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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Vincent Sakeni

A Sociological Analysis of Energy Efficiency in the UK Food and Drink Manufacturing Industry.
There is an overwhelming body of evidence that improving energy efficiency in manufacturing is a cost effective strategy of decarbonising anthropogenic activities, particularly in economic settings heavily reliant on energy from fossil fuels. According to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the UK food and drink manufacturing industry accounts for 15 percent (5.2 million tonnes of oil equivalent) of the total food-chain energy use. Thus implementation of effective energy efficiency strategies in this industry is an ongoing concern to policy makers from a sustainability standpoint, given the UK’s stated commitments in this regard. For food and drink manufacturers, whose industry is hobbled by anaemic demand growth as it reaches peak saturation, energy efficiency also presents an additional and sustainable avenue for profit generation in the face of stiff competition. The role of financial markets in shaping and supporting these strategies is increasingly becoming important; more so to support energy efficiency exports as well, expected to reach £21.5 billion in 2015.  There are a number of social influences that explicitly and implicitly make actual capital support for energy efficiency in food and drink manufacturing difficult to realise. UK food and drink manufacturers have a cyclical tendency to such investments, with strong responses observed only in elevated energy price environments. The role of financial markets in supporting sustainability inter alia energy efficiency strategies was assessed, and several reflexive relationships and practices were identified that constrain the rationality of all actors without providing ample transparency on capital allocation. These flaws – some inherent in general actor behaviour – encourage short termism investment activities at the expense of a long term value accretive strategy such as energy efficiency. The observed motivations and relationships are structurally complex, thus making derivation of effective remedial measures difficult without sufficient multi-perspective analysis. Additional research is recommended to generate more empirical evidence that could help unwind the structural complexity of these social influences
Key words: energy efficiency; food and drink manufacturing; social influences; financial markets; investment; regulations; incentives