Published 2 months ago.
About a 7 minute read.
Image: HyNet North West
Examples such as the Net-Zero Basque Industrial Super Cluster show how targeted, collaborative sustainability efforts can set new standards for environmental responsibility in manufacturing — leading the way in industrial innovation and global competition.
Manufacturing clusters serve as vibrant networks where businesses, specialized
suppliers and service providers in specific industries converge within a defined
geographic area. Sharing resources, technology and expertise, these entities
create ecosystems rich in innovation and collaboration — which now increasingly
focus on sustainable practices.
Economic enhancement and industry propulsion are key roles of these clusters.
They attract investment and talent as centers of innovation, emphasizing
environmental responsibility. Rapid idea exchange and the adoption of best
practices among members foster growth, productivity and the integration of
sustainable methods. The collaborative approach of these clusters ensures a dual
impact: advancing industrial growth while contributing to the regional economy
through sustainable endeavors.
The global competitiveness of manufacturing clusters is notably enhanced by
their collaborative dynamics, as demonstrated by the Net-Zero Basque Industrial
Strategic collaboration and a focus on sustainability in this cluster have
elevated its regional manufacturing sector to global prominence Involving key
players such as the Basque Government, and energy providers
and Iberdrola, the cluster focuses on
accelerating the journey to net-zero emissions through decarbonizing energy
supply and enhancing energy efficiency.
The Basque Super Cluster stands as a clear example of how targeted,
collaborative sustainability efforts can set new standards for environmental
responsibility in manufacturing — leading the way in industrial innovation and
Manufacturing clusters around the world are recognizing the need to adopt
environmentally friendly and sustainable methods — a shift that’s not just about
regulatory compliance, but responding to a growing global consensus on the
critical need for environmental stewardship and sustainable development.
In the US, the Ohio Clean Hydrogen Hub Alliance illustrates how
collaborations in manufacturing clusters can yield economic benefits while
reducing environmental impact. With its coalition of over 100 diverse entities,
the alliance is working diligently to establish Ohio as a leading clean hydrogen
This initiative — aimed at generating significant investment, job creation and
emissions reductions — exemplifies a commitment to marrying economic growth with
environmental sustainability. The alliance's focus on developing clean hydrogen
technology demonstrates that economic advancement and environmental
responsibility can go hand in hand, setting a new standard for industrial
Environmental and social implications are at the forefront of the shift towards
sustainability in manufacturing clusters. This new focus goes beyond minimizing
negative impacts. It's about creating positive change in communities and
ecosystems. Sustainable practices in these clusters lead to improved air and
water quality, reduced waste and enhanced community wellbeing — demonstrating a
commitment to the broader social and environmental contexts in which they
With Industry 4.0, manufacturing
clusters are witnessing a transformation through smart factories, the Internet
of Things (IoT), and AI-driven optimization. The integration of these
technologies is pivotal for manufacturing clusters to remain competitive and
sustainable in the evolving industrial landscape.
H2Houston Hub is a prime example of
renewable-energy adoption in manufacturing clusters, focusing on producing
green hydrogen. This
initiative brings together a wide array of stakeholders — from industry leaders
to research institutions — all focused on harnessing Houston’s existing
capabilities in hydrogen production and consumption to drive forward
clean-energy solutions. H2Houston Hub's approach demonstrates how renewable
energy can be integrated effectively to drive sustainability and economic
The National Capital Hydrogen Center is
playing a crucial role in advancing sustainable materials usage — particularly
in hydrogen technologies. Its work in developing and promoting hydrogen as a
sustainable energy source is reshaping how manufacturing clusters approach
Through strategic collaborations across government, academia and industry, the
Center is not only fostering a robust hydrogen market in the region but also
setting the stage for a sustainable hydrogen ecosystem that can serve as a model
for other geographies.
In the UK, HyNet North West is a compelling example of
addressing the dual challenges of financial constraints and infrastructure
development within the realm of sustainable manufacturing clusters.
