Telford & Wrekin Council are keen to support their manufacturing businesses to become greener. To build growth and prosperity for the long term, the Telford business community needs to be able to access tools and support to enable them to reduce their carbon footprint, localise their supply chains and decarbonise their infrastructure network. By operating sustainably, the Telford & Wrekin manufacturing sector can build resilience to recent variables such as the UK’s net zero ambition and the global desire for sustainable manufacturing. A recommended solution to build resilience is to develop resource efficiency clusters (RECs) in the area.
Telford & Wrekin Council’s challenge is to support the manufacturing sector to operate sustainably and achieve net zero.
To support them, the Telford business base will need to be aware of the following key influences:
- The market in which they and their supply chain operate
- The UK’s net zero ambition and the surrounding policies and legislation
- The global desire and demand for sustainable manufacturing
- The changing job markets.
Telford & Wrekin’s manufacturing sector has long been respected for its sustainability strategy and practical applications to reduce environmental impacts - simultaneously improving business profitability and continuity.
This stems from the introduction of Japanese based corporations during the 1980s to address high levels of unemployment at the time. These forward-thinking organisations formed a bubble of innovation within Telford, developing continuous improvement and stretching environmental targets that were ahead of most of the UK. Initiatives on zero waste to landfill, circular economy, energy efficiency and natural capital have all been implemented by Telford companies over time. These have subsequently become exemplar case studies and have supported regional and national strategies.
Nevertheless, in recent years, the UK and global economy have been impacted by several variables including the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict in Europe, Brexit, and the increased cost of living. For some businesses, this may have resulted in sustainability becoming a lower priority. The UK’s net zero ambitions have also highlighted that there is a skills gap in the UK workforce with increasing demand for employees with sustainability understanding, awareness and skills. However, supply does not currently match demand. The council is committed to supporting its manufacturing sector reduce its carbon footprint amidst this backdrop. The challenge is to drive sustainability in businesses during a time where resources and finances are stretched and also drive collaboration between businesses to achieve this. Working on sustainability without collaboration misses opportunities to develop and deploy best practice to increase business benefits.
The solution: Resource Efficiency Clusters
The Government set a legal requirement to achieve net zero by 2050. Businesses must also achieve this. It is clear that to achieve net zero, Telford & Wrekin’s manufacturing sector will need to collaborate in a cost-effective manner. Sustainability West Midlands were commissioned by the LGA as part of its Economic Growth Advisers programme to undertake research to identify ways the council could support its manufacturing base become greener.
After analysing the WRAP ‘Case Study: Resource Efficiency Clusters’ it was clear that developing a resource efficiency cluster could be a solution. SWM engaged with local businesses through online interviews and surveys. They also engaged with Andy Whyle who was the chair of the previous Telford & Wrekin resource efficiency cluster, Business Environmental Support Scheme for Telford, (BESST) to develop their understanding further.
It makes business sense to accept that sustainability should not be a competitive issue. Collaboration between businesses (large and small), educational establishments and innovators can develop responsible growth whilst increasing productivity. A resource efficiency cluster brings businesses together to reduce their environmental impact and generate benefits. This is done by sharing resources and best practice and collaborating. Resource efficiency clusters typically focus on how resources are used, particularly focusing on reducing waste, energy and water use, and minimising pollution and costs.
The increased sustainability of participating organisations improves their bottom-line profitability and performance, increasing business resilience and continuity. This continuity stabilises and grows business productivity, contributing towards Telford’s net zero and inward investment growth targets.
By bringing businesses together, opportunities for industrial symbiosis will be easier to identify. The bi-products from one business (be they materials or heat) could be a valuable resource for another organisation. Opportunities to share resources (such as employees or equipment) within a geographical area (for example an industrial estate) might also be identified.
Engagement with the businesses that form the resource efficiency cluster will be simplified (with a one-to-many approach), meaning that it will be an effective means of sharing information and knowledge on areas including funding, policy and legislation.
The implementation and development of resource efficiency clusters is considered to be a key solution to Telford & Wrekin’s manufacturing sector achieving net zero.
How is the new approach being sustained?
In order to establish an effective resource efficiency cluster, it is recommended that Telford & Wrekin Council take a lead in supporting the following activities:
- Further research to understand business perspectives on sustainability motivations, priorities, and risks.
- Design the cluster to ensure that it enhances business awareness and knowledge of the benefits of sustainability and the risks of not acting sustainably.
- Encourage businesses to commit to a net zero business pledge, and the associated activity and monitoring required to make this effective.
- Encourage businesses to collect data and establish their emissions baseline, and then to provide ongoing monitoring and analysis to drive change.
- Support businesses to collaborate and identify opportunities for industrial symbiosis
- Support businesses to address energy efficiency.
- Create a ‘green fund’ to support sustainability activities.
- Engage with relevant partners in the area such as stakeholders involved in the renewable energy drive in the Marches, the Coal Authority who are looking at opportunities associated with heat from mine water, and local business networks.
- Support education providers and businesses to upskill the workforce for the jobs of the future.
The research highlighted the need for Telford & Wrekin’s manufacturing businesses to receive greater support in their ambitions to become more sustainable, building on existing examples of leading practice in the area, with peer-to-peer support and collaboration. This is increasingly important as they seek to operate in an environment challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, international conflict, and rising operational costs. Operating sustainably makes good business sense, but organisations need support in making the business case for change, and in funding capital investments.
The research took place between November 2021 and February 2022 overlapping with COVID-19 plan B restrictions. This presented challenges in securing a high number of participants in the survey, however, the majority of those taking part in the survey indicated that joining a Resource Efficiency Cluster would be beneficial.