Simply switching to renewable energy isn’t enough to make in-house operations carbon-neutral. Companies must maximise efficiency and reduce waste, and this includes optimising plant efficiency and monitoring energy usage.

Many organisations are already committed to taking speedy and radical action to address the devastating impacts of climate change.

That trend is only likely to intensify. There are new rules on the reporting of emissions, while Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) criteria is also becoming a key factor in securing the support of investors, employees and shareholders.

UK manufacturers are ready to step up, though, with the MAKE UK Executive Survey 2022 finding that 49.1% of firms plan investments in green technologies or energy-efficiency measures over the next 12 months. And for the first time, respondents to the RS & CIPS 2021 Indirect Procurement Report said sustainable and ethical procurement is one of their top three business pressures, with 55% of organisations surveyed saying they have a carbon reduction strategy.

However, simply switching to renewable energy sources isn’t enough to make in-house operations carbon neutral. Businesses need to be adapted to become fully part of the net zero transition, for example optimising plant efficiency and monitoring energy usage.

Helping challenge the status quo
Engineering is uniquely positioned to help drive green progress by developing and improving sustainable processes.

This can involve everything from minimising air loss and water leaks, to redesigning products and overhauling the production line. Solutions need to cut across all aspects of engineering and maintenance, from using technology to make processes more efficient, to using more sustainable materials, to designing for durability, repair and recyclability.

The Engineering Council identifies six key principles of sustainability. These include using resources efficiently and effectively, and also being prepared to challenge the status quo.

"Engineers need data to solve problems. By accessing live data direct from assets, you remove debates around the quality of the data."Richard Jeffers, Director for Maintenance Solutions, RS Group

Data drives decision making
So how do we turn these ideas into actions? Research and development is critical to making the right changes, according to BP’s Senior Vice President of Engineering, Aleida Rois. “Our industry needs entirely new ways of working. We need to take new ideas and incubate and scale them much faster than we’ve ever done before. Engineers play that critical role of making an idea into something that can be scaled,” she said in an interview with US management consultants McKinsey & Co.

The use of data and performance monitoring equipment can also ensure that operations are running as efficiently and sustainably as possible. It can inform decision making in both smaller changes like performance monitoring and in influencing the bigger developments that permanently alter products and processes.

“Engineers need data to solve problems. By accessing live data direct from assets, you remove debates around the quality of the data and if you have sufficient granularity, you can focus on what the data is telling you. By choosing the right data, you can use it to address problems as diverse as predictive maintenance, operational loss identification and eradication and achieving net zero through understanding energy losses,” according to RS Group’s Director of Maintenance Solutions, Richard Jeffers.

Work in progress
Significant progress is already being made, with engineering a key part of the equation in finding new, greener processes.

For example, the UK automotive industry’s production carbon footprint fell by -11.2% in 2021, to the lowest level ever recorded, according to the 2022 Sustainability Report from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Reductions in water used in the manufacturing process, and a reduction in waste are among the measures that contributed to this progress.

Greener concrete is a hot topic in construction, with a coalition of companies pledging to use only net-zero concrete by 2050. Researchers and companies are looking at a range of possible solutions in this area, from carbon capture technology to electrification of production.

Remanufacturing is on the rise, with companies including Toyota and ABB expanding what they do in this area. This requires that products are manufactured in such a way to be easily deconstructed or disassembled, so that components can be replaced or parts reused.

Elsewhere, Speedy Services says it was the first UK hire company to launch a new line of high-performance outdoor battery-powered lighting towers, which will help contractors reduce on-site emissions and make significant savings in fuel costs. This “will drive positive change not only across Speedy but across the wider industry and value chain,” according to Russell Down, the firm’s Chief Executive.

Adding value
Adopting ESG principles is not only about protecting the planet and meeting sustainability targets – there are also a range of other benefits for business.

While there may be costs, initially, in making green changes, McKinsey & Co found that executing ESG effectively could combat rising operating expenses and affect operating profit by as much as 60%.

And they urge CEOs to make the economic incentive behind the adoption of sustainability practices one of their core messages in order to get the buy-in of managers who may have performance-based targets.

“Someone has to have the courage to make the first move,” says Kay Barker, UK Environmental Lead at brick-making firm Wienerberger, “to be visionary and brave in leading their organisation to the future.” A multi-faceted approach from those in engineering and maintenance will help firms make progress with their sustainability goals, while also having a positive impact on the bottom line.

To find out more on how sustainability efforts can improve MRO in your organisation please click the link here.