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Automation and energy management systems key to meeting net zero goals

Automation

More efficient automation and energy management systems would have the greatest impact in achieving industry sustainability goals.

Automation technology could make a big difference in helping industry in its carbon reduction journey, according to new research from Schneider Electric and Omdia that shows 57 per cent of industrial companies have carbon-neutral targets.

While 45 per cent agree more efficient automation and energy management systems would have the greatest impact, almost half are yet to fully deploy initiatives to achieve their sustainability goals.

Schneider Electric and Omdia have found that while industrial companies are setting ambitious sustainability targets, roughly half (48 per cent) have yet to take the necessary steps to meet them. 

The finding was part of a study to better understand manufacturers’ sustainability goals and the maturity of their sustainability initiatives.

Over half (57 per cent) of respondents to the survey are aiming for net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. They are most likely to name reduced energy consumption as the key factor in their decision to invest in operational sustainability initiatives, and 49 per cent also expect improved performance and cost savings.

However, almost half (48 per cent) are yet to fully deploy their sustainability initiatives, and less than one third (30 per cent) are on track to meet their goals. This represents a significant opportunity for industrial action on sustainability initiatives, and the potential for immediate and long-lasting change.

Technology powers sustainability initiatives

The research surveyed hundreds of industrial companies in the food and beverage, life sciences, semiconductors and electronics, chemical, oil and gas, and automotive industries, across North America, Europe, Middle East & Africa, and Asia. Leaders in these industries understand the value of technology in measuring and reducing their environmental impact.

Industrial companies are exploring a range of solutions to improve their sustainability, either directly or indirectly. They have identified the top five technologies that will have the biggest impact on their sustainability initiatives: More efficient automation; Energy management systems; Cloud technologies; Supply chain tracking

Fifty-four percent of respondents are already using digital twin technology to (re)design facilities with sustainability in mind, and more than 50 per cent predict they will have deployed energy management and renewable energy systems within three years. Other types of projects being pursued include environmental management and sustainability performance management. 

While some challenges were technological, the research highlighted the clear organisational barriers to overcome. Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of respondents named competing priorities as an issue, while cultural change is a challenge for 19 per cent. Many noted that sustainability initiatives require a driving force behind them, with 78 per cent of respondents reporting that a C-level executive is responsible for their organization’s efforts. 

“The manufacturing industry is increasingly understanding the value of sustainability and efficiency targets. There is now clear evidence that valuing people and planet leads to greater profits,” said Barbara Frei, Executive Vice President, Industrial Automation, at Schneider Electric. “However, change will require an evolution of traditional thinking, making sustainability and wellbeing a central part of processes, hardware, software, and organizational culture to identify inefficiencies and waste. This is where the next generation of industry starts from.”  

Strategies for success

For industrial companies to deliver on their sustainability goals, they will need a clear strategy and the data to back it up. Technology will be a key enabler, including improved sensing and visualization tools to capture sustainability data and derive actionable insights.

“There is a huge opportunity for industrial companies. Many have energy-intensive operations and waste to contend with. Making use of renewables, recycling, and circular models will not only benefit the environment but also deliver meaningful return on value,” said Alex West, Senior Principal Analyst, IoT and Sustainability, at Omdia. “Armed with the metrics to prove the impact of their sustainability initiatives, sustainability leaders can attract employee buy-in and justify further investment – it’s a virtuous cycle.”

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