Sustainability goals for energy intensive industry

Posted on 13 Oct 2022 by Joe Bush

Prior to joining Kloeckner, Sara Halliday was Group Sustainability Manager for Severfield, a company that designs, fabricates and erects structural steel infrastructure, serving such projects as Wimbledon No.1 Court, the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, The Shard, and a number of large distribution facilities and key infrastructure projects. The Manufacturer caught up with her to find out more.

In June, Sara participated in the Sustainable Manufacturing Symposium, hosted by The Manufacturer, where she discussed energy management and reduction strategies, and how collaboration and partnerships are key to sustainability success. We caught up with her after the event to find out more about the deployment of such strategies at Severfield.

Sustainability at Severfield

SH: Severfield began its sustainability journey with mandatory carbon reporting back in 2013. When I joined the company in 2016, I took over that aspect of the business and then became the first team member dedicated to sustainability two years later. That’s when the Group SHE Director, Phillipa Recchia, and I started to really focus on the strategy of what sustainability meant to us.

Within that we have a high-level sustainability committee, chaired by the CEO and COO, which includes the Group Finance Director, the Group Health and Safety Director, HR, the legal team and finance. As such, sustainability is now integrated and spans the entire breadth of the business, which is professionally very inspiring. We are committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and we have built our strategy, metrics and targets around those, including reporting to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).

Severfield has six manufacturing facilities across the UK and one in India

We are also aligned to the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and made our first full public display disclosure in August. We have four pillars of sustainability; three that are standard across most industries which are people, planet and prosperity. To that we added the principles of governance to make sure that whatever we’re doing is integrated into all areas of the business, that the right people are managing it, and we’re actually doing what we say we’ll do. Over the last 18 months, our sustainability commitment has skyrocketed.

We have a goal in place to reduce our operational Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 25% from 2018, through to 2025, which we’re more than on target to achieve. We established that aim in 2020 and we are 73% of the way there. As such, this year we committed to the Science-Based Targets initiative to align to the 1.5 degree scenario.

What challenges has Severfield faced around sustainability?

The key to success lies in how you engage with the various groups in your business to make sure that you have an integrated strategy, and it’s not just a plan on a page that doesn’t go anywhere. We’re lucky at Severfield in that the CEO and COO are really passionate about sustainability.

We’ve achieved success by adding a personal touch and engaging with our people, so they understand why we’re going through this process as a business. We also had a very positive response from the senior leadership team; we haven’t hit many blockers. However, we are in a very energy intensive sector. Therefore, we’ve switched to green electricity, and we are reviewing our gas contracts with the aim of moving to a greener supply.

There’s a common misconception that there is a huge cost to sustainability which outweighs the process. It’s true that there may be an upfront cost but over the long-term, the return on investment is often very positive. If you’re reducing your emissions and you have an offset strategy, by switching to something like green electricity your offset budget will be reduced as well.

By getting that message across to the finance and procurement teams, and speaking their language around these issues, we can save money over time – again it’s about making sure people understand what we’re trying to achieve and can relate to it within their area of work.

How is your role evolving?

When I started, it was very difficult to find other people who were working in the sphere of sustainability. The focus initially, even for Severfield, was on the environmental aspect. However, by going through the process of figuring out what sustainability truly meant to us, the role has had the opportunity to develop and focus on the other pillars of sustainability.

Personally, the journey has been very quick. It’s so progressive and iterative, and of course, there is no end to sustainability; it’s now integrated into every aspect of the business. That’s how it has to be viewed and it’s also how you’ll establish a successful strategy. It’s not just one person’s job; my responsibility is to harness and spread it out through other areas of the business and to educate people on where and how sustainability fits into their role. The true measure of success is when you actually stop talking about sustainability and start talking about business strategy – that’s a good indication that sustainability has become integrated.

What advice would you give around establishing a decarbonisation strategy?

Don’t underestimate the challenge that you’ve got ahead of you. To avoid the common pitfalls you need to take a look at the issue through a wider lens; there’s a lot of focus around carbon and net zero strategies, but sustainability is more far reaching. For example, it covers social value and biodiversity, which is going to be the next biggest crisis on the planet.

