How components manufacturers can reduce their carbon footprint

Footprint in amongst forest of green trees

How can the carbon footprint of industrial components be reduced? 

Components are used in a huge range of products, industries and applications, as an aesthetic finish, a functional part or for safety and protection. So as businesses look to make their products more sustainable, the carbon footprint of these essential solutions is now under review.

This article will explain how plastic component manufacturers are working to minimize the carbon impact of their products and why it’s important. 

"Climate change is one of the biggest challenges that humanity faces. We are committed to playing our part in solving global sustainability challenges, and helping our customers achieve their sustainability goals."

Jennifer Spence
Head of Sustainability Strategy, Essentra Components

Carbon neutral vs net zero – what’s the difference?

Both carbon neutral and net zero targets are created to help businesses reduce their environmental impact. Yet there are subtle differences between the two definitions which are important to understand when considering a manufacturer’s environmental credentials or objectives:

  • Carbon neutral: Carbon neutrality can be achieved by offsetting any greenhouse gases released. It can be tied to a specific product or service, and the measurement only relates to scope 1 (direct from fuel use) and scope 2 (indirect from purchased and used energy) emissions. For example, if a manufacturer is trying to make their components carbon neutral, they can offset the release of any emissions caused by both their internal production process and the generation of any energy they’ve purchased and used. 
  • Net zero: to be a net zero business, manufacturers need to work to reduce the amount of all greenhouse gases emitted in the first instance to be as close to zero as possible. These include scope 3 (all indirect value chain emissions, such as the greenhouse gases emitted to make the machinery used in a manufacturing facility) as well as scope 1 and 2 emissions. Net zero measurements cover any greenhouse gases (not just carbon) that are released by the entire business, rather than individual products or services. For some manufacturers to be qualified as ‘net zero’, this can mean a required reduction of 90% of their emissions.

Understanding these terms will help you know exactly what impact a component manufacturer and its products are having on the environment. 

Is carbon footprint a good indicator of sustainable manufacturing?

The term carbon footprint can be used as either a carbon neutral or net zero indicator. This is because ‘carbon footprint’ can refer to the total amount of all greenhouse gas emissions released directly and indirectly by a business, product or entity over a certain period of time. These greenhouse gases (such as methane) are converted into the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions and reported as one number as tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e).

To measure carbon footprint, a range of data needs to be collected from machinery, production and different parts of the supply chain depending on the scope of the report or calculation. This can mean installing specific technologies or working with partners to ascertain an accurate measurement in tons of CO2e.

Two factory workers looking at tablet with hardhats

Although getting this measurement can take significant amounts of time and investment, being able to calculate a carbon footprint accurately enables components manufacturers to benchmark and reduce their emissions more effectively. In this sense, carbon footprint is a useful measurement for sustainability, particularly when it comes to reporting, certifications and emissions reduction projects. 

How are component manufacturers reducing their carbon impact?

Alongside the rest of their sector, components manufacturers are facing increasing pressure from governments and customers to adopt more sustainable manufacturing practices. This includes reducing their emissions production in several ways.  

Sourcing renewable energy

Components production requires huge amounts of energy to run. For injection molding manufacturers, this means running machines for several hours a day using high temperatures and pressures.

Automated manufacturing

Older injection molding machines were powered using hydraulic oil. However, the creation of electric-powered machines has brought a greener, more efficient option to the market. As a result, many manufacturers are now running machinery replacement programmes to make their production processes less carbon intensive. 

Yet, electric machines powered from non-renewable sources still have a significant carbon footprint. Even those powered by renewable energy (such as solar and wind) have some carbon impact depending on the particular methods of manufacturing. To reach complete carbon neutrality in the future, new machinery may be developed using low carbon materials and production processes. 

Making production energy efficient

As well as sourcing renewable energy, components manufacturers also need to ensure their supply chain, production and distribution processes are using this energy as efficiently as possible. All of these are included in the Scope 1 emissions. Upgrading to new equipment, maintaining existing machinery (including any preventative maintenance) and optimising processes will all ensure energy isn’t wasted, meaning less carbon emissions are produced. 

