Director of Sustainable Manufacturing, Irish Manufacturing Research and Circuléire
The innovation of the manufacturing sector has helped it overcome many challenges over the years. However, now with the climate change agenda at the forefront, the sector’s sustainability efforts are paramount to business prosperity.
Traditionally, manufacturing refers to an industrial production process through which raw materials are transformed into finished products to be sold in the market. These days manufacturing is considered to be an integrated concept at all levels from machines and production systems to an entire business level operation.
Progress impacted by COVID-19
Accounting for 22% of direct industrial emissions in Ireland, manufacturing is an energy-intensive industry that has been striving for decades to improve energy productivity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. From 2005 to 2018, emissions from manufacturing decreased by 2,400 kilo metric tons of carbon dioxide (SEAI).
Arguably in the most critical period of transformation for Ireland to achieve a net zero carbon economy by 2050, the pandemic has proved an untimely and catastrophic event. In a time when the manufacturing sector was looking to embrace the next wave of innovation to cut carbon emissions, finances and attention had to be diverted to negotiating the impact of the pandemic and business survival.
Sustainability needs to be a top priority not only for tackling the climate crisis but for business continuity.
The holistic approach
As the sector recovers from the pandemic, returning to business as usual is not an option. Sustainability needs to be a top priority not only for tackling the climate crisis but for business continuity.
With this in mind, implementing sustainable manufacturing practices in any future business plans needs to be a strategic imperative as it meets the requirement of the triple bottom line of economic, environmental and societal factors.
Sustainable manufacturing at its core looks to produce and supply goods that minimise the use of resource inputs and remove unnecessary process outputs, including waste, hazardous materials and CO2 emissions over the product lifecycle.
This requires a system thinking approach at multiple levels of the business not only improving manufacturing efficiency through transformative advances in technologies enabling flexibility, agility and reduced environmental impact. It also considers the holistic product development pathway and the potential new business opportunities that exist over the product lifecycle.