Transforming Manufacturing to Survive, in ‘Global Britain’

Author: Paul Frith.

Theresa May (last week) set out the UK Government approach to leaving the single market but developing a Global Britain, maintaining, at least initially compliance with EU laws and seeking free trade deals with EU countries. Where does this leave the circular economy?

The Circular Economy  concept (see Ellen MacArthur Foundation for information)  is focused around consumption, services and resources. This concept raises aspects such as Remanufacture which is a great challenge for manufacturers in terms of designing products for reuse and take back for remanufacture, in addition to good waste management practices and avoiding unnecessary waste. Some manufacturers have developed great initiatives in this area, we recently experienced this at the Caterpillar Shrewsbury factory, and a level of impetus has been delivered by the Draft EU Circular Economy package and other industry champions (my recent post about Toyota, Tarmac and others). Also the major cities are driving the agenda on the Circular Economy, but progress is sporadic.

At present the policy / financial mechanisms are not strong enough in this area to drive behaviour change across the board, and whilst the message is clear when considered at depth, and the proactive are taking this topic on and yielding competitive advantage, it is a complex case to make to persuade behaviour change in those less proactive.

This is the challenge of the environmentalist today, we have won the fight that landfill is bad (in 2003/4 in England over 75% of municipal waste was landfilled, six years later it was less than 50%, now, six years further on, it is less than 25%). We have won the fight that recycling is good (in 2000 there was around 8% household waste recycling, now we stand at ~43%).

We now need to challenge consumption behaviours, product design and post consumer management, this is where the next big carbon benefits are to be made, but it is a more complex message involving significant steps towards changing practice, with a wide range of players and vested interests. This ‘change barrier’ however should not be daunting, it is consistent with a business truism which was stated to me when I set up Frith Resource Management in 2008 by a good friend of mine, that businesses have to adapt to survive – if your plan for the company is the same the next year as the last year, then you are not being proactive enough. He was right, and most businesses understand this, and the best will empower their own staff to come up with ideas for change and transformation – it is in everyone’s interest to have a company with longevity.

There are also strong environmentally conscious behaviours in the supply chain where environmentally conscious companies expect to work with other environmentally responsible organisations and collectively improvements are engendered. These companies will be ahead of the curve as the Circular Economy embeds.

The British Government is committed to retaining EU laws at least for the next two or three years, and then they will be incorporated into UK law and any subsequent amendment or change subject to parliamentary scrutiny and assent. We are also aiming for free trade deals with the EU, despite not being in the single market. It is surely likely that part of this negotiation will mean retention of labour and environmental standards.

We work with companies (micro scale through to multi-national scale) to set them on this road and provide support along the way ( by identifying in a transparent manner where their impacts are and where they can focus efforts for environmental reward. A simple, low cost, environmental metric that is clear to all stakeholders. We can also undertake further work around the sustainable supply chain and critical elements within it, and support with circular economy thinking. Contact us to discuss if there is anything we can help you with, tel 01746 552423, email


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