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The reality is that in the not-so-distant future, we'll be operating in a resource and carbon-constrained world, be that physically, economically, politically, or environmentally. It'll be game-changing. How manufacturing businesses behave now will likely determine the success or otherwise of their organisation and certainly dictate our planet's future.

Past excesses and global trends driven by demographic expectations and new regulations have led to a 'green revolution' in the manufacturing industry. And COVID-19 has prompted the sector to think about a 'green recovery'.

The pandemic has put improving resilience high on the agenda too for most organisations. It's encouraging to see many already recognise the role of environmental sustainability within that and the criticality of adopting sustainable principles. And in reacting to and dealing with COVID-19, the industry has proved that new, more sustainable ways of working are entirely possible and, in most cases, preferable. Digitalisation, automation, and advanced manufacturing technologies are increasingly being seen as essential rather than nice-to-have.

Sustainable manufacturing is here to stay

Contracts are already referencing sustainability as a core requirement with consideration being given to a product or material's environmental impact from production to end-of-life disposal. Stakeholders such as suppliers, customers, employees, and investors are looking to organisations with a positive environmental impact. According to a Nielsen report, Gen Z is willing to pay more for products produced by organisations that prioritise sustainability. Manufacturers simply can't afford to ignore sustainability.

Sustainable processes and systems that minimise environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources, and reducing emissions and waste, sit at the heart of green manufacturing. Sustainability spans every aspect of business and should be integrated into every business function: product, process, and system. In fact, it often starts with teams responsible for research and development (R&D) – whether that's carried out formally or as a by-product of process, operations, or other improvements.

Commitment to sustainability encourages innovation

When we start to question how and why things are done, we see the pitfalls and opportunities for improvement. Analysing, assessing, and reconstructing ways of working are at the core of innovation and play to research and development activity.

Many manufacturers are practised in continuous improvement. Whether to support sustainability or improve operations, the process which sees design being developed, put into practice, and iterations being made is 'business as usual'. Yet, it forms the basis for R&D, a process that brings about positive improvements for the business and our planet and opens up the opportunity for R&D tax credits, which can lead to further business improvements and more innovation.

Research by Make UK in partnership with E. ON gave manufacturing businesses an extra incentive to commit to green manufacturing, showing sustainability and profitability go hand in hand. In fact, in the 12 months preceding the research, 40% of businesses reported increased profit margins and 30% increased competitiveness as a result.

Several household names are leading the way where sustainability and innovation is concerned, and smaller brands are hot on their heels with planet-friendly initiatives:


Coca-Cola's focus includes water preservation, energy and climate protection, and sustainable packaging. The company is actively involved in community recycling programs, efficient energies in production and supplies, and green packaging designs.


McDonald's are taking the lead in going green by incorporating the outcomes of fast foods on people's health while reducing their overall energy consumption. From energy-efficient appliances to cut energy wastage by 25% to parking lots reserved for hybrid vehicles only and with permeable concrete with the capability of recharging the vehicles and cleaning groundwater.

Discover more green initiatives from global organisations at

Celtic Renewables

Celtic Renewables is the first company to create biofuel from whisky by-products. Only 10% of what flows out of a distillery is future whisky: the rest is mainly draff and pot ale. Celtic Renewables combines these by-products to create high-value renewable products, including biobutanol.

MacRebur Roads

MacRebur Roads are tackling two problems: the build-up of plastic waste worldwide and the cost and danger of low-quality roads. By mixing non-recyclable plastic waste with asphalt, they create more durable road surfaces and help build a circular economy. They use the equivalent weight of 684,000 bottles or 1.8 million single-use plastic bags for each kilometre of road. One tonne of MacRebur mix contains the equivalent of 80,000 plastic bottles.

Be inspired by other smaller businesses taking on the big challenges:

You can find out more about R&D tax credits for the manufacturing sector and deep dive into the world of business innovation with our insights.

Or speak to us for help identifying historic qualifying activity and getting the credit for it. Call 01233 653008.