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We need to draw whatever positives we can from COVID-19

We know from the United Nations’ (UN) 2030 Climate Report that the current rate of progress is too slow to meet global climate goals. Therefore, the pressure is on for whole national economies, sectors and individual companies to step-up their efforts if we are to succeed in passing on a greener, more sustainable world to future generations.

Ironically, COVID-19 has helped to accelerate progress by encouraging businesses to open their minds to new ways of implementing sustainable manufacturing techniques like AI and digital automation. We have seen for ourselves industry’s willingness and ability to adapt in adversity – motor manufacturers converting their production lines to make masks and aircraft manufacturers turning their hand to producing ventilators for hospitals. We have seen innovation, collaboration and the sharing of research and know-how. The norm in manufacturing sector has changed dramatically.

The drivers for implementing radical change on this scale historically would have been corporate survival, profitability, competitive advantage and commercial resilience. Thanks to the virus, you can add a few more factors to the list: greater emphasis on worker safety as well as efficiency; widespread reduction in waste and pollution alongside improvements in recyclability; and greater all-round consideration for impact on the environment, including the reduction in carbon footprint through lower consumption and the use of alternative energy sources and better materials. It is no longer just about making money at all costs.

A recent report from Autodesk showed that today, 90% of manufacturing firms in Northern Europe are investing in improved workflows to improve their energy and material efficiency, rising to 95% for companies in the UK and Ireland. Another finding was that 86% of the manufacturers taking part had installed a dedicated sustainability team – something that would have been unheard of not so long ago.

New regulations have been another factor; there has been a growing demand from people, governments and regulating bodies to address climate change as a matter of law.

The report concludes: “COVID-19 can serve as a reset button for a green recovery and is an opportunity to accelerate the focus on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the design and manufacturing industry and beyond.”

There is no hiding place and no excuse for not joining the revolution. Honest, thorough self-assessment and a willingness to change are key elements – we know, because it is only because we took a long hard look at our own systems and processes that UnitBirwelco managed to achieve carbon negative status last year. We need to draw whatever positives we can from COVID-19.