Creating a single sustainability vision
When it bought UK-based Encirc in January 2015, leading Spanish glass packaging producer Vidrala acquired a business with a record of conscious sustainability. Now with a strong collective strategy across the entire group throughout Europe, Vidrala is focused on reducing environmental impact and determining the fuel of the future. Fiacre O’Donnell, Director of Sustainability spoke exclusively to Glass Worldwide about how the firm plans to achieve its targets.
Vidrala’s Director of Sustainability, Fiacre O’Donnell is responsible for integrating a uniformed approach to sustainability throughout the entire Vidrala Group, which acquired Encirc in January 2015.
“My role is as an invigorator, an agitator, a reminder or something like that” Mr O’Donnell clarifies. “I can pose questions to our technical department, focusing on energy and carbon emissions – not to the exclusion of everything else but from a glass industry perspective – they are things that really need to be tackled now.”
As Encirc’s Head of Strategic Development (November 2015 – May 2020), Mr O’Donnell identified what the newly consolidated group wanted to achieve in the future, with a serious look at its impact on sustainability and how it could be integrated into a much stronger role moving forward.
“It’s no good if one factory is doing it, we need to get the whole sustainability initiative throughout the group” he stresses. “There are different cultural perceptions [within Vidrala]; the focus has always been there but now has a collective strategy around it. Every stakeholder that we have in the business is now aware that we have opened the sustainability box and everybody is contributing.”
A programme that works in the background called Vidrala Operating System (VOS) provides uniformity across the entire group and a platform to share developments and drive continuous improvement and innovation. This harmony and cohesion is essential to progress: “One of the big things about sustainability is that you need share developments!” Mr O’Donnell emphasises.
The four Ps
Vidrala’s sustainability strategy is structured about the Four Ps, each attached to relevant sustainability goals: People (development, health and wellbeing, equality, diversity and inclusion); Place (community liaison, customer and supplier partners and biodiversity); Planet (energy, transportation and resource
efficiency); and Prosperity (marketplace responsibility, stakeholder engagement and responsible leadership).
“To keep the cycle going, we have to create profitability in our business so that we can focus on our people, planet responsibilities and the work we can do in the place” summarises Mr O’Donnell. “As a group, we are really starting to see real benefits of that.
“We have normal targets you’d expect in terms of water usage, resource usage and so on” he continues “but we are currently working very closely with a business partner to review our emissions data from all levels in gas, electricity and supply chain.
“To see what we could do for the Science Based Targets initiative, we knew, for example, that to meet the 1.5 degree target, it’s something like a 50% reduction in carbon emissions and we are now months away from deciding exactly how we will commit to that” he reveals.
Mr O’Donnell has a multi-layered vision for the group’s approach to sustainability in the future.
“In a short-term perspective, one of the things we need to understand is materiality – what do our stakeholders really want to know and are we focusing on those? So while I’m suggesting we have the Four Ps programme containing the main factors, we can extend beyond those and develop them.
“Medium-term from a group perspective again, we will complete the furnace rebuild programme over the next couple of years, meaning plants across the whole group will have new furnaces, which from a glass manufacturing perspective is unrivalled.
“Long-term, while we can work on customer and supplier relationships, biodiversity, resource efficiency and so on, it really has to be what is the fuel of the future for glass container manufacture and how do we positive-impact our carbon emissions? It’s our most important challenge.”
Vidrala is a founder member of several initiatives addressing the fundamentals of glass manufacturing that will be important in shaping the group’s future sustainability. One of these is Glass Futures – the not-for-profit research technology organisation intent on revolutionising glass manufacture and increasing its use throughout society. “We need an organisation to develop all these initiatives for us such as fuels of the future and raw materials etc and that’s where Glass Futures kicks in” Mr O’Donnell attests. “The glass industry has to find solutions collectively and Glass Futures is a great conjunct for this. Alternative packaging materials that gain a march on us could be devasting for the glass industry.”
Similarly, Vidrala supports FEVE’s ‘Furnace of the Future’ project to reduce the carbon footprint of glass packaging production by developing a hybrid oxy-fuel furnace to run on 80% renewable electricity. “Ideally the fuel of the future could be, for example, electricity generated from wind or sea with no impact on the atmosphere at all” theorises Mr O’Donnell. “But it has to be feasible and if it can’t necessarily be all-electricity, there needs to be another option. So it’s important to get the Furnace of the Future initiative up and running and further evaluate what the challenges are going to be.”
Fiacre O’Donnell is also on the committee of FEVE’s ‘Close the Glass Loop’ platform to increase the quantity and quality of available recycled glass. “The aspirations behind ‘Close the Glass Loop’ are very important for sustainability and the future prosperity of the industry” he notes. “The more cullet we can get back, the less carbon-intensive we will be.”