The social side of sustainability is hugely important. If you want your business and the communities around it to be sustainable, you have to engage with your people. You have to develop a positive legacy for all of the projects that you work on and the communities you work in. Having that wider lens view gives you the opportunity to integrate that into your business.

The Severfield project at Lord’s cricket ground

Don’t be afraid if your strategy grows arms and legs because it will. At Severfield, we started off with carbon reporting and what we could do to reduce our emissions; we’ve now got a whole raft of people, planet, prosperity and governance targets, which we wrap into our annual report. Sustainability started off as a couple of paragraphs in the SHE section of that report, now there’s even consideration over whether we should have a separate sustainability report entirely as it has grown into such a large beast.

How important is collaboration and partnerships in achieving sustainability targets and how do you build those successfully?

The first collaboration that you need is within your business internally to make sure that you’ve got people on board. Engage with your employees – the doers and worker bees – because they will have some good ideas. Make sure that you involve them in the process so they feel valued and proud to be part of what you’re doing.

Importantly, over 70% of young people now look at the sustainability credentials of a business when they’re applying for a job. Therefore, a key part of finding out if your collaboration was successful is assessing what your employee retention looks like. Are your employees genuinely proud and pleased to come to work? That’s a really good measure of successful internal collaboration.

Externally, don’t turn anybody away. If somebody wants to collaborate, see if it works for you. Check the scope and boundaries of that collaboration, but nobody should be off limits. There’s a misconception that working with your peers or competitors is a no-go as it will put you at a commercial disadvantage or you will accidentally spill a competitive secret. In reality, if you put boundaries in place, and everybody is aware of where the line is, then it can become a key piece of the collaboration jigsaw.

Also, look at your trade associations (because they may already have a sustainability group) and your local authorities. North Yorkshire has a great climate hub, and the CBI has similar hubs for different regions up and down the UK. Any knowledge is great, even if it’s negative. Learning how not to do something is still valuable.

We collaborate with our supply chain; steel suppliers, transport and paint providers etc and we’ve had some really good wins from that. Learn the sustainability strategies of the other organisations in your supply chain and, if they don’t have one, and there is the knowledge in your business, help them implement one; that can create a good partnership going forward.

Are the companies within your supply chain on a similar sustainability journey?

It can vary but usually there’s a target in place. It might vary by five to ten years; you might find a really progressive supplier that’s aiming for net zero by 2025 for example.

But ultimately, we’re all on the same journey, so it makes sense to collaborate to get there. Finding out what your suppliers are doing and if you are aligned is key. We’re a tier one contractor and often the principal contractors are asking us what our supply chain are doing. If you can answer that thoroughly, and prove that you are aligned, it gives confidence to those contractors and whoever’s purchasing your product.

If you have a supplier that isn’t as progressive as you would like them to be, it’s vital that you continue to support them if they have a journey in place. You don’t want to shy away from those suppliers if they are making an effort. They’re perhaps not ready to take the steps that you have. Everybody has their own challenges in their business, whether it’s investment, convincing communication engagement etc, so not everyone can be at the same level. It’s key, therefore, that you carry others with you – not just the ones that are successful right now.

What role is technology playing?

At Severfield each project is different; we don’t build the same thing over and over again. So, we are using digital technology and are ahead of some of our peers in that we are using quite a high level of Building Information Modelling (BIM). And given that we’re involved with bespoke projects, we have a group engineering forum and a team of experts that are looking at digital transformation and how we can integrate technology into what we do.

We don’t have the luxury of modelling to just one or a handful of scenarios. Literally every project that comes through is completely different. But our team of experts on carbon reduction are using software that’s been designed in-house and they are using it in the design process. It looks at connections, piece size, grades of steel, and it models an efficient design and the best way to get that project through the factory, which in turn reduces the emissions associated with that process.

We’re also looking to integrate carbon calculations into our processes; what it looks like going into the software, what it looks like coming out, and what the savings are for a particular project. So, for each project that we offer and bid for, we can now provide a carbon calculation for our section of the work. That’s been really well received by all of our clients. Digital definitely has its place, but the key is working out the niche projects and how we fit them into our business.

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