Home Technology Looking to improve sustainability? The answer may be closer to home

Looking to improve sustainability? The answer may be closer to home


‘Buy British’ is usually a sentiment associated with the food sector but is fast becoming a popular mantra in the healthcare sector, where a combination of pandemic and environmental factors is driving more organisations to consider UK made products, according to a Warwickshire based advanced materials manufacturer. 

Kevin Porter, technical director at Tecman Advanced Healthcare Products, argues that while British manufacturers have often based their pitch on quality and customer service, they are increasingly able to compete on sustainability grounds and attract customers looking to meet challenging net-zero targets.

This is because for many years sustainability has been used as shorthand for assessing recyclability and plastic content, but a more holistic understanding of emissions and supply chains is showing global products come with a heavy environmental price tag.

The trouble with modern supply chains

When looking to improve supply chain sustainability, many procurement professionals look at the materials used in manufacturing, the plastic content and the degree to which products can be recycled or disposed of using existing waste streams. These are important, but don’t tell the full story.

Modern supply chains can be very complex. Specialisation has evolved to such an extent that many firms are now carrying out very specific parts of production at very low prices, but at a much larger, hidden cost to the planet.

For a reusable face shield, in many cases there are separate manufacturers for the plastic shield, the headband, a foam padding, the box, the fastener components – the list goes on. Each of these manufacturers order materials from suppliers and ship the semi-finished product from one location to the next, racking up air, sea and road emissions that often remain hidden.

This makes understanding product sustainability a very difficult and time-consuming task that relies on a level of transparency that is hard to find.

Looking closer to home for sustainability

The healthcare sector in the UK underwent a recalibration during the pandemic, when many essential products and components couldn’t be sourced due to huge global demand, export restrictions and disrupted supply chains. This led many organisations, including the UK government, to look to British suppliers for some of these critical products.

As the ‘emergency’ phase of the pandemic has ended and stockpiles start to deplete, the temptation is to revert to old procurement routines, sourcing cheaper products from international suppliers and continuing business as usual. However, many are sticking with the new approach, but not for availability reasons.

NHS and private sector customers are increasingly focused on making their organisations carbon neutral or even carbon negative, especially now they can focus on procuring strategically rather than simply needing to get products, like PPE, to the frontline. To do this, they are scrutinising products more carefully to assess exactly what their environmental credentials are by considering materials, transport emissions, packaging and more.

A report by WMG and ReshoringUK found improving sustainability was a key reason for many firms in deciding to move more operations back to the UK. This is no doubt being driven partly by customers taking a more holistic view of sustainability and stripping out inefficiencies in their supply chains.

Unsurprisingly, one major way in which UK made products stand out is related to distance – shipping goods from Warwickshire to Newcastle via road is much better for the planet than airfreighting them from China. British manufacturers, like Tecman, that convert raw materials into finished products and manage the whole product development cycle, have a more complete understanding of their carbon footprint and have control over ways in which products can be made even more sustainable.

UK manufacturers can often give customers granularity on product sustainability too – something many international suppliers find difficult to do. For example, at Tecman we can set out how our innovative manufacturing processes save over 10 tonnes of plastic per million units and demonstrate how using biomaterials from sustainable forested trees reduces plastic use and enables customers to meet environmental targets.

Moving beyond price

Not everyone will decide to look to UK partners to supply their products, but if we are serious about sustainability, we cannot simply evaluate all products on their cost and recyclability status. There needs to be more transparency from everyone in the supply chain so those making procurement decisions can do so with all the relevant information to hand.

Buying UK made doesn’t guarantee a more sustainable product, but it is worth investigating.

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