Tell us whether you accept cookies

We use cookies to collect information about how you use Made Smarter. We use this information to make the website work as well as possible and improve our services.

Sustainability in manufacturing is a hot topic. And rightly so – many manufacturers produce large amounts of waste, much of which the supply chain creates. Rather worryingly, our supply chains make up 60% of carbon emissions in the UK.

The UK government’s initiative to reach net zero by 2050, as well as the legal obligations under the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, is now well known. However, there is much, much more that can be done to reduce emissions – and digital technologies have a crucial role to play.

Read on to learn the five best ways to promote sustainable practices within your supply chain.

What is a sustainable supply chain?

First, let’s clarify what we mean by a sustainable supply chain. It’s one where ethical and environmentally responsible practices are fully integrated. Central to this is end-to-end supply chain transparency; sustainability initiatives must extend from the sourcing of raw materials through to last-mile logistics, and even to product returns and recycling processes.

The supply chain must prioritise:

  • Environmental stewardship
  • Conservation of resources
  • Reduced carbon footprint
  • Financial savings and viability
  • Social responsibility
So, how do we encourage the development of these sustainable supply chains?
  • Collect and use data to improve visibility and supply chain performance

    This doesn’t need to be real-time data – even monthly data collection can provide helpful insights to analyse the supply chain. You can also use data to manage carbon and climate exposure. This ultimately benefits your bottom line, as consumer loyalty increases by up to 88% when organisations demonstrate strong social and environmental responsibility. What’s more, organisations which achieve B Corp certification – widely regarded as the standard for social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability – experience faster turnover growth.

    Leveraging blockchain technology can additionally help capture and verify supplier sourcing practices. Another idea is to utilise Internet of Things devices to measure the energy use of equipment, as well as monitor and report on working conditions and environmental factors.

  • Use AI to help give decision makers the information to make improvements

    Artificial intelligence, machine learning and predictive analysis are incredibly valuable when it comes to offering management the insights they need to make changes to delivery routes or production. They also have the following benefits:

    • You can use them to forecast demand and ensure more efficient supply chain and manufacturing processes
    • AI-based tools can help establish Scope 3 emissions from the supply chain
    • AI can work with GPS services to optimise international, national and local shipping routes
    • It can proactively maintain machinery and eliminate unanticipated downtime, resulting in further efficiencies and helping supply chains protect their revenue
  • Create digital twins and simulations to build a self-learning supply chain

    Digital twin technology is a form of smart manufacturing, which creates virtual replicas of product lines and various supply chain processes. This allows you to extract data from them, and effectively forecast supply and demand. What’s more, you can streamline processes, tackle supply chain bottlenecks and improve efficiency.

    As a result of being able to effectively predict inventory, you’ll reduce waste too. Take a look at this great example of digital twins in action – rather than complex 3D models, they more similarly resemble clear flow charts that are easy to understand and that you can then act on.

  • Measure amounts of supply chain carbon emissions

    The first step to reducing carbon emissions is determining the volume of emissions you’re dealing with. Then, through data analytics, you’ll be able to assess whether creating new business models or a circular economy would be more beneficial. This is crucial as sustainable practices are increasingly becoming more governmentally mandated.

    On top of this, suppliers and corporate customers are requesting sustainable practices from their vendors more and more. Customers are also recognising the importance of green practices and sustainability, triggering a rise in sales and share valuation. Plus, sustainability is becoming more equated with CSR, which leads to positive public relations exposure.

  • Reduce waste by simplifying supply chain processes

    Waste management companies are very much needed in order to log the type of waste and volumes from each customer. From this, customers can be held accountable and can use the data to pinpoint their biggest causes of waste before taking steps to reduce it. Manufacturers can additionally use data to build sustainability into a product by designing it with the end of its life in mind, potentially even achieving circularity and becoming regenerative.

    Additive manufacturing could also contribute to waste reduction, as you’ll only make parts where necessary. It’s worth noting, though, that this is dependent on the technology – metal powder processes are very inefficient in the way the raw material is made, so it may be more carbon-intensive than the traditional method.

Join the sustainability initiative

Through adopting sustainable practices, Nike, the number one shoe manufacturer globally, have managed to reduce the amount of material used by 20% and significantly reduce waste.

It's not just big corporations who are benefitting from this – many of our SME clients have used digital technologies to improve their sustainability:

Firstplay Dietary Food
They invested in an automated packing machine, allowing them to produce in larger batches. For products being delivered to distributors’ warehouses, they were also able to meet the orders with fewer HGV collections – considerably reducing emissions.

Fuel technology company
They bought a 3D scanning system to digitise customers’ vehicles. This meant that a group of engineers didn’t need to travel all over the UK to take measurements and then revisit to double-check them or capture missed ones.

SFL Mobile Radio
This business benefitted from a lack of travel too. They connected test equipment so that a junior technician could visit a customer to test their aerial, and the specialists at HQ could review the data in real time.

Laboratory equipment manufacturer
This organisation promises that their customers can return every used product, where they will be ground down to reuse 100% of the material.

Timber merchants
Their sustainability works in two ways: they employ software to plan deliveries more efficiently, and make bricks out of the ‘waste’ sawdust to run a biomass burner that generates power for their site.

Get started

Our team of advisers can support you with your digital transformation journey, offering tailored support and advice on the technologies or tools that could make your manufacturing business more sustainable. These include:

  • AI to help map supply chains and assess risks
  • Digital twins to create a self-learning supply chain
  • Data analytics to effectively measure carbon emissions

It’s time for you to make your manufacturing business more sustainable. Talk to us to get started.

Explore More
View all