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The manufacturing resource efficiency challenge

We take a look at some of the challenges facing manufacturing businesses on the path to resource efficiency nirvana


food manufacturing factory

Sometime in a Utopian future, Scotland’s industrial parks might be almost indistinguishable from meadows and woodlands. The buildings will boast green roofs full of bee-friendly plants and solar panels. Giant vats will sit in the landscaped surroundings collecting rainwater to flush the toilets and wash the floors. Terraced reed beds will be cleaning wastewater naturally, no energy required. An array of ambient lighting will switch on to greet you as you step into a building, revealing a manufacturing plant with machinery powered by an assortment of renewable energy systems. The temperature is probably a perfectly comfortable 21C, much like the best days of a Scottish summer.

Colin Kennedy, Sector Manager for manufacturing at Zero Waste Scotland, knows we have a bit of a journey to get there. “One big problem for manufacturing businesses in Scotland trying to reduce their energy use is the buildings they are in,” he says. “The majority are not designed for purpose. They’re often poorly rated on energy efficiency, with expensive strip lighting, old inefficient boilers and heaters hanging from the ceiling. The heat passes right through the building’s corrugated walls and roofs. They’re just not environmentally sound. You see this when you walk in the door without even asking any questions.”

The question then might be, why not invest in energy saving lighting and heating? Why not put in more insulation? These things have proved time and again to make financial sense.

“But if I’m a business should I upgrade or should I try to move to a better purpose-built building? And who pays for the improvements?” says Colin. “A lot businesses rent the premises they’re in, they don't own them. Does the landlord want to make these improvements? Sometimes the landlord isn't even a person, it’s an investment company. A lot of businesses don't even have time to look at the options and weigh them up. Some might have a finance director but others just have one person coming in every month to do their accounts. It’s easy to assume that all companies are the same but they’re not.”

Welcome to the reality of the non-Utopian present day, where manufacturing businesses are facing all sorts of challenges in the 21st Century and resource efficiency is just one of them. Nevertheless, energy has been emerging as a critical issue for years. In its 2014 report, The Future of Energy: the UK Manufacturing Opportunity Siemens found that energy use was emerging as a business priority across all key sectors:

‘The overwhelming majority (89%) of UK manufacturers now profess to discuss energy management at board level, with the automotive sector leading the way. Underlining its importance, 79% also agree that managing energy is now a business-critical function and 70% feel that energy management is on a par with other strategic decisions.’

The report pointed out that as energy prices rise over the long term ‘energy efficiency is rapidly becoming the “fifth fuel” of industry.’ Its boardroom figures sets a positive scene of change, but the report also highlights the problems reported by those closer to the frontline. Among these were poor or uncertain returns on investment, budget or capital outlay, lack of internal resource, and distraction with other priorities.

It’s easy to see where there might be financial barriers. Business rates can be a challenge, and if there’s uncertainty in market conditions, investments can be put off indefinitely. But often it can simply be a case of ‘things are going along just fine so why change’?

“A business might have been working in the same way for 30 years and they’re doing a good job but they could be more efficient,” says Kennedy. “It’s difficult to change perceptions. If that’s the way they’ve been running a line then they’re not always thinking about doing it more efficiently. If they’re making a profit then they won’t necessarily think there are changes that could be made.”

When a business does think about change then they might face other obstacles. Poor broadband is one. This makes it difficult to use smart energy management systems between buildings, for example. Or a building might not have space in the eves for the desired insulation. Perhaps the floor isn't strong enough to carry that new piece of efficient technology. There could be any number of practical hurdles.

But the biggest one is usually the bottom line. Will resource efficiency savings reduce costs enough to make them worthwhile? It’s certainly worth trying. As Colin points out: “It’s often easier to save money on costs than increase your sales. Selling 10 per cent more widgets in a tough market is a challenge, but reducing costs by 10 per cent can have a big impact on your profit. And it’s your profit that keeps you going...”

At Resource Efficient Scotland, we’ve helped hundreds of businesses reduce costs by reducing energy use and waste. We understand the challenges you’re facing. We can identify opportunities you’ve missed and do the sums so that you can decide if the measures we recommend make sense. And we do it all for free.

It all starts with a simple phone call or email. So when you get five minutes, take a step back, think of the long-term future of your business and call us on 0808 808 2268 Monday - Friday 9am-5pm or email enquiries@resourceefficientscotland.com. We're here to help small to medium sized businesses located in Scotland.

Our support to reduce your business costs are funded by the Scottish Government and by the European Regional Development Fund through the £73 million Resource Efficiency Circular Economy Accelerator Programme.

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