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ML Journal

4.0 Sustainability and the Circular Economy

Time to redefine the focus of
industrial sustainability around creative climate-smart innovation.

Today’s urgent debate on the need for greater industrial sustainability often focuses almost exclusively on reduction – reductions in carbon emissions, materials, energy, water, waste, transport miles, and more.

These challenges are all critically important. The World Economic Forum estimates that the global manufacturing and production sector currently generates around 20% of global CO2 emissions and consumes 54% of the world’s energy. Reductions are essential, both to drive efficiency and to curtail the worst excesses of climate change.

Yet, that’s only half the story. As with every industrial transformation over the last two and a half centuries, major shifts in operational approaches and priorities have opened up massive new areas of opportunity for game-changing innovative ideas that have transformed markets, competition, business models, economies, and often whole ways of life.

Manufacturing now stands on the threshold of a new seismic shift in priorities: the sustainable industrial era. The opportunities for competitive climate-smart innovation in this new era, from smart products to green production approaches to global climate-saving solutions, are almost boundless.

There’s no shortage of new ideas out there, many of them already gaining traction. In the last two months alone, Dow has announced plans to open the world’s first zero carbon emissions ethylene cracking and derivatives complex in Canada; Rolls-Royce’s experimental Spirit of Innovation aircraft broke three world records for speed and rate of climb as the world’s fastest all-electric vehicle; the Jones Food Company in the U.K broke ground on what aims be the world’s largest vertical farm providing 148,000 square feet of energy-saving vertical growing space; and one urban air purification project in Anyang, South Korea is even turning compressed smog particles into sustainable jewelry.

In every industrial era, the power of innovation has always driven manufacturing’s development and success. As we begin a new decade, perhaps it’s time the global manufacturing industry rebalanced its whole focus around the sustainability debate, away from a preoccupation with the challenges of disruption and towards a new era of competitive opportunity for creative climate smart innovation. – Paul Tate   M

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