UK manufacturing companies question whether their net zero targets will be reached

New research has shown that UK-based manufacturing companies agree that sustainability is a high priority and have set decarbonisation plans, but the majority are not sure these plans are achievable.


Management consultants Vendigital conducted the research in September 2023, asking 201 C-Suite executives in the UK’s manufacturing sector about their net zero plans, priorities and the achievability of these targets.

The research found that 63 per cent of C-suite executives said that sustainability is a high priority for the business, and 31 per cent confirmed that they have a carbon reduction plan in place. The majority (70 per cent) have gone as far as setting ‘net zero by 2030’ targets.

However, 61 per cent said they are not sure whether their sustainability goals will be achieved, suggesting that their plans for delivery may be underdeveloped and under progressed.

Manufacturers recognised that to decarbonise they must look for carbon reduction opportunities. Despite this being ranked as a primary concern, fewer than 31 per cent of respondents were actively looking for carbon reduction opportunities.

In a statement, Alessandra Del Centina, managing consultant at Vendigital, said: “Without clear information about the carbon cost of specific products or processes, it is impossible to identify and prioritise decarbonisation initiatives.

“It’s usually possible to identify ‘quick wins’, where a relatively small change, such as a low-carbon product switch… can deliver a significant reduction in carbon emissions. More complex initiatives that involve supply chain collaboration and project support can be planned in over a longer time frame.”

Vendigital stated that while there are many barriers to decarbonisation progress, the headwinds affecting many industries including rising costs, high interest rates, geopolitical uncertainty, increasing global competition and the risk of supply chain disruption, are also a distraction.

In total, 82 per cent of board-level executives admitted that various short-term pressures have held up or affected their ability to plan and implement sustainability strategies. 

When asked to rank barriers to achieving net zero progress, 50 per cent of respondents identified that maintaining board-level engagement with sustainability issues was the biggest problem. Other key barriers included a lack of resources, skillsets, capital and data.

Del Centina said: “While [decarbonisation strategies] often require investment in areas such as renewable energy systems, hiring people with the right skillsets and developing AI-led decision-making models, they can also deliver significant cost savings in the short, medium and long-term.

“Developing decarbonisation plans that leverage cost benefits upfront to help offset investment further down the line can help businesses to decarbonise and realise their sustainability goals.”

Further information about the research can be found here.