In 2021, Encirc’s Derrylin plant in Northern Ireland will trial the use of bio-fuel in one of its own furnaces, partnering with Glass Futures to create the world’s most sustainable glass bottle and reduce the impact of glass manufacturing in the UK.
“We were used to using liquid fuels in Derrylin until last year when we switched to gas, so our team is a good position to handle this” Mr O’Donnell explains. “Bio-fuel is of course a potential fuel for the future with a less carbon-intensive footprint but for it to replace natural gas in glass manufacturing, we have to understand how it will work in our furnace and this is exactly what Glass Futures is all about – trying out an alternative and seeing if it works. And bio-fuels could also potentially address criticism of how glass is transported.”
Vidrala will complete its second furnace rebuild in Derrylin to change from fuel oil to gas next year.
Developing glass manufacturing practices can hinge on technological advances from suppliers, particularly if there is an educated link the whole way through the supplier chain. Vidrala is very good
at adopting technology, believes Fiacre O’Donnell. “At some point, you have to step on the ladder and go for it to see what the technology can offer. For example, we didn’t know whether 12-section quad gob production was possible but we did it with Bucher Emhart Glass. We didn’t know whether the type of huge furnaces we wanted in Elton could be done but we put faith in SORG and it was possible.
We also have the world’s first intelligent glass lines at our Elton and Crisnova factories with Emhart’s End to end concept. Another advantage for Elton is its proximity to the north west’s HyNet project producing hydrogen from natural gas. The plant also benefits from a strong supply chain comprising glass, beverages, storage and distribution network.
To support sustainability efforts moving forward, suppliers need to be thinking about the challenges of the future and how technology will play a part, Mr O’Donnell stresses. “We know already that the future will be decarbonised, so how do we get to that point? Partnerships with suppliers will be totally crucial.”
Nurturing its employees is a strong part of Vidrala’s business’ development and the Health and Wellbeing framework that it operates in the background. “You really have to focus on your people and then you can reap the benefits” says Mr O’Donnell. Frustratingly, Covid-19 has impeded his ability to visit sites and discover and share learnings with the group. However, “the pandemic has made us focus
really on the people that we have” he says. “With the challenges of currently being in the workplace and at home, we are providing activities and support including mindfulness sessions.”
Looking to shape and develop the workforce of the future, Vidrala has diversity initiatives that extend right back to primary schools, according to Fiacre O’Donnell. “Our Social Responsibility Programme is very important too” he maintains “and we have liaison committees and lots of activity right through the group. For example, at Vidrala’s Castellar [Barcelona] plant, we did a programme with the local school on waste and in Derrylin, we did a programme on bio-fuels with local school children contributing. At Elton, we have links back into universities and schools and such engagement feeds back into current employees because kids talk to their parents that work in our factories.”
As part of Vidrala’s diversity drive, the company launched an initiative called Women in Manufacturing, using a charter to work with females in the business on paths they can take for development. “Three of our 5 shift managers in Derrylin are female” says Mr O’Donnell. “Not because we have set targets but because they were the best people for the job.
“We were a part of the graduate programme at The Cheshire Energy Hub, an energy sector support organisation and the quality of the people coming in was phenomenal” he continues. “Lara Edison was one of those and as a 27-year-old female, she is now the Batch and Furnace Supervisor for the world’s two biggest glass container furnaces and just won Rising Star at this year’s Glass Focus Awards. We are approaching people diversity in the overall context of sustainability and have a strong foundation to develop it.”
Aligning with the aspirations of its customers – and their customers – biodiversity is an important issue to Vidrala. “As we are in the food and beverage industry with a reliance on natural products being available to us, we need to promote and protect biodiversity” Mr O’Donnell confirms. Accordingly, the site in Derrylin has been accredited to platinum level in the Business & Biodiversity Charter by Business in the Community. Vidrala’s Crisnova plant in Spain has taken on a large area of ground from the City Council of Caudete to plant and maintain. The group has also signed up to the ForestNation initiative, which has many links to sustainability goals.
Joining green initiatives scheme
As part of Vidrala’s commitment to support the fight against climate change, the group has invested £5 million in HSBC UK’s Green Deposits scheme, which uses deposits to finance green initiatives and environment-friendly projects. Interest accrued will be directed to environmentally progressive projects such as those focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency, pollution control and biodiversity conservation. The project will be set up by HSBC UK to use funds from Encirc, which will receive a quarterly, portfolio-level review of how its funds have been distributed across different sustainable projects.
“Our investments in HSBC’s Green Deposits scheme will allow us to support environmental projects that aren’t directly related to our industry, while we continue to throw our support behind boosting
sustainability in our own sector” Mr O’Donnell explains. “We pride ourselves on placing sustainability at the heart of our operations. As a business, we understand that we have a responsibility to invest in a greener future, which is why we are always looking to go the extra mile and find new ways to have a positive impact on the planet.”