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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Levels of engagement with sustainability issues in manufacturing SMEs

Christopher Collins

Levels of engagement with sustainability issues in manufacturing SMEs

This piece of work will examine the approaches of UK manufacturing enterprises towards environmental sustainability and use the specific market sector of metal working as a case study to identify best theoretical practice and how the different sized enterprises measure up. Conducting a series of interviews in different sized manufacturing enterprises would achieve this.

The starting point for this study was to examine the various recommended lists of indicators that should be used in a manufacturing enterprise. Since these lists were extensive and far to complex, for the purpose of this study a summarised list had to be formed. The foundations of selection were based primarily on the three-pillared approach to sustainable development that is widely recognised of environment, development, and social aspects. The main concerns under each
heading were highlighted and three headline indicators were selected in each section. These main indicators were then broken down into sub level indicators that would form the basis of the questionnaire.

The backbone of the questionnaire was based around the sub level indicators in each section to determine definitive values for the selected indicators. In addition to these questions each section was expanded to try and discover the attitudes of the companies and their policies towards any of the sustainability topics. In addition to the main sections of the questionnaire it was also important to include a section for the purpose of characterising the company and determining its size.

Once the questionnaire was completed it was important to gain an understanding of the depth of commitment that enterprises would have to reach to qualify for best practice. For this purpose the metal working industry sector was selected and an extensive investigation into best practice for the selected indicators commenced.

The next phase of the investigation was to contact various sized manufacturing enterprises that would possibly be interested in taking part in the survey. These company contacts were gained through the Universities Institute of Manufacturing database. and were companies that had worked with the university before. The selected companies were based in the metal working sector for the purpose of comparison to best practice. A total of 25 initial contact letters were sent out, however too much reliance had been placed upon the existing links with the university and the expected response to continue working with the university was not forthcoming. This has lead to a secondary push for participants using all available resources to hand and not limiting the study to companies already connected to the university.

The lack of responses, by already proven motivated companies, may well in itself be a interesting indication of the attitudes towards the environment within the metal working sector. It could also possibly indicate the pressure that UK manufacturing is under and that no company can afford the time to participate in such a survey.

Once the interviews are completed with a large enough base to form adequate conclusions about the market sector the results will be compared against the theoretical best practice that has already been detailed. Further more the conclusions will also be compared against a similar study that has been conducted in Australia. In addition to these comparisons the culture within this chosen market sector could also be examined to aid the construction of a change management proposal to help bring up the standards of sustainability within this industry.

Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.