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Increasing environmental awareness in society and growing environmental demands are forcing companies to adapt their operations and supply chains. The expectation is that companies will operate more sustainably and take more responsibility for their impacts. Here, a tension often arises between prosperity gains and environmental impacts.

Raw materials are the basis of the economic and consumer world and are essential for industry, which in turn contributes significantly to the prosperity of society. However, the consumption of resources by industry also has a significant impact on the environment. In addition, technological developments in mobility, decarbonisation and advancing digitalisation are leading to an increasing demand for raw materials such as battery metals and rare earths.

In this sense, the sustainable use of resources and energy is becoming increasingly important. In addition, industry is becoming increasingly dependent on scarce raw materials for production, which further exacerbates the challenges of stable supply security.

  • How does the industry assess these challenges?
  • What relevance does the topic of sustainability have for them?
  • How are ecological, social and economic goals linked in companies? 
  • What approach do companies choose to integrate sustainability into their strategy?

Together with Lünendonk and two other study partners, we surveyed 113 companies from various industrial sectors.

Mechanical and plant engineering has some catching up to do when it comes to sustainability

Our survey clearly shows the high relevance of sustainability aspects in industrial companies. According to the survey, around 80 percent have developed a corresponding strategy. However, only one third of them have already implemented this strategy. Next to the food industry, the automotive industry is the most advanced in a sector comparison. The greatest need to catch up exists in mechanical and plant engineering and in the metal and electrical industry. The fact is that companies are under time pressure. From 1 January 2024, companies of public interest and with more than 500 employees must report on their sustainability efforts. On a positive note, the topic of sustainability plays a strong role for management at 90 percent of the companies surveyed. Sustainability has also become an integral part for supervisory bodies (87%) as well as for employees and applicants (78%).

Most of the companies we surveyed stated that the topic of sustainability is currently not the responsibility of a single person, but of several functions. 64 percent have installed a Head of Sustainability or a Sustainability Officer who is responsible for the topic of sustainability in production. A majority of companies (58 per cent) already allocate extra budgets for the sustainability agenda, with around 62 per cent of the companies surveyed placing their budgets in a range of two to four per cent of the respective production costs. The funds are mostly earmarked, with the reduction of emissions, the optimisation of energy efficiency and the use of resources being the most important projects.

Digital solutions are an important tool in the implementation of sustainability goals

More than 90 per cent of companies want to systematically collect ESG data using digital tools. 32 per cent of respondents said that digital solutions for collecting relevant data had already been implemented in their companies. As the most important aspects of their sustainability strategy, the companies name the reduction of their emissions, energy consumption, waste and water consumption. The companies surveyed want digital technologies to be easy to use, quick and simple to implement in existing systems and processes, as well as live measurement and automated processing and verification of data. In addition to budget for digitalisation and automation, what is also needed above all are human resources, employee acceptance as well as clear guidelines and a suitable strategy.

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