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Profitability and Sustainability: how manufacturing can have it all

Written by Mathieu Xhonneux

These last years, the manufacturing industry faced a fair number of challenges. Supply chains have been severely disrupted by the COVID pandemic. Energy prices have surged due to the war in Ukraine. Two-digit inflation is now destabilizing entire markets. On top of all these issues, companies are also expected to fully engage in the energy transition and to comply with new sustainability regulations (CSRD, CBAM, ETS II, …). It is no wonder that executives sometimes get skeptical about the capabilities of their businesses to tackle these challenges.

Yet, we at BrightWolves observed during our previous sustainability engagements that companies often underestimate the potential of decarbonizing their operations. Hence, we want to convey a simple and reassuring message to our clients: profitability and sustainability in manufacturing are perfectly reconcilable – it is even the best way forward.

In our collective race to a net-zero industry, entire value chains need to decarbonize by 2050. Whereas in the past, supply chain optimization and operational excellence were sufficient to guarantee a profitable factory, attaining net-zero targets is a much more interdisciplinary challenge. E.g., in carbon accounting standards (such as the GHG Protocol), direct & electricity-related emissions (Scopes 1 & 2, respectively) are separated from the emissions arising upstream and downstream in the value chain (Scope 3).

In practice, this means that different emission sources call for different solutions. Process and energy-related emissions from production should be reduced by improving the manufacturing operations (operational excellence with a focus on energy efficiency) and re-engineering (e.g., switch to renewable energies). To decrease indirect upstream emissions, companies should source those raw materials with the lowest possible carbon footprint. However, sustainable procurement is easier said than done: if low-carbon alternatives are not readily available, one must engage with its suppliers to collect GHG data and encourage them to accelerate their respective climate journey.

Similarly, downstream emissions, from the distribution, usage, and end-of-life (EoL) treatment of the products also need to be considered. Solutions here include rolling out low-carbon logistics, using eco-friendly packaging or embracing circularity in the product design and within your business model.

Our winning use-case based approach for sustainability in manufacturing

Embracing sustainability while maintaining profitability in manufacturing is no easy feat. It requires a transversal approach, at the crossroad of distinct know-hows: sustainable procurement, green & efficient operations, and circular strategy design. Given the inherent difficulty of the task, BrightWolves advocates for an agile and iterative methodology to efficiently kick-off such transformations:

  1. We identify the most polluting activities in the value chain thanks to a life-cycle assessment or a carbon footprint calculation (see also our blog post on LCAs).

  2. We draw up, using the scientific output of the assessment, a list of concrete initiatives to mitigate GHG emissions and prioritize them: we focus first on the quick wins with the largest impact & lowest costs.

  3. We help you to roll-out these initiatives by deploying prototypes, proofs-of-concepts, or MVPs that mitigate GHG emissions (see also our blog post on the use-case-based approach).

Backed by our strong expertise in sustainability topics, this science-based and experiment-driven methodology enables companies to progressively unlock their decarbonization potential, while keeping costs at a minimum. By rolling out consecutive small experiments, instead of a single and large big-bang transformation, we allow your organization to quickly build knowledge on sustainability topics and set up a continuous improvement culture focused on your net-zero targets.

Is your company aiming to become a sustainability front-runner? Are you lacking the internal resources or expertise to kick-off a sustainable transformation? Reach out to one of our experts Miguel Van Damme or Peter-Jan Roose to learn more about how BrightWolves can help you in this process.


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