Hans-Georg Scheibe, Vorstand, ROI-EFESO |
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Why only excellent processes can be sustainable
August 4, 2023 was a landmark day for the planet. Why? Because, according to calculations by research organisation Global Footprint Network‘s, that was the day that humanity‘s demand for resources this year exceeded what the earth can regenerate annually. The organisation calls it Earth Overshoot Day and we‘ve been reaching it quicker every year, ever since it began keeping records in 1971. The fact that the ‘day‘ has been reached earlier and earlier every year since then is largely thanks to the increasing resource consumption of economies of the developing countries, and by no means just those based in North America, Western Europe or the Far East.
OK, it‘s true that the Earth Overshoot Day is merely a theoretical model calculation, one whose statistical validity can be questioned, just as easily as its polemic content. But perhaps it would be more productive for us to consider instead what reaching this day says about the highly automated, digitized and supposedly environmentally conscious world we supposedly live in.
The answer is obvious - our industrialized processes, value chains and product life cycles consume far too many resources. Quite simply, they are not good enough, not as efficient as they could, and should, be. That is not for want of trying. Throughout the history of industrialization, participants have constantly sought to increase efficiency and reduce the waste of resources. Because, whether we are talking about minimising the wastage of raw materials, time, energy or capital, it‘s profitable - on every level - to attempt to do so. But increasing efficiency and conserving resources go hand in hand. And inefficient industrial processes cannot, by definition, be sustainable.
Our collective experience has shown that the need to be ever-mindful of this truth isn‘t so compelling if the negative effects of production can be externalized, and, or if, resources are available at low cost and in unlimited quantities. So it falls to the legislators, political decision-makers and the public consensus - at both national and international level - to ensure that wasting resources simply does not pay. At its core, any work undertaken to foster lean, digitally industrialized processes, those that strike an appropriate balance between efficiency and resilience, is therefore also work that inherently improves the ecological footprint of the manufacturing industry.
Frankly, it‘s an effort that we should all be fully invested in, and one that - selfevidently - we need to prioritise as a matter of urgency, particularly given the seismic shifts in the global economy and the very visible resulting impacts on our environment and ecology. In this issue of our magazine, we want to explore the concept of ‘Industrial Sustainability‘ and show how the industry of the future can effectively combine sustainability, innovation and process excellence.
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