Manufacturing the future: We must chase the positive and reverse climate change

Interface's vice-president and chief sustainability officer Erin Meezan recently provided the foreword to edie's brand-new sector insight report, which provides an end-to-end overview of the steps that organisations within Britain's manufacturing industry can take to achieve a sustainable future, today.

Manufacturing the future: We must chase the positive and reverse climate change

Sustainable business practice is the single biggest opportunity for manufacturers to secure their future.

By addressing some of the world’s greatest sustainability challenges, manufacturers will add value for all employees, customers, shareholders and communities; and secure their business for the long-term. Now is one of the most exciting times in history to be a business leader – we can shape the future of our planet.

—Download Mission Possible: Achieving a sustainable future for MANUFACTURING report —

The UN has made tremendous progress in providing the roadmap for a sustainable future with the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These longterm targets will only be achieved if business plays a critical role by setting the right mindset, approach and practice. Through collaboration with and outside of the business community to accelerate learning and progress, leaders can set goals, invest in appropriate strategies and deliver against set targets.

The first step in this ‘Mission Possible’ journey is to change our thinking and language from solving a negative to chasing the positive. Embracing an optimistic point of view of sustainability will change business achievement. The dominant conversation in sustainable business over the past 30 years has been one focused on reducing the negative environmental and social impacts of our businesses and simply doing ‘less bad’. This is a limiting mindset and a hard one to incubate innovation within.

Business must instead adopt an alternative discourse to the challenge. How can we provide positive benefits to communities? How can we be generous? These questions open a new world of possibility. Such a shift in mindset boundaries redefines how business can measure impact and embraces a broader stakeholder group.

The second stage of the mindset shift required includes a new way of thinking of setting business sustainability goals – from linear and incremental to progressive and the exponential. Business leaders should stop setting incremental reduction goals – for example, ‘reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 10% by 2020’ or ‘decreasing waste by 30%’ – and instead shift thinking toward the ultimate end-goal.

By looking at your business, you can identify energy consumed, resources used, mobility required and the built environment costs; and set yourself on a path to your Mission Possible. Declaring the end-goal versus a progressive step-by-step approach is the only way to set the right bar.

Lifting the conversation

Twenty-five years ago, our business – Interface – decided to become a sustainable enterprise and declared a mission centred on the end-goal: zero environmental impact from our business by 2020. There were no incremental waste reduction or energy goals set, instead the business focused on the future we wanted. In 2016, having come close to reaching many of our zero footprint goals, we set our next sustainability goal: creating a climate fit for life. Our Climate Take Back mission sets our business on a path to operate in a way that can help reverse global warming, not just reduce carbon emissions.

With an optimistic approach and business sustainability goals that will drive the right thinking, the next challenge is to invest in the strategies that will deliver progress against your metrics. The proof of what is possible often starts as a prototype or pilot project.

At Interface, we have a live experiment ongoing to define and design a ‘positive’ factory. Run in collaboration with Biomimicry 3.8, the Factory as Forest project is developing new goals and metrics for factories; to drive them to provide the same benefits as local ecosystems. The aim is for factories to sequester carbon, filter water, create healthy soil and provide habitat benefits. It is a step on from zero impact and requires the input of every employee and stakeholder. By learning from nature, where no resource is wasted, factories can function more like forests; use dispersed materials and establish supply chains that benefit all life.

Our experience tells us that shifting stakeholder mindset is not easy, and engaging others outside the business will help to accelerate change. A case in point is that of NetWorks, our inclusive business supply chain project, run in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and our yarn supplier Aquafil. Through Net-Works, discarded fishing nets are taken from the oceans, transformed into yarn to make our carpet tiles, and people in coastal communities in the Philippines, Indonesia and Cameroon can access finance, education and a better standard of living.

Expectations of business have shifted dramatically in the past decade. This is evident in the results of the 2018 Mission Possible survey referenced throughout this paper. Increasingly, customers are expecting business to be responsible, advocate change, become positive contributors and address the impact of the world’s largest challenges.

By lifting the conversation to create ambitious goals, being more active in collaboration and pioneering approaches to sustainability, manufacturers have the power to reverse climate change and lead industry to love the world.

Throughout this report, you will be provided with further examples of manufacturers that are being the change we want to see in the world and achieve Mission Possible. The challenge for you as a reader is to ask: what is truly possible in your own business?

The Mission Possible manufacturing report, produced in association with Centrica Business Solutions, demonstrates the steps that must be taken for manufacturing organisations to scale-up action across all areas of sustainable development. Specifically, the report explores exactly how businesses within this industry should be working, innovating and collaborating to achieve a sustainable future. Download the report here.






 Erin Meezan is vice-president and chief sustainability officer at Interface

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