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Shrinking The Manufacturing Carbon Footprint

15 minutes for read

Manufacturing and production are responsible for one-fifth of global emissions.

High carbon footprints aren’t limited to specific industries; they’re characteristic across sectors providing raw, processed, and intermediary materials. Given the pervasive nature of carbon emissions, developing strategies and solutions applicable across sectors is necessary. Let’s dive into what the carbon footprint of manufacturing is.

In this article, we will:

  • Learn the existing patterns in the carbon footprint of the manufacturing sector,
  • Explore some standard solutions,
  • Discuss the efficacy of the circular economy model, and
  • Demonstrate the benefits of cooperation and collaboration. 

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What is the Carbon Footprint of Manufacturing?

Manufacturing includes industries that physically, chemically, or mechanically transform materials into new products.

The manufacturing sector drives economic growth, contributing 16 per cent of the global GDP, and directly provides 35 million jobs in the European Union (EU). However, manufacturing is also a significant contributor to climate change and other environmental issues.

The manufacturing sector’s carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are caused by using fossil fuels for energy, transportation, and raw materials for industrial processes. Carbon footprint of manufacturing constitutes around 21 per cent of total emissions.

Thecarbon footprint of the manufacturing sector needs to be reduced to meet national climate targets. To this end, the EU has set ambitious reduction targets of 55 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

So, what can manufacturers do to achieve this goal?

6 Strategies to Reduce Carbon Footprint in Manufacturing

Businesses should realise that cutting the carbon footprint of manufacturing will benefit them.

Adopting carbon reduction technologies will increase efficiency and decrease waste. Businesses that meet their ESG compliance goals will avoid costly fines and penalties. Moreover, as consumers seek more sustainable products, cutting emissions will help companies stay competitive and retain their markets.  

Among the broad spectrum changes that industries can make are increasing energy efficiency, choosing renewable and eco-friendly materials, and implementing circular design. 

1. Optimise Production Processes 

Regardless of the industry, production processes can be optimised using lean manufacturing principles to improve efficiency and reduce waste.

Waste is any unused material, process, or work time that doesn’t add value for which customers will pay. Eliminating waste can reduce lead time/manufacturing time and operating costs while increasing quality through the supply chain.

The production and services sectors follow specific manufacturing principles to reduce waste. The five principles of lean manufacturing are

  • Determining value by evaluating what the customer is prepared to pay,
  • Map the value stream throughout a product’s lifecycle by analysing resource use,
  • Create a flow for constant delivery by removing barriers to production,
  • Establish a pull system to manufacture only in response to demand instead of preplanning that leads to over or under-production, and
  • Pursue perfection through ongoing assessment and process improvements. 

Some examples of lean manufacturing practices that produce direct benefits for companies include

  • Switching off unused machines to reduce energy usage, 
  • Implement control systems for processes to increase energy efficiency,
  • Invest in maintenance and efficient equipment to improve production efficiency,
  • Choose sustainable product designs and new manufacturing processes to decrease material use, and
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover materials to reduce waste. 

2. Embrace Renewable Energy Sources 

The manufacturing sector uses 54 per cent of global power.

In 2022, manufacturing industries were the third largest source of carbon emissions (19.6 per cent, in the EU, after power generation and domestic transportation. 

Most of the carbon footprint of manufacturing comes from energy generated from non-renewable carbon-rich fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. Switching to renewable energy, which is obtained from replenishing sources and doesn’t generate carbon emissions, can help manufacturers reach net zero emissions targets by 2050.

Some of the renewable energy sources available for manufacturers in the EU are

  • Solar and wind energy,
  • Hydropower of varying sizes that is flexible and has storage potential,
  • Bioenergy produced from biomass and biofuels to reduce GHG, and
  • Offshore energy generated by ocean-based resources like tidal, wave, wind, or thermal energy.

As manufacturers substitute fossil fuels with these renewables, they will be able to reduce carbon footprint of manufacturingby avoiding certain classes of emissions, like

  • Scope 1 emissions from onsite operation and production processes or vehicles can be avoided through recovered heating, heat pumps, and bioenergy.
  • Scope 2 emissions, accrued indirectly from energy or electricity purchased for heating and cooling, can be reduced by choosing solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, or offshore energy providers.

Manufacturers can choose energy providers that show Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) or Guarantees of Origin (GOs) to ensure validity.

3. Reduce Transportation Emissions 

Domestic transportation (23.1 per cent) in the EU is the second largest source of GHG emissions.

Manufacturers emit them not only through vehicle use and travel by staff but also through upstream and downstream transportation of raw materials and finished goods. Businesses can look for options that cut carbon footprint of manufacturing and save money, such as:

  • Sourcing raw materials locally instead of globally,
  • Grouping deliveries to save trips, and
  • Encouraging staff to use public transport, trains, and roads to avoid air travel.

Transportation emissions can also be cut by adopting circular economy principles. 

4. Adopting Circular Economy Principles 

Circular economy principles reduce material use by avoiding losses in the product life cycle.

