Secret Sustainability in Manufacturing Industry
Many industries have come under fire for their contribution to climate change. Activists have taken aim at aviation, chemical manufacturing, agricultural operations, and even general manufacturing. And although there’s plenty of headway for sustainability in the industry, many critics are still unaware of the greener strides taken behind the scenes by these companies. There’s an entire movement of “Secret Sustainability” taking place that, for more than a few reasons, remains hidden from the public eye. Why?
In an eye-opening report by The Guardian, manufacturers cite myriad reasons for keeping their sustainability efforts hidden. Chief among them are the desire to keep a competitive edge and, more surprisingly, the desire to keep attention away from less sustainable practices.
Trade secrets aren’t new to manufacturers. From proprietary production practices to literal secret recipes, manufacturers retain everything they can to give them an edge on the competition. In today’s age of climate change, that includes environmental practices. If your factory found a way to produce a product at a lower total cost, with a lower total environmental impact, wouldn’t you keep it close?
Manufacturers are investing in new technology and leveraging data to develop better practices to improve sustainability. For example, some companies are using production data to direct processing waste into recyclable programs, thus lowering the cost of production on new goods. These reduced costs not only give the company that discovers them a competitive edge, it contributes to their return on investment (ROI) in technology. Giving that information away gives competitors the benefit without the investment.
This advantage of secret sustainability also safeguards companies against their less sustainable practices. “Greenwashing” is the industry term for touting environmental practices that don’t actually contribute to sustainability. Customers unable to understand the context of high-level manufacturing initiatives may point a finger at what they believe is a false effort, raising a cry of greenwashing. Worse, many manufacturers are wary that bringing attention to one green initiative may provoke deeper probes into practices that haven’t yet caught up.
Manufacturing is a leader in sustainability
Despite being tight-lipped about their environmental efforts, manufacturers are now more forthcoming with their innovations for fear of accusations that they’re sitting idly during an era of climate crisis. As these innovations come to light, it’s clear that manufacturing is leaps and bounds ahead of public perception.
“We know that the best manufacturers are improving their energy efficiency about five times faster than the average company,” says Libby Peake, senior policy adviser at Green Alliance, an independent think tank focused on environmental leadership in industry and government.
Although it might surprise many who can’t see past the veil of manufacturing’s secretive front, industry’s leadership in sustainability initiatives makes sense. Of all industries, manufacturing has the most to gain from greener, leaner practices.
- Maintain cost-efficiency within the value stream, where the bottom line matters most.
- Create competitive moats in the production cycle to build an advantage.
- Protect and strengthen brand and product reputation among concerned customers.
- Stay ahead of an increasingly stringent regulatory environment.
On the surface, it may seem like the industry is on the wrong side of climate change remediation efforts. A closer look reveals the opposite. Manufacturers are pushing hard for a greener future — they’re just staying quiet about what, specifically, they’re doing to achieve it.