Ideas for Leaders #653

Sustainable Manufacturing Part 2: Five Pathways

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Key Concept

A collaborative research project on sustainable manufacturing between a food and drink giant and a university uncovers five pathways to sustainable manufacturing in 2050 that leverage technology and collaboration to build environmentally conscious supply chains that support — and involve — society.

Idea Summary

In 2015, Coca-Cola Enterprises Great Britain and Cranfield University collaborated to launch a project on ‘Sustainable Manufacturing for the Future.’ The first phase of the project was a roundtable discussion that led to six themes: People, Big Data, Technology, Collaboration, Value and Resilience. This phase is covered in Idea 652.

Once the themes were identified, a research team led by Cranfield professors Peter Ball and Mark Jolly conducted six months of qualitative and quantitative research, which ranged from face-to-face interviews and workshops with industry and academic experts to reviewing academic peer-reviewed articles and industry publications.

Based on the results of this research, the team identified five pathways toward sustainable manufacturing in the food and drink industry in 2050:

Anticipating the Future. As with every other industry, the food and drink industry will benefit from the growing capabilities of Big Data and the Internet of Things to shine a light on the industry’s supply chain, ensuring maximum efficiency and minimum environmental disruption. One example will be the use of sensors to monitor all activities (e.g. the level of nutrients in the food); the generated data will then be converted into easy-to-understand visuals shared in real time with customers.

Providing Nutrition. Instead of focusing on mass-produced processed foods, the industry will continue to shift, thanks to technology, to more personalized and healthier products. The industry will also increase its efforts to reduce waste, for example through local sourcing.

Sharing the Benefits. Collaboration will become a key word in the industry, not only among companies, organizations and suppliers — including the sharing of big data to create a more sustainable supply chain — but also through co-creation with customers. New business models will help manufacturers take the lead in ensuring the well-being of both individuals and society.

Inspiring the Next Generation. There are exciting opportunities for skilled young people, notably engineers, to make a difference through manufacturing. Companies have to nurture the careers of their leaders and work within the community to attract the excitement and enthusiasm of young learners.

Joining Forces. Companies will reach out beyond traditional business borders and transactional relationships to engage consumers and society at large in the effort to preserve and recycle resources and reduce waste. This will include educating consumers on environmentally friendly behaviour. The bottom line is finding ways to both improve value for customers while benefiting the environment and society.

Business Application

Profit is a short-term and ephemeral measure of success. Companies recognize today that true success is sustainable — by definition, one that is lasting, and even potentially ever-lasting. For manufacturers, sustainability requires recognizing and managing the scarcity of resources such as water and energy. It also requires companies to attend to the health and wellness of people — not just the people they employ, but also all the people they impact.

In broad terms, the pathways identified in this research — using data to improve processes and transparency, personalising products with local resources and production, collaborating and co-creating with all stakeholders, inspiring the next generation of manufacturing leaders and accepting the mandate to serve society — form a blueprint for action in any industry.

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Idea conceived

  • March 2016

Idea posted

  • April 2017

DOI number



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