A circular economy model emphasises using product design to encourage the reuse and recycling of materials in end-of-life items and incorporate them in remanufacturing new products. This keeps materials in circulation as long as possible and prevents the extraction and processing of new materials. 

As a result, the energy used for processing raw materials and their transport is decreased. Reduction in carbon footprint of manufacturing are more significant when recycling and material recovery centres are locally or regionally situated. Waste is also reduced. The circular economy’s waste hierarchy prioritises cutting emissions and pollution through reducing, reusing, refurbishing, recycling, and recovering over incineration and disposal.

For example, instead of incinerating or landfilling end-of-life tires (ELTs), mechanical and chemical recycling by Contec produces valuable secondary products for open-loop and closed-loop applications.

According to the Circularity Gap Report 2021, only 8.6% per cent of the manufacturing used circular materials. The report says that manufacturing emits 80 billion tonnes of GHG with ‘business as usual’ practices. It’s possible to reduce emissions to zero if manufacturers educe reliance on extracting new minerals, metals, and fossil fuels by doubling circularity to 17 per cent. According to the Circularity Gap Report 2024, unfortunately, in 2023, circularity dropped to 7.2 per cent.Moreover, resource use in the past six years was reported to be half a trillion tonnes of material equal to that consumed in the previous century.

Individual manufacturers cannot achieve the transition to circularity in isolation. They must collaborate across the supply chain to make the circular economy a reality. 

5. Collaborating Across the Supply Chain (And Stakeholders)

Supply chain emissions are 11 times higher than operational carbon footprints, so manufacturers have to focus on their processes and other stakeholders they deal with.

Even if manufacturers use circular, novel designs that prioritise recycled materials or components, they still need reliable recycling partners in the supply chain. Sourcing sustainable materials from like-minded suppliers interested in reducing carbon emissions and environmental impact can be an asset for manufacturers. These could be already eco-friendly sources or ready to change to reduce carbon footprint of manufacturing.

Similarly, a business can help other stakeholders by producing materials or products with low carbon footprints. For example, Contec produces Recovered Carbon Black (rCB), whose carbon footprint is 80 per cent lower than virgin Carbon Black from fossil fuels. The rCB is produced by collecting ELTs and processing them in their novel tire pyrolysis plant. Contec’s rCB can be used instead of virgin grades to make new tires and reduce the carbon footprint of tire manufacturing and the automobile industry supply chain.

Krzysztof Wróblewski, the CEO of Contec, says,

“Sustainability brings integrity to the manufacturing industry. Of course, it’s also a collective effort: every team member contributes. Collaboration accelerates the transition to circularity by supplying sustainable raw materials to the rubber industry. With such a new product, like recovered Carbon Black, you must teach your clients the best application use cases.”

6. Reducing Scope 3 Emissions

Carbon emissions reductions throughout the supply chain will also address Scope 3 emissions of an industry.

It’s now apparent that Scope 3 emissions from upstream and downstream operations are far higher than the combined Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Scope 3 emissions comprise around 70 per cent of a product’s carbon footprint, and reducing Scope 3 emissions is industry-specific.

Upstream reduction can be achieved by increasing the content of recycled raw materials procured from suppliers.

Reducing packaging or using reusable materials is one way of reducing waste and carbon footprint of manufacturing. Through circular design, manufacturers can determine emissions linked to product use and treatment of end-of-life products. Designing for easy disassembly and recycling will reduce Extended Producer Responsibility costs, help increase circularity, and eliminate emissions.

One of the current challenges is the lack of information on the carbon footprint of raw materials and finished products. This makes calculating Scope 3 emissions difficult, and without measurement, improvements are hard to make. Lack of carbon information is one of many challenges industries face in cutting emissions.

An Opportunity In The Making

Manufacturers are also challenged by ever-changing regulations, which are growing stricter and increasing compliance requirements. The 2030 deadline for cutting carbon emissions by 55 per cent isn’t far. As Martin Chilcott points out, manufacturing needs to make dramatic changes to increase sustainability. Fortunately, significant changes have already been achieved through efficiency improvement and the size reduction of mobiles reducing the size of cars.

Therefore, rather than considering carbon reduction compliance a burden, it should be treated as an opportunity to innovate and improve efficiency, ROI, brand image, and reputation. Energy efficiency reduces emissions and results in long-term savings through improved productivity. Supply chain optimisation can build stronger partnerships and resilient material flow.

The EU compliance requirements to cut the carbon footprint of manufacturing will require a change in mindset to reach 2030 targets. However, adopting one or more reduction strategies like production and supply chain optimisation, use of renewable energy, cutting transportation emissions, using circular principles, and collaboration in the supply chain will make any manufacturing sector more competitive and profitable. Minimising material use and reducing waste will be critical to the process.

In this regard, Contec can be a valuable partner for cutting carbon footprint of manufacturing rubber products and tires. At Contec, we’re dedicated to accelerating this transformation by providing sustainable and circular products such as recovered Carbon Black (ConBlack®), recovered Tire Pyrolysis Oil (ConPyro®), and recovered Steel (ConWire®). Contec uses a proprietary pyrolysis process to turn end-of-life tires into new commodities. Learn more about our process.

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