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Sustainability

Clean Growth (it’s not all flowers and hair shirts)

Last year UK government launched its modern Industrial Strategy. The aim: to build an economy fit for the future and become a world leader in the industries that will define it.

In a series of blogs, Sam Nicholson, Head of Manufacturing at the GC Business Growth Hub, will explore each of the four Grand Challenges identified in the strategy and consider how SME manufacturers can embrace the exciting opportunities ahead. Here she explores the Clean Growth Challenge.

What is Clean Growth?

“The move to cleaner economic growth – through low carbon technologies and the efficient use of resources – is one of the greatest industrial opportunities of our time.”

Industrial Strategy 

Economic growth has brought huge benefits to society, but it’s been far from perfect. Pollution, resource depletion, water scarcity and a warming planet are among the defining issues of our time. These crises have been exacerbated by an approach to economic growth which is now long out-of-date. As the government explains in its Industrial Strategy, we owe it to ourselves and future generations to do better.

A clean economy is one in which economic growth has been ‘decoupled’ from environmental harm. It is low carbon (pumping fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere), resource efficient (doing more with less), circular (keeping materials in use for as long as possible), and low impact (supporting natural living systems).

Things are changing fast. Tightening environmental legislation and growing public pressure on companies to provide sustainable products are revolutionising markets at an ever more aggressive pace - just look at what’s happening in the world of plastics less than a year after the BBC’s Blue Planet II series exposed the disastrous impact of plastic pollution in our oceans.

Whole new industries are being created as businesses diversify into clean products and services, whether it’s the manufacture of high-tech green technologies or the use of low impact, resource efficient materials. The government’s own figures suggest the clean economy could grow at four times the rate of GDP, which is why leading companies from Unilever to M&S are transforming their business models to capitalise on the opportunity.

Such is the importance of clean growth to the future economy that it underpins two of the Industrial Strategy’s other Grand Challenges. The Mobility Challenge is fundamentally about how to move people and goods around in a way that does not pollute our environment, while one of the main applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data technologies is to develop smarter, greener systems for business.

From Paris with love

Perhaps the defining tipping point towards a clean growth economy came in 2015, when an historic global agreement on climate change was achieved in Paris. For the first time, nearly 200 countries came together and agreed to set targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement necessitates an unprecedented overhaul of the global economy, affecting every sector and requiring the reallocation of trillions of pounds of public and private investment in the pursuit of lowering emissions.

In the same year, the UN agreed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to implement across the global economy by 2030, encompassing themes such as clean water and energy, sustainable cities, and responsible production and consumption.

What does it mean for manufacturing?

It’s not hard to see how manufacturers will be affected by all of this. Manufacturers tend to be the most energy- and resource-intensive enterprises by definition, so it is here where clean growth presents its biggest opportunities (or risks, for those who fail to keep up).

At the factory level, the switch to an entirely new relationship with energy use has already begun. Forward-thinking manufacturers are protecting themselves against rising electricity prices by investing in low energy technologies and embracing smart, digital solutions to improve efficiency.

As the energy grid is upgraded to accommodate more intermittent renewable power sources, companies are also being incentivised to reduce consumption at peak times - thereby using the greenest (and cheapest) energy on the grid. Companies that can generate and/or store their own clean power on-site will be best-placed to make the most of these opportunities.

This transformation requires a supportive environment for new technologies, which is why the Industrial Strategy promises to make the UK “one of the best places in the world to develop and sell clean technologies” by increasing innovation funding in everything from clean energy to new, efficient materials. Greater Manchester and the wider North West is already leading the way in this area with its leadership in revolutionary new materials like graphene. The market for green technologies and services is expected to grow exponentially - it is already worth more than £6.7 billion in Greater Manchester alone, supporting 2,400 businesses.

Cleaner manufacturing is a quadruple win - it boosts your bottom line, improves energy and resource security and minimises your environmental impact, boosting competitiveness in the process. The growing demand for clean products and services is already echoing through supply chains, prompting companies downstream to show preference towards suppliers with strong green credentials.

Here’s where we come in

Here at the Business Growth Hub, we have a track-record of delivering internationally-renowned environmental business advice and support. In Greater Manchester we offer specialist support for companies that provide green technologies and services, as well as a team of experts in clean growth that work closely with our manufacturing advisors to deliver success, be it efficiency on the production line or designing greener products. There’s no one better to help you on your clean growth journey.

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Sam Nicholson

Sam Nicholson, Head of Manufacturing

Sam specialises in turning policy into successful business support programmes, helping thousands of manufacturers drive productivity and strive for operational excellence.

Before joining the Business Growth Hub, Sam spent 11 years working at ENWORKS. She played a key role in building the service into an internationally recognised example of best practice in environmental business support.