With public consciousness rising and scientific warnings growing increasingly dire, sustainability has become a concern for companies in all industries, including manufacturers.
While campaigns to demonstrate sustainability efforts may once have been led by marketing teams, it is increasingly becoming a focus for both short and long-term business strategies.
“There are three things driving sustainability in manufacturing today,” says James Newman, head of product and portfolio marketing at Augury. “The first is that investors, the public and the media are demanding that organisations pay more attention to sustainability and back it up with serious action. Secondly, employees themselves are much more environmentally conscious now than they were in the past, and they want to work for organisations that share those values. And finally, governments around the world are issuing regulations which demand concrete, provable actions to improve sustainability.”
However, Newman is clear that the way that manufacturers perceive sustainability will have to change if real progress is to be made.
“Profit and sustainability have previously been seen as competing business objectives,” he says. “The reality is that cash is king, and that has led to a lack of action on sustainability. To solve this problem will require a big cultural shift, where manufacturers come to see sustainability and profit as having a symbiotic relationship, rather than a conflicting one.”
For companies that may just be starting to implement a comprehensive sustainability strategy, getting to that point can seem an onerous task. While executives may wish to improve their operations for greater sustainability, ensuring the company-wide buy-in necessary for the success of a project can be a more difficult proposition. Chris Dobbrow, vice president of business development at Augury, suggests that the key is to show evidence of progress from the outset.
“The first thing that manufacturers need to do is set ambitious but attainable goals for key performance indicators (KPIs) around their production, which they can connect to their sustainability goals,” says Dobbrow. “For example, Augury’s technology offers the ability to track what the energy consumption for producing a particular product is and then demonstrate the reduction in that consumption as the process is optimised. That provides concrete proof of value to the operators on the factory floor, which creates a sense of pride and buy in for the strategy from the corporate suite.”
Crucially, today’s technology offers capabilities beyond that available in previous years, as cloud technologies become more widely spread throughout the industry.
“Today’s technology has the capacity for scale, which wasn’t the case 10 years ago,” says Dobbrow. “We’re able to look through all the variables that influence efficient production at the same time to develop an optimal process. This has the knock-on effect of reducing material and energy consumption, removing waste, and improving quality, all of which are important goals for achieving sustainability.”
Among some manufacturers, however, concerns about data safety within the cloud is limiting their progress to full adoption of the technology.
“For me, cloud adoption is the next big hurdle,” says Newman. “Manufacturers need to get past the perception that data is safer within their walls, so that they are not only deploying the cloud but also using it to its full potential. Using the capabilities of cloud-based technologies to their fullest will provide them with the information they need to make informed decisions and improve sustainability.”
In 2021, Microsoft launched a specific cloud offering, Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, to help companies measure, understand and take charge of their emissions, set sustainability goals and take measurable action. Newman highlights the focus on actionable insights as a significant advantage of the offering.
“The fact that Microsoft is focusing on making sustainability more practical through the Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability is very important,” he says. “Lots of companies have sustainability programmes, but this platform is helping those ambitions actually happen.”
With the need to reduce environmental impact only set to become more pressing in the next few years, Dobbrow is optimistic that organisations are invested in making progress.
“Companies like Augury, together with Microsoft, can bring our purpose-built applications to the cloud environment to show companies the value of pushing sustainability KPIs,” says Dobbrow. “Businesses we are talking with are asking how our platform can impact sustainability, so we’re starting to see attitudes progress in this area. The key thing for any organisation is to get started now.”
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.
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