Professor Steve Evans FIEMA, Director of the Centre for Industrial Sustainability at the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), University of Cambridge, explains how a new report provides a helpful starting point for manufacturers wanting to make quick sustainability gains.


Research by the IfM has shown that through increasing energy and resource efficiency, the UK stands to gain £10 billion per year in additional profit for manufacturers. Despite this, as well as a renewed focus on how sustainable business transformation can have a positive impact on the bottom line, many companies still face the challenge of moving from intention to action.

Around 90% of the resources processed to create goods are not reaching the person for whom they are made, 50% of edible food is not eaten, and only about 50% of full loading is achieved in freight trucks in the UK.

Resource efficiency should not be viewed as a stepping stone in achieving sustainable manufacturing systems but as an integral and continuous part of it. And what we’ve found from our work through the Sustainability Association (a membership group for manufacturing professionals looking to accelerate sustainable change in their organisations), is that manufacturers want advice on the best place to start with sustainability initiatives. They want to know: ‘How do we get going while saving money and increasing our knowledge for the tougher days ahead?'

A new report offers recommendations for manufacturers wanting to achieve quick-win sustainability gains, particularly for those who are early on in their sustainability journey. In particular, the report highlights the use of continuous improvement methods as a starting point; encouraging companies to use their existing tools and approaches.

Most companies already have what they need to get going immediately. For example, comparing data to see what performance looks like on good days vs. bad days is a useful starting point. This is because the performance on good days has been achieved before, so any emerging targets can be achieved which is motivating for teams and helps with building momentum for change.

The report, which drew on data from several global manufacturers already doing well in this area, also identifies other success factors crucial for making solid sustainability gains.

For example, the single most important element was company-wide stakeholder engagement. I.e., engaging all employees of the business, from top-level management to the shop floor, was crucial in building a new understanding of sustainable manufacturing and its requirements.

Other success factors included:

  • gathering sufficient and relevant data on the shop floor
  • building a culture of change
  • allocating roles of sustainability champions across sites and communicating with the right language
  • using the right language and communication strategy

Sustainability doesn’t need to conflict with other business requirements – profit and sustainability can go hand-in-hand. If businesses are prepared to adapt their mindset and use their existing resources, then rapid sustainability improvements are achievable, demonstrating that the journey towards sustainable manufacturing does not have to be expensive or complicated.

The study into rapid sustainability improvements, including a 20-step checklist, can be downloaded through the IfM Engage website. Download the full report.

Please note: the views expressed in this blog are those of the contributing individual, and are not necessarily representative of the views of IEMA or any professional institutions with which IEMA is associated.

Photo of Stephen Evans
Professor Steve Evans FIEMA

Professor Steven Evans is the Director of the Centre for Industrial Sustainability at the Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge.

Steve has over 20 years of academic experience which includes working collaboratively with leading industrial and academic institutions from around the globe and supervising over 120 PhD. and MSc. students at Cranfield. His research seeks a deep understanding of how industry develop solutions that move us towards a sustainable future.