

The most obviously pressing reason for this is, of course, the climate emergency. All organisations in all industries must act more sustainably and responsibly if the impacts of the changing climate are to be mitigated. 

Going green isn’t just good for the planet. Done properly, it can also be good for a company’s bottom line. “Take switching to renewable energy,” says Petricca-Riding. “If a manufacturer has a large solar array on their roof, they’ll undoubtedly be in a better position than their competitors who don’t — purely based on today’s energy costs. Five years ago, installing solar panels seemed like a very long-term investment. Now, it’s seen as business-critical.” 

Any firm that hasn’t set out on the road to net zero is going to have to play catch-up quickly.

Feeling the sustainable heat from consumers  

Pressure is also coming from consumers, who increasingly want to know that manufacturers can demonstrate serious sustainable credentials. Plus, there’s a growing need for businesses to prove they have proper climate action policies in place when competing for tenders — so this issue isn’t going away any time soon.  

As the 2021 Environment Act (which set binding environmental targets) starts to bite, scrutiny in this area will only increase. “The legislative framework will start to affect all manufacturers at some point,” says Petricca-Riding. “Any firm that hasn’t set out on the road to net zero is going to have to play catch-up quickly.” 

Naturally, how you approach this challenge depends on what type of manufacturer you are; but, whatever you produce, consider sustainability in the short, medium and long terms. “First, find out what legislative framework you fall under — manufacturers creating large emissions may require environmental permits, for instance — and then tailor your sustainability agenda to your operations,” she says.  

“From a short-term perspective, there may be things you can do immediately to reduce your emissions, such as switching to renewable energy. In the medium term, study your operation as a whole to find out if there is anything in your supply chain that can be sourced in a more sustainable way. Can you reduce your plastic intake or your reliance on raw materials? Or, if you have your own vehicles, can they be fuelled more sustainably? Long term, look at your net zero goals and ask if they are achievable. If you think you won’t meet them, find out why.” 

Advanced manufacturing benefits and adapting skills 

It’s also vital to work smarter, not harder, which may involve deploying advanced manufacturing technology. “That might feel scary when you look at your balance sheet,” admits Petricca-Riding. “But if machinery is coming to the end of its life, it could pay to replace it with something smarter, greener and more efficient.” 

Sparking a green revolution in the manufacturing sector is also an opportunity to accelerate levelling up. “If firms in once-intensive manufacturing locations can adapt their skillsets, they may be able to make products — such as heat pumps or wind turbines — that help address the climate crisis while creating the jobs of the future,” she adds. “There are so many reasons why manufacturers need to be supported and encouraged on their sustainability journey.” 

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