Schneider Electric, a company which specialises in digital transformation of energy management and automation, and Omdia, a technology research and advisory group, have found that while industrial companies are setting ambitious sustainability targets, roughly half (48 percent) have yet to take the necessary steps to meet them.
The finding was part of a study to better understand manufacturers’ sustainability goals and the maturity of their sustainability initiatives.
Over half (57 percent) of respondents to the survey are aiming for net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They are most likely to name reduced energy consumption as the key factor in their decision to invest in operational sustainability initiatives, and 49 percent also expect improved performance and cost savings.
However, almost half (48 percent) are yet to fully deploy their sustainability initiatives, and less than one third (30 percent) are on track to meet their goals. This represents a significant opportunity for industrial action on sustainability initiatives, and the potential for immediate and long-lasting change.
Technology powers sustainability initiatives
The research surveyed hundreds of industrial companies in the food and beverage, life sciences, semiconductors and electronics, chemical, oil and gas, and automotive industries, across North America, Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Asia.
Respondents also represented a range of company sizes. Leaders across these industries understand the value of technology in measuring and reducing their environmental impact.
Industrial companies are exploring a range of solutions to improve their sustainability, either directly or indirectly. They have identified the top five technologies that will have the biggest impact on their sustainability initiatives:
- More efficient automation
- Energy management systems
- Cloud technologies
- Supply chain tracking
- More sensors
Investment in these areas is already taking place. Fifty-four percent of respondents are already using digital twin technology to (re)design facilities with sustainability in mind, and more than 50 percent predict they will have deployed energy management and renewable energy systems within three years.
Other types of projects being pursued include environmental management and sustainability performance management.
While some challenges were technological, the research highlighted the clear organizational barriers to overcome. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of respondents named competing priorities as an issue, while cultural change is a challenge for 19 percent.
Many noted that sustainability initiatives require a driving force behind them, with 78 percent of respondents reporting that a C-level executive is responsible for their organization’s efforts.
Barbara Frei, executive vice president, industrial automation, at Schneider Electric, says: “The manufacturing industry is increasingly understanding the value of sustainability and efficiency targets. There is now clear evidence that valuing people and planet leads to greater profits.
“However, change will require an evolution of traditional thinking, making sustainability and wellbeing a central part of processes, hardware, software, and organizational culture to identify inefficiencies and waste. This is where the next generation of industry starts from.”
Strategies for success
For industrial companies to deliver on their sustainability goals, they will need a clear strategy and the data to back it up. Technology will be a key enabler, including improved sensing and visualization tools to capture sustainability data and derive actionable insights.
Alex West, senior principal analyst, IoT and sustainability, at Omdia, says: “There is a huge opportunity for industrial companies. Many have energy-intensive operations and waste to contend with. Making use of renewables, recycling, and circular models will not only benefit the environment but also deliver meaningful return on value.
“Armed with the metrics to prove the impact of their sustainability initiatives, sustainability leaders can attract employee buy-in and justify further investment – it’s a virtuous cycle.”