Sustainability, specifically decarbonisation and the circular economy, is now a strategic priority for European countries and for most industrial companies, as shared by Roca, Storopack and Recircular during our latest event. However, the success of its implementation depends on several factors.
Achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement (limiting global warming in the long-term to 1.5°C) and of the European Ecological Pact (making Europe carbon neutral by 2050) will only be possible through the industry's commitment to take major steps to reduce its emissions. In fact, maintaining the level of warming at 1.5°C in the long-term will require a global rate of decarbonisation almost five times higher than in 2019.
Decarbonisation has become a strategic pillar for both capital-intensive industries, where energy consumption is usually higher, and for manufacturers with less equipment but with high movement of materials, enabling major savings in profit and loss.
First, an operations improvement project focused on reducing energy consumption should be implemented. This starts with a detailed analysis of the current state: operational productivity and energy efficiency of the main equipment. Here, detection plays a crucial role by enabling assertive and localised measurements to be made throughout the production process. This is followed by a cause and effect analysis of the main opportunities and the implementation of various solutions, such as the standardisation of equipment operating parameters and the optimisation of downtimes. In parallel, an analysis of all internal and external logistics operations is also recommended, with the aim of minimising all these movements, namely through the implementation of a standardised route, such as Mizusumashi or Milkrun.
Then, after optimising operations, the switch to clean energy, such as solar or wind energy, must be promoted and, finally, if necessary, measures to offset emissions must be implemented.
The current economic model is based on the Linear Economy and the following phases: extraction of resources, production, sale, consumption, and waste management. This model generates large quantities of waste, valued annually at €3 billion in Europe. Therefore, when this waste is not managed well, companies not only lose this business opportunity but usually still incur costs to have their waste treated, and that usually means incineration or landfills. This overexploitation of the planet is the result of constantly extracting resources long before they are naturally regenerated.
The Circular Economy is the alternative that aims to generate economic value while considering the resources that are available and ensuring that they remain that way for future generations. According to this vision, waste can be transformed through innovation for reuse, recovery and recycling.
The product design phase is where the greatest circular opportunity exists as it accounts for 80% of a product's environmental impact throughout its lifecycle. Eco-design aims to increase the useful life of products, enhance the use of alternative materials such as recycled or compostable ones, and prepare the product for its reuse. For implementation, it is advised to start with an analysis of the product portfolio and select those that have the strongest opportunity for redesign. Secondly, it is necessary to study the bill of materials of the chosen products and identify and prioritise alternative materials and resource reduction opportunities. Finally, the use of rapid prototyping techniques, product testing and the definition of a sales strategy for the redesigned product is also necessary.
The implementation of a sustainability project in an organisation requires a cultural transformation. For both to be successful, it is necessary, before anything else, that this goal is part of the strategic business vision and that there is a commitment from the top management to implement it. Then ambitious, achievable, and measurable objectives must be set and deployed to all levels of the organisation.
Carrying out these transformations is not easy and so it must be done progressively, but with some acceleration, without haste, but also without pauses.