Jacek Rutkowski, President of the Management Board at Amica Group
THERE IS NO FUTURE WITHOUT ENTERPRISE - Dziennik Gazeta Prawna Special Edition
Today is the time to abandon thinking about Poland as the European region of cheap labour. Polish industry is transforming technologically at a quick pace, catching up to other developed European countries. The factories located here are introducing massive advanced robotic processes, automatic production, and modern research and innovation centres. These changes have also resulted in demand for a new employee profile, whose competences must correspond to current and future challenges. Universities and employers will play a major role in developing this human capital.
Undoubtedly, the challenges of the coming decades will be related to climate and the transition of economies to environmental neutrality. Already today, Polish industry, in particular the industry for household appliances, is investing in technologies supporting the green transformation. Obtaining energy from low-emission natural gas, recovering some energy in the cogeneration process and investments in modern treatment plants and photovoltaics are just some examples. But is this enough to tackle climate challenges? This is the beginning of the process, as reducing our carbon footprint requires action along the entire value chain. At each stage, we must address activities that affect the environment, but we can also see opportunities for being more eco-friendly. Let’s take a closer look.
The circular economy is a must
Steel is one of the basic materials used in the production of household appliances and is practically irreplaceable by any other raw material though its production is harmful for the environment. Globally, as well as in Poland, work is underway to obtain green steel, which can be made directly from iron ore using hydrogen. However, it takes several years to produce this raw material using an environmentally-friendly method on an industrial scale and at an affordable price. These are the conditions necessary for its application.
The next stage in the value chain is transport and logistics. Modern technologies already allow for the optimisation of the supply chain, both for components and finished products. This results in limiting routes with partial loading or so-called empty runs, the consequence of which include a reduction in exhaust emissions, as well as more cost effective transport services. But the real change is green transport, i.e. electric vehicles or fuels that are cleaner than diesel, green railways or even hydrogen-powered container ships.
In terms of ecology, we have to ask ourselves whether offshoring to distant Asian countries is still reasonable if we can achieve similar results in European countries that apply high production standards, a shift which is also increasingly recognised by consumers. We have to move towards products that are not only environmentally-friendly in terms of production, but also use, which means products that consume less energy and water, and are more efficient. This is our commitment to consumers and the environment. This year’s change of labels concerning domestic appliances in the European Union has rescaled efficiency classes in all product categories and the advantages will be achieved by those manufacturers who manage to qualify their products for the now more restrictive top energy classes first.
But the value chain does not end with the product. Packaging remains a significant challenge. Wood, cardboard and polystyrene are the most commonly used packaging materials in the household appliances industry. And while producers deal with waste very well – we recycle about 98% of industry waste, and also invest about PLN 100 million annually in the electronic waste management system – the production of some packaging raw materials, e.g. polystyrene granules, is harmful to the environment. International chemical manufacturers are working on solutions and management systems that will enable them to increase the share of recycled raw materials in production. Manufacturers of machines for processing EPS polystyrene, who recognise the issues of polystyrene waste management and media consumption, are also working on producing 100% recycled packaging.
The pandemic has had adverse effects across the entire supply chain and on costs. And today we must decide whether Europe is prepared to keep up with the pace of the green transformation. No one doubts that this is the right direction. Today, Polish industry is sufficiently equipped with modern technology to develop production processes and technical thought, as well as intensify its efforts towards achieving climate neutrality. What is needed, however, is solidarity in supplier cooperation and support from the governments of developed countries and emerging economies around the world. We all need to play a part in reducing our carbon footprint, not only because of legal regulations, but out of a sense of shared duty and collective responsibility.