28 February 2021

A holistic approach to sustainability that delivers real opportunity

Sustainability is a hot topic, but what does it mean? Fiacre O’Donnell, Director of Sustainability at Encirc Ltd. explains that it’s about more than a business’ carbon footprint and why taking a holistic approach can drive opportunity.

“When we first started to look at sustainability properly, we had no idea what it meant for us beyond what we were already doing to reduce our own carbon footprint and to support our customers in reducing theirs,” says Fiacre O’Donnell, Director of Sustainability at Encirc Ltd.

A manufacturer of glass containers for the food and beverage industry, Encirc already had a unique environmental proposition – not only is glass an infinite resource that can be endlessly recycled, but the company’s factory in Cheshire meant that bottles could be manufactured and filled on site and stored in the company’s bonded warehouse. It’s a method, Fiacre explains, that numerous studies have shown can significantly reduce carbon emissions. However, he says, “we could see an opportunity to do more”.

An overarching framework of sustainability

Working initially with Business in the Community in Northern Ireland, home to Encirc’s factory in Fermanagh, and subsequently with the Group in England, Fiacre began to realise how broad sustainability actually was. Taking Business in the Community’s CORE framework of people, place and planet as a starting point, Encirc adapted and redefined it to create a sustainability framework that encompasses the entire business. Sitting under the business’ overall proposition of ‘glass made good’, the project covers Four Ps: People, Place, Planet and Prosperity, each with three sub-categories to focus on.

The project has revolutionised the way Encirc operates and all aspects of the business are now approached through a lens of sustainability, falling under one of the 12 areas covered by the Four Ps. “Prosperity, for example, includes the whole governance aspect,” says Fiacre. “So our ethical and procurement policies, responsible leadership and issues such as the gender pay gap sit under that. People covers development, health and wellbeing and diversity and inclusion. Place is divided into biodiversity, customers and supply partnerships and local engagement. Planet includes energy and transportation and resource efficiency.”

Carbon impact remains a focus

The latter, of course, is often seen as what sustainability is all about. “It’s where people normally default to when they’re talking about sustainability,” agrees Fiacre. “But to build a truly sustainable business, you need to focus on your current and future workforce, how your activities affect your operational chain, from suppliers through to customers and vice versa, and your role within the community and environment in which you operate.”

That said, from a purely environmental perspective (the Planet of the Four Ps), Encirc has made huge gains and has committed to some ambitious targets. By 2030, for example, the company wants to increase the amount of glass collected for recycling to 90%, and has some innovative ideas around both intelligent recycling schemes and changing customer perceptions to achieve this. An investment of around £6m in a rail link to the company’s Chester site, has seen 50% of raw materials delivered by rail and they are currently trialling the use of biofueled delivery trucks to further reduce emissions. Meanwhile, a similar project to trial the use of hydrogen or biodiesel in the company’s furnaces could transform the business’ carbon footprint and completely change the industry overall.

Sustainability drives efficiency

The steps are also delivering significant efficiency gains for the business. The adoption of a closed system at the Fermanagh factory will see Encirc use zero raw water for its operations this year, and the design and implementation of a heat exchanger means that excess heat from the company’s compressor room is being used to heat water for the firm’s showers and provide heating for the admin block. “That’s not only reduced our carbon emissions, but has saved us around £15,000 a year,” says Fiacre.

What’s more, both ideas came from within the business and that, says Fiacre, is why taking a holistic approach to sustainability is important. “Our Project Engage has empowered our workforce to actively make suggestions that are listened to, and to own and drive forward the aspects of our sustainability goals that are important to them. That’s everything from the design of the heat exchanger to printing labels for our reusable drinks bottles, stopping the use of disposable cups and streamlining deliveries from our vending machine suppliers.”

The benefits of a holistic approach

The holistic approach extends to local community groups, schools and charities, as Encirc works to improve biodiversity across its sites and to engage hard to reach communities to improve diversity and inclusion in its own business and within manufacturing as a whole. Since going public with its commitment to becoming a more sustainable business just over five years ago, Fiacre says that the project has gathered momentum both internally and externally.

“We’ve got working groups running a number of initiatives, from the on-site gym to a new project with The Wildlife Trust. We’ve also created a more cohesive culture, where people are open and there’s more transparency. That’s helped in a range of hard to tackle areas, like health and safety where, for example, by engaging people in the process, we’ve reduced our lost time accidents by 45%.”

Supporting the wider business community

Outside the business, Fiacre points to a greater drive to push sustainability further, faster, which means that Encirc’s innovative, can-do approach is particularly valued by customers and suppliers. “Our customers are increasingly being challenged by their customers to come up with solutions, so they’re coming to us and we’re able to say, ‘well here’s a project we’re working on’, and that’s particularly on the environmental impact side. It means that carbon impact remains a big thing for us, but it’s one item of 12 that we have as part of our broader sustainability project.”

Encirc’s commitment to action goes beyond supporting customers and suppliers. The company has recently signed up to be a Climate Champion as part of Business in the Community’s ‘Business Action on Climate’ campaign. As well as its own targets for carbon impact, it means that Encirc is an example to other businesses. “Under our Prosperity pillar, one of the aspirations of our responsible leadership is that ‘as a business we will lead not only internally on responsible business but look to change practice in our sector and in the general business community’,” says Fiacre. “The campaign is part of that, as is our investment in the Green Deposit account from HSBC, which allows us to demonstrate that aspiration in a very practical way by making funds available to companies to pursue a green agenda.”

Building engagement for greatest impact

That holistic approach is central, Fiacre, says to businesses overcoming the fear factor and really being able to grasp the opportunities that sustainability can offer. “If you look at sustainability in the sense of creating shared value, you get a much more all-encompassing project than when you just focus on reducing your carbon footprint,” he says. “You get something that engages your people not only in saving energy and increasing efficiency, but also in improving their happiness, health and wellbeing which, in turn, has far greater community impact.”

Fiacre points out that it also makes sustainability more accessible and achievable: “As a business you can take simple steps or big changes, but to be really effective you must engage your workforce. They’re your greatest tool in becoming more sustainable and the greatest critics and advocates of your progress to doing better.”

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