HyNet illustrates the challenges related to cost implications and initial
infrastructure development in sustainable manufacturing clusters. While
transitioning to sustainable practices can be costly, its success in overcoming
these challenges provides valuable insights into how other manufacturing
clusters can navigate the financial and infrastructural aspects of
HyNet tackled these issues by developing key infrastructure — a low-carbon
hydrogen-transportation network and a CO2 pipeline — along with obtaining
necessary regulatory permissions as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure
Project, and engaging effectively with communities to highlight the benefits of
Cultural and organizational resistance often brings significant challenges in
implementing sustainability initiatives. Overcoming these barriers requires a
strategic approach that includes effective communication, stakeholder engagement
and demonstrating the tangible benefits of sustainability. Successful
integration hinges on aligning organizational culture with sustainable goals and
One of the most critical challenges for manufacturing clusters is finding the
right balance between economic growth and environmental preservation.
Manufacturing clusters must adopt innovative strategies that foster economic
development while minimizing environmental impact, ensuring a sustainable future
for both the industry and the planet.
Strategies and best practices for manufacturing clusters include investing in
renewable energy, adopting circular principles, and implementing efficient
waste-management systems. Learning from successful cases such as the Basque
Super Cluster builds a roadmap to sustainability that is both practical and
Transparency and data are indispensable in measuring the sustainability impact
of manufacturing clusters — providing a clear, unvarnished view of progress (or
the lack thereof).
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are more than just numbers; they narrate the
story of a cluster's journey toward sustainable practices. KPIs relevant to
sustainability in manufacturing clusters typically include metrics that assess
environmental impact, resource efficiency and economic sustainability —
including carbon footprint, energy efficiency, waste reduction, water usage,
cost savings from sustainable practices, and supply chain sustainability.
Take, for example, the Net-Zero Basque Industrial Super Cluster: They focused
their meticulously chosen KPIs closely on energy efficiency, circularity,
electrification and hydrogen — which signals a comprehensive approach to
achieving net-zero emissions with specific strategies tailored to different
industrial sectors. This approach addresses the unique challenges of each sector
while also serving as a blueprint for sustainable development across various
Effective assessment methodologies are central to evaluating sustainability
impact. They must encompass a wide spectrum, from environmental impacts to
social and economic outcomes. Using holistic assessment tools gives clusters a
comprehensive view of their sustainability efforts — guiding better
decision-making and continuous improvement.
economy is a
transformative model rapidly gaining traction in manufacturing clusters. It's
about rethinking the lifecycle of
— from creation to reuse, challenging the traditional “take-make-dispose” model.
Carbon neutrality is now a primary target for manufacturing clusters, with
entities including H2Houston Hub and Ohio Clean Hydrogen Hub Alliance leading
the charge. Their commitment to reducing carbon emissions is a strategic
business decision: Aiming for carbon neutrality positions them at the forefront
of industry evolution — aligning with global climate goals and consumer
expectations, and often uncovering efficiencies and cost savings in the process.
are no longer optional — they're a necessity for manufacturing clusters aiming
to stay relevant and responsible. It's about scrutinizing every link in the
chain for sustainability — from raw material sourcing to end-of-life disposal.
Clusters that successfully build sustainable supply chains strengthen their
market position by aligning with growing demand for ethical and environmentally
friendly products and practices.
Emerging technologies and innovations, including the rise of digital
factories, are central to the future
sustainability of manufacturing clusters. From AI and IoT to advancements in
renewable energy, these technologies are revolutionizing the future of
As these practices evolve, so does the definition of sustainability — expanding
to encompass broader social and economic aspects. In the next decade, one can
expect sustainability to move from a competitive advantage to a business
imperative in manufacturing clusters. The focus will likely shift towards a more
integrated approach, where sustainability is embedded in every aspect of
operation and decision-making.
As stakeholders become more discerning and regulations more stringent, clusters
that excel in sustainability will set the benchmark — not just for environmental
responsibility, but for business success in a rapidly changing world.
Published Dec 15, 2023 11am EST / 8am PST / 4pm GMT / 5pm CET
For over 30 years, Eric Whitley has been a noteworthy leader in the manufacturing space. In addition to the many publications and articles Eric has written on various manufacturing topics, you may know him from his efforts leading the Total Productive Maintenance effort at Autoliv ASP or from his involvement in the Management Certification programs at The Ohio State University, where he served as an adjunct faculty member.