An environmentally sustainable business model can only remain viable if the relevant business operations generate a profit, either for re-investment or to reward prudent risk-taking. At the same time, a profit that is generated at the expense of the environment or to the detriment of society cannot be considered environmentally sustainable. Satisfying all three demands is called the triple bottom line of sustainability.
All manufacturing processes generate some waste; heat energy, waste water, by-products, scrap materials etc. New technologies aimed at offering environmentally sustainable solutions to address waste generated by manufacturing operations should be evaluated according to the order of their environmental impact, otherwise known as the waste hierarchy.
By considering the waste hierarchy it can be seen that technology solutions that seek to prevent or minimise waste are inherently more environmentally sustainable because they have a significantly lower economic, societal and environmental cost than, for instance energy recovery or waste disposal.
For big industry technological solutions at most levels in the waste hierarchy will often be available. Bigger industrial players usually possess the financial resources, scale economies, material processing expertise and image-enhancement incentives to implement the highest environmental standards possible. Small, traditional manufacturers will lack these organisational advantages, but they do have other advantages when considering technology solutions; lower throughput rates, feed quality consistency and lower operational overheads. Big industry’s need for technological solutions that are highly intensive, automated and operationally robust does not exist for smaller, traditional food and beverage, agricultural and textile businesses.
During a recent Technology Road Map exercise facilitated by Pennog, it was recognised that consumer demand for manufactured goods from suppliers who demonstrate high standards of environmental sustainability will continue to grow and will impact smaller manufacturers more and more. This emerging market force and the legislative demand for higher environmental standards across the value chain and throughout the product lifecycle will in turn create new market opportunities for technology solutions that are more suited to small scale operations. The growing use of local, small scale manufacturing processes (e.g. 3D manufacture) has already been hailed as a New Era of Global Manufacturing and there’s good reason to believe that small scale waste processing can be part of this seachange in thinking around manufacturing. Through Technology Road Mapping it was recognised that technology solutions that involve multi-stage batch processes, and those which require periodic manual intervention over lengthy periods should not be an barrier to entry to cottage industry end-user markets, particularly where labour costs are relatively low, land is cheap and time is not a constraint.
Technology solutions for valorisation of waste from smaller industry players may be flexible or purpose-built. But they can also operate slowly, with relatively cheap materials of construction and rely on trained operators to periodically monitor performance and make adjustments, much as micro-breweries operate today. You can get in touch with Pennog using the easy contact form if you would like to learn more about how different small scale waste conversion technologies were identified through Technology Road Mapping and how they were subsequently developed into new market opportunities.