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The turning tide towards sustainable products and how to meet consumer needs

Sustainable Manufacturing Insights Series: why sustainable products must become more than just an alternative – and how manufacturers can make that happen.

Our expert panel included Frank Millar, CEO of CPI; Jenny Holloway, CEO of Fashion Capital; Toby McCartney, CEO of MacRebur; Edward Pegram, Business Manager at Raleigh UK; Maurits van Tol, Chief Technology Officer of Johnson Matthey; and Elisabeth Whitebread, Head of Purpose at Bambino Mio.

Key takeaways

  •  Consumers are increasingly shopping for values, not just products, and the internet allows them to find brands that meet their expectations
  •  Cost and convenience still come first for most consumers, so manufacturers must make environmentally friendly products more affordable
  •  Large-scale change will come from manufacturers and consumers having the ability to measure the sustainability of their products – the technology for that exists but needs development
  •  It will take time for manufacturers to achieve the perfect balance on sustainability, but a small start can lead to significant progress in a fairly short time frame
Consumer appetite for sustainable goods grows as climate change becomes harder to ignore

A mass shift towards online shopping, itself sped up by the pandemic, has contributed to consumers expecting more from businesses and their products, too. The internet allows shoppers to easily find brands that match their values, and that means they’re ready to hold all businesses to account, rather than just those already committed to being sustainable. Manufacturers and retailers that ignore the issue risk falling behind.

 

With consumer needs in mind, these three areas will be crucial in manufacturing’s journey to full sustainability:

  1. Smarter product use and manufacture – increasing the efficiency of a product and/or consuming fewer natural resources in the manufacturing process.

  2. Extending product and part lifespans – if a product must eventually reach ‘end of life’, what else can its parts be used for or remanufactured into?

  3. Recycling high-value elements – materials like lithium, nickel, cobalt and copper are vital to the batteries that will more sustainably power our transport in the future; how can we recycle them more effectively?

Manufacturers must clarify the value in sustainable goods, as well as making them more affordable

For sustainable products to become a standard rather than an alternative option, manufacturers must ideally find ways to reduce production costs. Businesses must be willing to collaborate, share resources and learn from one another in order to innovate and make sustainable goods more affordable. By being ambitious in the scale of change, manufacturers can build the critical mass that will help drive the costs down.

 

Manufacturers should consider how they can provide other values beyond just being the ‘right’ ethical choice. A sustainable product could have lower running costs or contribute to the user’s well-being – an electric car fits both examples here.

My simple philosophy is start. There are lots of small things you can do to make a difference. It’s all these things that matter, and once you start, it’s amazing how quickly you progress. We won’t get it [to be] perfect straight away, so don’t be put off from trying – we’ll learn a lot along the way

Frank Millar
CEO, CPI
Measuring the end-to-end sustainability of products will be key to large-scale change

Measurement is fundamental to sustainability. With the right data available on their products, manufacturers can identify the biggest opportunities for improvement; for example, the emissions generated across the whole of a production process.

 

Manufacturers and retailers must also make this information readily available to consumers, who’ll then find it easier to make ethical buying decisions. When this level of transparency is the standard, businesses can work with responsible suppliers and make more environmentally friendly decisions – and the whole supply chain will improve as a result.

 

Right now, innovative technology is still emerging and requires focus. Collaborative development within the manufacturing sector can ensure everyone has the information they need.

How to start building sustainability into your products

Consumers are demanding more sustainability and with environmental regulation tightening up, now is the time to act. There’s plenty of opportunity for manufacturers to stay ahead of the game by reviewing their own processes.

 

Rather than expect perfection overnight, start small. Make simple changes that get results and build from there. The need to balance sustainability with profit means most businesses will make decisions that aren’t necessarily immediately optimal but are still contributing to a brighter future.

When you think about a green product of any sort, you generally assume you’re going to pay more. It’s our job to create products where the ideal is cheaper than the normal non-green product. That’s what we’re working on all the time. There’s a lot of talk about alternatives, but unless we drive that price down, we’re not going to have the uptake we want from our customers

Toby McCartney
CEO, MacRebur

If you would like to find out more about sustainable manufacturing solutions or how to make your business more sustainable, please speak to your Relationship Manager, contact WMG at wmgbusiness@warwick.ac.uk or submit an enquiry to the High Value Manufacturing Catapult at: hvm.catapult.org.uk/talk-to-us.

For SMEs, there is also the opportunity to join like-minded businesses in the Net Zero Innovation Network – find out more here: 
WMG SME Group | Net Zero Innovation Network (warwick.ac.uk)

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