How conquering Europe can drive sustainability and business

Simon Fordham looks at the value of European awards in driving sustainable manufacturing

Gone are the days when environmental management was seen as a financial liability.
The concept of adding value through sustainable management practices has come of age, and many successful and globally competitive companies are recognising the business advantages and opportunities that come with sound, proactive environmental management plans.

In particular, those in the manufacturing industry, faced with ever more stringent legislation, rising fuel prices and scarcer and more controlled resources, are being encouraged to meet the challenge of sustainable production.
In order for sustainable manufacturing to work, it must take a comprehensive view of business growth.

Sustainable manufacturing is about evaluating and improving the performance of current processes and of being more resource efficient. It identifies, prioritises and defines process and product innovations to lower industry's environmental impact, while maintaining, or increasing, competitive advantage and ensuring regulatory compliance.

Mounting pressure
Pressure to improve processes and performance has been steadily increasing over the past few years. The drivers include:
  • Costs - European manufacturing can only compete with Asia by using the best technology and operational practices
  • Legislation such as REACH, COMAH and the Landfill Directive and the overriding threat of climate change.
The manufacturing industry must develop strategies, methodologies and supportive technologies for a sustainable approach to design, production, consumption and disposal of products that meets the customers' needs as well as legislative, environmental and ethical standards while safeguarding the future prosperity of the manufacturing business.

For businesses, sustainable development requires balanced progress towards three interconnected objectives:
  • Strong financial performance - profitability and competitiveness bringing benefits to shareholders and securing long-term growth and security of employment for the future
  • Environmental excellence - preventing pollution and optimising resource efficiency in their operations and developing products or services with minimal lifecycle environmental impacts
  • Social responsibility - meeting the wider concerns of stakeholders (for example employees, suppliers, customers, local communities) over issues such as working conditions, human rights and community involvement
The significant progress made by some European companies has been recognised by the European Commission. The European Business Awards for the Environment (EBAE) recognise innovation and excellence in industry across Europe. The awards, which have been discussed before in these pages, are designed to recognise the efforts of organisations that have made significant contributions to sustainable development and made measurable improvements to their performance through:
  • Effective management of their business operations, environmental, financial and social responsibilities
  • Successful innovation of sustainable products, services and manufacturing processes, minimising pollution and environmental impacts
  • Effective working in international partnerships with organisations from other sectors
The awards are given in the following four categories: the Management Award for Sustainable Development; the Product Award for Sustainable Development; the Process Award for Sustainable Development; and, the International Co-operation Award for Sustainable Development.

Key to the manufacturing industry are the Product Award and the Process
Award for Sustainable Development.

Product Award
The Product Award is for the development of a new product or related service that makes an outstanding contribution to sustainable development. The product or service may involve a new or modified design, or the innovative application of an existing one, in a way that promotes more sustainable patterns of production and consumption.
The product or service should meet the needs of consumers and bring a better quality of life while minimising the use of natural resources and toxic materials, as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the lifecycle, for example, during material extraction, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal. The product must be economically viable and its production and consumption should contribute to equitable social progress. In the Product Category this year, several UK companies have made it through to the European level.

Windsave has developed commercial and domestic small wind turbine generator systems using low wind speeds to create electricity. They have developed a supplementary micro-turbine electricity generator using their innovative Plug'n'Save system.

The Windsave wind turbine system is roof- or wall-mounted and feeds electricity directly into the property on the consumer side of the meter, reducing the consumption of electricity purchased from the grid. Windsave provides an environmentally friendly, low-cost source of sustainable energy.
Arctic Circle supplies energy-efficient compressors and compression technology for refrigeration equipment, largely to the food retail market. The Quantum range of compressors has been developed with the strategic objective
of increased reliability and efficiency.

The range incorporates a number of innovations that offers significant energy-saving benefits and enhanced durability with 35dB lower noise levels than typical.
The compressor is probably the world's most efficient refrigeration compressor being 15% more efficient than the nearest rival. This equates to possible saving of 1.5% of UK electricity demand.

Gazeley Properties has been recognised for its EcoTemplate building and the environmental initiatives incorporated on G.Park Bedford. Gazeley conducted a research and development project to identify the impact that Gazeley buildings, and their sector as a whole, has on the environment.

The study considered the redesign and construction of distribution buildings from a green perspective. The EcoTemplate document sees proposals for three levels of scheme, each with an increased percentage of future proofing and environmental design and the first measures were implemented at Bedford.

Nuaire has adopted and developed three new technologies to promote energy savings in products that are traditionally highly energy consuming. They combined and applied them across a wide range of fan products. This was the single largest product development project undertaken by Nuaire, taking several years to complete.

Process Award
The Process Award is for the development and application of a new production technology that makes an outstanding contribution to sustainable development.
This may involve an entirely new process or technique, or the innovative application of an existing one. In either case, the technology should make a positive contribution to the environmental aspect of sustainability while making at least a neutral, and preferably a positive, contribution to economic and social aspects.

The technology may be expected to increase resource efficiency and reduce lifecycle environmental impacts by reducing material and energy intensity, switching from non-renewable to renewable resources, avoiding the use of harmful substances and by reducing emissions and waste.

ScotAsh is among the finalists. The firm has been chosen for its overall approach to business, through policies, practices and products. ScotAsh creates construction products, including cements, grouts and waste stabilisation materials, manufactured using recycled pulverised fuel ash (PFA).

During the last three years the company - a joint venture between ScottishPower and Lafarge Cement UK - has displaced the need for more than one million tonnes of primary aggregates, saved 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the manufacture of conventional Portland Cement, and has avoided the need to dispose of over one million tonnes of ash to landfill or lagoons. ScotAsh aims eventually to recycle Scottish Power's entire ash output - over 600,000 tonnes a year - as value-added construction products.
The company achieved nearly 80% in 2003/4 and is on track to achieve over 500,000 tonnes in the current year.

Then there is Curvaceous Software, which has created a new technology called Geometric Process Control (GPC). GPC can be applied across the whole of the process industries, from oil refining and petrochemicals through to pharmaceuticals and food processing. GPC improves process efficiency and reduces costs of operations, thereby minimising energy usage and process emissions.

The EBAE winners will be announced this at a ceremony taking place this summer.
For information visit www.defra.gov.uk/environment/internat/euroawards/index.htm

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