Achieving sustainability in the manufacturing industry – the role of standards
25 August 2010
With increasing pressure on businesses to achieve more with less, it’s a constant battle for many to look at ways of ensuring that they can both deliver on the bottom line and ride out the hard times. The manufacturing sector is no exception and is already wise to the fact that making efficiencies in costs and resources is what it needs to do to survive. However, cutting costs is only one element in securing long term survival and being a truly sustainable organisation.
The definition of sustainability differs across industry sector and from person to person. However, the fundamental requirement that resonates across all businesses regardless of specialism is, to be truly sustainable an organisation must ensure that all practices, services and products promote environmental and social responsibility as well as being economically sound. A truly sustainable operation should expect to have a positive impact on more than simply its bottom line: it should also look at how its operations can benefit its employees, the local community and society as a whole whilst at the same time protecting the environment.
To illustrate this, although the reduction of energy consumption and the subsequent reduction in energy bills is a compelling business case for most manufacturing businesses, this goes hand in hand with environmental credibility. Customers, employees and stakeholders are increasingly demanding transparent business practices regarding workplace standards and the wider impact the business has on society, climate change and the environment. Increasingly they want hard evidence of changing practices that demonstrate real sustainability credentials. As the pressure on businesses to become sustainable evolves, the likelihood of companies simply ‘taking your word for it’ is diminishing rapidly.
Although it’s true that sustainability represents a real opportunity for manufacturing organisations, it does require real commitment. It involves improvements in many areas including health and safety, energy footprint and waste disposal. To do this, manufacturers may be required to upgrade or replace old equipment with new technologies that may mean a high level of investment in order to improve efficiency and this could be a barrier to improvement. Despite these initial difficulties, those manufacturing companies that are experiencing real success in the move towards sustainability, are, as a result, enjoying significant business benefits. The question is how are they doing it?
To be truly sustainable, businesses need to be addressing the following:
· Improve resource efficiency (including electricity, fuel, gas, water and materials)
· Reduce operating costs (including energy bills, waste disposal costs, supply chain)
· Improve quality of goods and services
· Improve regulatory compliance
· Reduce costly environmental and health and safety accidents and incidents
· Minimise risk of legislative breaches and associated fines and prosecutions
· Protect and enhance company reputation and brand image
· Retain good staff to keep recruitment and training costs down
· Increase productivity and profitability
One way to make progress with the above, with little or no investment, is to employ management system standards. Management system standards, such as ISO 9001 for quality management and ISO 14001 for environmental management, provide a best practice framework for managing various elements of business operations.
Standards provide a structured and systematic framework that enables the identification of operational issues and put controls in place to manage and monitor organisational concerns. The benefits aren’t just internal they are external too. Organisations that can demonstrate the implementation of best practice standards not only give assurance to management that effective and efficient processes are in place and are being adhered to, they also provide independent, confidence enhancing evidence to stakeholders such as shareholders and customers. This helps to attract and retain investors and put the organisation in an even better position towards sustainability and continual improvement to win new business for the future.
An example of a manufacturing organisation that has seen significant benefits from bringing in management standards to promote sustainability is Johnson Matthey, a worldwide precious metals and advanced materials company. The company implemented ISO 14001 for the management of their environmental systems. Since achieving independent certification to this standard, the company has witnessed many major benefits, including a 33 per cent reduction in the proportion of new precious metal in every kilogram of precious metal shipped as product, 50 per cent reduction in water consumption and 85 per cent reduction in the number of bin liners placed and buried as landfill daily. Dr Mark Doyle, operations director for the Noble Metals business unit of Johnson Matthey noted that ‘environmental targets are sometimes regarded as an afterthought to other business concerns, but the notion of sustainability allowed Noble Metals to bring together environmental and business metrics and highlight the clear link between environment and business performance’.
For further information on how Johnson Matthey and other organisations have improved their sustainability from using management system standards, please visit BSI’s website at www.bsigroup.co.ukmanufacturing