Sector trends

Business planning: how to future-proof your business

Sustainable Manufacturing Insights Series: how manufacturers can achieve long-term profitability and resilience through sustainable change.

Our expert panel included Ali Clabburn, founder and CEO of Liftshare; Philippa Glover, Managing Director of CNC Robotics; Rob Labinski, Head of Electrification at Octopus Energy; Dr Bob Stear, Chief Engineer at Severn Trent Water; and Professor Chris White, Director of Industrial Policy and Insight Centre at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC).

Technology is not the thing that’s holding us back. There are technologies there for us to achieve what we need to achieve; what we need now is adoption, and for that we need a cultural shift. It’s the ability to deploy these technologies, and the skill set; we have an enormous digital literacy issue, and a sustainability literacy issue, too

Matthew Higham
Chief Digital Officer, Microsoft UK

Additional guests were Katherine Bennett CBE, CEO of High Value Manufacturing Catapult; Matthew Higham, Chief Digital Officer of Microsoft UK; and Richard Hill, Head of Manufacturing & Automotive Sector at NatWest Group.

Key takeaways

  • Sustainability is as much a ‘people’ issue as it is a business one, and employers are responsible and strongly positioned for guiding their workforces on environmental issues
  • Technology is vital to achieving industry-wide sustainability but it’s not a quick fix for businesses – its use must be combined with understanding, skill and culture
  • Manufacturers must see green energy as a strategic resource for the future, powering their operations for long-term security
  • Incentives will create momentum and, while financial support from the government is important, businesses also need help measuring their sustainability and knowing how to invest in green technologies
  • The first step in future-proofing is to think; measuring and action can follow from that

Businesses must build cultures of sustainability among their workforces

The government’s role in fighting climate change is hugely significant, but businesses, as employers, arguably have a greater and more direct influence over people. This is a unique power to have, and one that manufacturers shouldn’t overlook.

It’s the responsibility of organisations at all levels to educate and influence employees, not only on sustainable working processes but also on the choices they make outside of work. Small actions – encouraging and incentivising greener commutes, for example – contribute to a sustainable culture that will in turn help businesses have a bigger overall impact.

You need to work out how to engage your team, as they’re the people that are going to make sustainable change happen for you. Make sure your cycle racks are right beside or even inside your office, encourage car sharing, install EV charging, and have signs saying ‘remember to switch the lights off’: these are all simple things that businesses can do to start creating a culture of sustainability

Ali Clabburn
Founder and CEO, Liftshare

Business planning: Technology is only valuable with the right skills and understanding

Only with employees fully on board and the right skills available will businesses be able to use technology to measure and improve sustainability. At present, there’s a significant digital skills gap holding businesses back. Building a culture of sustainability is one of the biggest steps in fixing this: when employees want to support their employers’ environmental efforts, the desire to upskill grows.

Business planning: Manufacturers must change their attitudes toward cheap energy

The expectation for cheap, reliable energy is deep-rooted in the traditional business mind, but this approach is proving to be unsustainable. Undeniable climate change symptoms, rising bills and increasingly frequent provider collapses all suggest manufacturers must rethink how they power their operations for long-term security.


Manufacturers must see it as a strategic resource for the future, rather than treating energy as a commodity cost. And by switching to green energy sources – even if the initial cost is higher – businesses will cut emissions immediately; this is the lowest-hanging fruit.

Business planning: Sustainability incentives are important, but manufacturers need more than money

Many businesses feel the government should be contributing to the costs of their green transition. Incentives are undoubtedly important to create momentum, but cost is only one of the barriers that manufacturers must overcome. Even then, it’s often not as big a barrier as it’s perceived to be.


Where money does exist, businesses need to know what to do with it: which technological investments will generate the biggest sustainability returns? And which skills are needed to harness these technologies properly? Government incentives must include support in these areas, too.

Financial support is only part of the package. The Manufacturing Technology Centre advises and supports its SMEs to overcome some of the other hurdles in terms of productivity and automation. Those things need to be put into the mix when we talk of incentivising.

Professor Chris White
Director of Industrial Policy and Insight Centre, Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC)

Business planning: The first step in creating sustainable change is to think

Sustainability is a journey of many small steps rather than a single action; first, think about the issue of sustainability and how it relates to your business.


When you begin to identify small improvement opportunities, actions can follow, and momentum should build organically. The assumption that major, disruptive change is needed immediately stops many businesses acting at all. Right now, by being proactive, we’re in the position to start small and build.

We haven't done anything radical. What we have done is started to think about what we do, and to think about what’s the best decision we can make next

Philippa Glover
Managing Director, CNC Robotics

Final thoughts and next steps from the panel

Our experts share their best future-proofing advice for manufacturers:


  • Rob Labinski, Head of Electrification, Octopus Energy: “Go for super low-hanging fruit: change your energy supply to 100% green and you’ll save a significant portion of your emissions immediately.”
  • Dr Bob Stear, Chief Engineer, Severn Trent Water: “Be humble, recognise the people who are further along the journey and go and steal with pride their ideas.”
  • Ali Clabburn, Founder and CEO, Liftshare: “Look at your own team, look at your communities. See how you can galvanise them.”
  • Philippa Glover, Managing Director, CNC Robotics: “Think, measure, act.”
  • Professor Chris White, Director of Industrial Policy and Insight Centre, Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC): “Collaborate better with your supply chain.”

If you would like to find out more about sustainable manufacturing solutions or how to make your business more sustainable, please speak to your Relationship Manager, or contact WMG at: wmgbusiness@warwick.ac.uk 

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

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