Manufacturing faces rocky road to net zero

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A new report suggests that manufacturing faces greater decarbonisation challenges than any of the other 17 major UK industries on the path to net zero.

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Commissioned by insurer Zurich UK and conducted by the University of the West of England (UWE), the Journey to Net Zero report highlighted a stagnation in the sector’s emissions over the past decade, despite a previous steady decline.

Manufacturing’s long investment cycles, described as a ‘key impediment’ to cutting emissions as well as a financial challenge, require supply chain intervention to be effectively addressed.

Ensuring the entire supply chain is taken into account is the ‘single greatest decarbonisation challenge’ for the sector according to the report. Many manufacturing sub-sectors supply each other, with one sub-sector’s output being another’s input, such as the steel sector supplying automotive. 


This creates supply chain challenges, but also waste prevention and circular economy opportunities, the report said.

Energy intensive production of materials like cement, steel and glass account for the majority (60 per cent) of the sector’s emissions, but the report also identifies the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector, food and drink, as a growing contributor.

Whilst there is no obvious ‘silver bullet’, the study suggested a range of solutions to meet decarbonisation challenges such as electrification of cement production and the use of carbon capture and storage technologies in cement kilns.

The report also suggested that increased use of scrap steel could reduce dependency on overseas imports. ‘Home-grown’ manufacturers also face competition from cheaper, more carbon-intensive imports, but implementation of proper carbon pricing practices will ensure the benefits of locally produced materials can be espoused, it added.

“It’s an incredibly tough time in manufacturing, with supply chain and labour issues making the day-to-day really difficult. However, there are solutions out there to the manufacturing sector’s significant carbon challenges,” said Sam Thomas, head of mid-market at Zurich UK.

“Some of these can be implemented by individual companies. However, those issues that straddle multiple sub-sector supply chains need government and cross industry interventions to push through revolutionary change, properly incentivise manufacturers and also prompt consumer behaviour change in order to make greener manufacturing a true market requirement.”

Dr Laura de Vito, lead report author from UWE, said that the UK industrial sectors must adopt a ‘joined-up and collaborative approach to net zero’. 

“Solutions are available — we now must focus our efforts in implementing them, especially in light of the recent IPCC report which demands urgent and decisive change.

“The UK government will need to play a crucial role in driving this change at the required scale and pace, and in unlocking collaboration opportunities across industry sectors and at all levels of society,” she added.