The new green mantra: make more with less

‘A radical improvement in natural resource productivity’ is the key objective in the Department of Trade and Industry’s forthcoming strategy on sustainable development. The government wants UK manufacturers to use fewer raw materials and less water and energy, and ‘radical’ is a clear signal that incremental improvements won’t be enough. A huge challenge is being thrown down to business, but it could provide plenty of opportunities too.

Increasingly, good environmental management returns a cash dividend, and there are plenty of everyday examples. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the DTI will shortly be launching their ‘Envirowise’ programme, a significant upgrade of the current ‘Environmental best practice’ scheme. The scheme has already led to dozens of technology and management solutions being applied by UK manufacturers to reduce environmental impact. Many of these companies highlighted are saving hundreds of thousands of pounds per year, often for little or no capital outlay. However, the pace of change means that just as industry has discovered eco-efficiency, sustainable development movers and shakers are now saying that ‘doing more with less’ should mean ‘doing more with an awful lot less’. In recent years, the sustainable development fraternity has pushed for ‘factor 4’ approaches to reducing environmental impact. Essentially this means producing the same amount of goods using a quarter of the previous consumption of raw materials or energy, and correspondingly less waste. The main tool is a radical redesign of processes and products to glean reductions in resource use and waste, while boosting product re-use and recycling. It’s known as ‘cleaner design’, and is already taking hold. Medical equipment manufacturer Varian Oncology, for example, is a medium-sized company based in Crawley. It recently invested &#16325,000 to take the design of a key product back to the drawing board. Their product now has fewer compo-nents, needs less raw material, and is far easier to recycle. The ‘cleaner design’ gave Varian savings of &#163145,000 in the first year with similar annual savings in future.

Employing expensive emission abatement techno-logies was an unavoidable and costly hallmark of the 1990s. It could be that cleaner design offers a far better choice for the 21st century. Even now, there is talk of ‘factor 10’ production efficiency.

Manufacturers who can turn eco-efficiency and even ‘factor 10′ from pipe dream to reality look set to win a very big competitive advantage. Paul Reeve is head of safety and environment at the Engineering Employers’ Federatio