Manufacturing industry undergoing rapid sustainability transformation


A new report from Schneider Electric and MIT Technology Review has revealed a shift from incidental to intentional sustainability across leading manufacturing firms’ operations.

The joint research, entitled ‘Equipment management and sustainability’, reveals that leading manufacturers are shifting to making sustainability the goal of process improvements rather than merely a by-product of responsible equipment management.

Some key takeaways from the report include:

  • Product-specific sustainability practices on the rise: Leading firms are modernising processes to enable decarbonisation. This is achieved by improving equipment operations, reducing waste, and making products with less carbon-intensive inputs. The report suggests that manufacturers are seeking increased access to visibility through data analytics and digitally connected supply chains. Embracing Industry 4.0 principles, manufacturers are using sensors and performance management tools to increase the flow of carbon/sustainability-relevant data across the firm’s entire operations.
  • Modular processes enabling better predictions:Technology is also being used to build better predictive processes and reorganise them to be leaner and modular. It allows producers to adjust assembly lines, processes, and material inputs for more precise calibration. In turn, this allows for better forecasting and ‘on demand’ customised manufacturing. Organisations can now use virtual designs to stress-test new sustainability production models in virtual reality before committing them to the carbon intensive ‘physical’ reality, such as digital twinning to reduce energy in production design processes.
  • Purposeful design aids the circular economy:  Leading manufacturing firms are reimagining manufacturing processes in pursuit of ‘circular economy’ goals. This often involves a long-term business plan for managing materials and ‘design for sustainability’ manufacturing principles. These include building facilities to disassemble existing products to make better use of spare parts and total cost of ownership (TCO) models, which link product design to fewer processes, more sustainable inputs, and even reducing the lifespan of machinery-intensive products to take advantage of iterative innovations in electric efficiency.

Frédéric Godemel, EVP of Power Systems & Services at Schneider Electric, said manufacturing is transitioning from incidental to intentional sustainability.

“Sustainability is no longer a happy coincidence; now, the illustrious pairing of efficient equipment management and purposeful green principles sees manufacturing set on a course for effective decarbonisation in the long term,” he explained.

“That being said, the time we have to decarbonise is swiftly dwindling. Manufacturers must accelerate their efforts through optimal use of data and digital technologies if the industry is to make a significant contribution to international climate goals when it matters.”