Away from the production line, making any office buildings or headquarters energy efficient is also important, particularly if a business is trying to achieve a net zero objective. To do this, components manufacturers may need to run employee initiatives to promote energy-saving behaviors and ensure that any equipment in these buildings is efficient. 

Developing new materials

The use of plastic for components is one of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers looking to minimize their carbon impact. As many plastics are created from fossil fuels or oil, polymer innovations are increasingly focused on developing materials from renewable sources. These include: 

  • Bioplastics: polymers which are made from natural substances such as minerals, plants or microorganisms. 
  • Compostable plastics: polymers developed from organic matter and able to degrade in soil safely. 
Blue plastic resin pellets

By transitioning to bio-based, these plastics will offer all the aesthetic and material qualities of standard polymers with the added benefit of producing less carbon emissions and reducing environmental damage.   

Investing in new technology

To monitor and reduce their carbon footprint, components manufacturers can harness various types of technology, such as: 

  • Installing equipment with machine learning that automatically adapts performance to become energy efficient. 
  • Implementing business management systems that calculate a factory’s carbon emissions. 
  • Adding sensors onto their production lines to monitor greenhouse gases. 
Man looking at smart manufacturing dashboard on tablet

Indeed, the greater adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies won’t just enable individual businesses and factories to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but track the footprint of a product across a whole supply chain. 

For example, components manufacturers will be able to measure how much CO2e is released from their material supplier, through their production process and during distribution to customers. This will enable real efficiencies to be made, as well as improving traceability and reporting. 

Why reducing carbon footprint is important for OEMs

Leading components manufacturers have already reported several benefits for the business and its customers as a result of reducing their carbon footprint. By making production processes more efficient, components manufacturers deliver better quality products to their original equipment manufacturer (OEM) customers more quickly and cost-effectively. 

Plus, many customers are now looking to improve the sustainability and traceability of their supply chains, which is a key benefit of manufacturers reducing their emissions. In terms of longevity, security and long-term capabilities, reducing emissions levels also has plenty of benefits for manufacturers, their stakeholders, investors and customers. 

Essentra Components takes action against climate change

Essentra Components takes its responsibility to its OEM customers seriously and is committed to reducing its environmental impact while still delivering a hassle-free service to customers.

The components manufacturer has set itself strict environmental targets including a 25% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2025. Essentra Components will achieve this by moving to renewable energy to power its operations and install more electric equipment and machines. 

Already, there has been success in reducing emissions. In 2021, Essentra Components emissions intensity (tonsCO2e/per £mil revenue) was 19% below its 2019 baseline, and its absolute emissions were 11% below the 2019 baseline. 

One example of how this was achieved is the introduction of post-industrial recyclate. By July 2022, Essentra Components was maintaining a 50/50 balance of virgin and post-consumer recycled plastics in its LDPE range.

And, in August 2022, a number of products within its LDPE range were being manufactured almost entirely from recycled materials. The selected products are made from 98% recycled plastic with the remaining 2% being made up of colourants. The selected product range consists of tapered caps and plugs, corner protectors, tube end plugs and tube end caps in what is described a significant step forward in sustainability and carbon reduction.

Sustainability objectives for 2023 and beyond

In 2023, the company will be publishing its Net Zero transition plan, which will clearly set out objectives and initiatives, including making direct operations carbon neutral by 2040.

Jennifer Spence, Head of Sustainability Strategy says: “Climate change is one of the biggest challenges that humanity faces. We are committed to playing our part in solving global sustainability challenges, and helping our customers achieve their sustainability goals.”

To date, the electric machine replacement scheme has contributed positively to reduction of carbon footprint including production speed, efficiency and material wastage. Machines replaced in 2021 in the UK, the US, Brazil and China have netted energy-saving cycles of between 21% and 31%. This equals an average Co2 reduction of 2.41 tons per machines, adding up to 45 tons per year. 

Other actions and goals that will be implemented by Essentra Components include:

  • Ensuring all sites will be Zero Waste To Landfill certified by 2030.
  • 20% reduction in the volume of waste produced by 2030.
  • 20% of packaging and raw materials from more sustainable sources by 2025.

Find out more about how Essentra Components is adopting sustainable practices to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing.