News: UK - Making more of our materials
"The key challenge is ultimately moving from a linear, 'make-use-dispose' process, to a circular process with greater reuse and remanufacturing"
Monday, 14th March 2011
Manufacturing will play a vital role in a more sustainable future, so producers and retailers are rethinking how things are made, distributed and sold. Nowadays, more and more goods are designed to produce the lowest possible emissions when the "on" switch is pressed. But for truly sustainable gadgets and products, every aspect of how items are created, sold and recycled needs examination. In November 2010, Marks & Spencer switched from road to rail distribution for 300,000 of its clothing and home products, cutting out some 750,000 road miles and more than 800 tonnes of CO2 a year. A month previously, the firm began to use polyester from recycled plastic drinks bottles, to make more than 300m clothing care labels annually, alongside a venture rewarding customers to donate clothing to Oxfam stores, aiming to recycle 20m socks or shirts a year by 2015. Such moves are more and more commonplace, as understanding grows surrounding how and why manufacturing is changing. "We try and look at things in a holistic way," says Peter Ball, course director, MSc sustainable manufacturing at Cranfield University. "Rather than optimising a single stage, like design, it's better to look at the whole lifecycle. It's better to make something that lasts longer, even if that takes a little more electricity in the factory, or costs a bit more in the shops." Part of this work involves balancing sustainability with the need of profit-based economies to sell ever more products. "From a consumer perspective it would be great to have items that last ages, but businesses want to be able to sell more stuff and more often," says Iain Peacock, environmental business services programme co-ordinator at Groundwork Manchester, who advises firms on greening up their production. "The key challenge is ultimately moving from a linear, 'make-use-dispose' process, to a circular process with greater reuse and remanufacturing, and lower impacts, while still being able to generate enough revenue to sustain themselves in business," he argues. "Sustainable manufacturing has such wide benefits, from less materials usage to more innovative products," says Beth Winkley, head of WRAP Cymru, which advises the UK government on resource efficiency. She works on REMake, a European-funded project helping 30 small- and medium-sized manufacturing businesses in Wales green up. The project offers £17,000 of funding to each business. Tomorrow's manufacturing will inevitably be driven by cost, as oil- related production becomes more expensive, whether through fossil powered energy in the factory, or oil-based plastics being used on the factory floor. More and more firms will see sustainable practices as making real business sense.