The Manufacturer Top 100 2021 alumni Tanya Ashton has spent the majority of her working life manufacturing ever more sustainable food with Associated British Foods. Recently she moved into the Health and Wellbeing sector with Walgreens Boots Alliance. During this time, Ashton has saved more than 120,000 trees being felled from unsustainable sources, shifted 7,500 tonnes of paper to FSC certified, increased responsible sourcing of high-risk food commodities to 95%, reduced factory carbon emissions by 30%, and reduced food miles for just one customer by 230,000 – enough to fly them to the moon! She said she couldn’t have achieved a single one of these things without the support of colleagues who were willing to try something different.
Click here to view the video of the full Top 100 interview with Tanya Ashton.
What is your role at Walgreens Boots Alliance?
I now work for Walgreens Boots Alliance, or Boots parent company, but previously spent 18 years working for Associated British Foods in their sugar division, and spent much of my time there making their Silver Spoon sugar sites more sustainable.
What does it mean to you to be part of the Top 100?
I still get a buzz when I think about it. I have worked with a host of inspiring leaders, drivers of cultural change, pioneers and innovators so to be recognised alongside some of the industries’ very best makes me feel incredibly proud and more than a little bashful – that unwelcome ‘imposter syndrome’ manages to sneak in before I square myself and push it back in its box.
What do you find most inspiring about working in manufacturing and when did you realise this is the career for you?
Although I have now left manufacturing I haven’t gone far as I now work with manufacturers from across the world sourcing health, beauty and wellbeing products from them. As Head of Sustainability for WBA Global Sourcing Europe, I work with hundreds of different types of manufacturers to both ensure they meet WBA’s increasingly ambitious sustainability targets and to improve their own. Manufacturers of the near future must be truly sustainable to survive these increasingly trying times we live in.
Who or what has been the biggest influences on your career in manufacturing?
Seeing the unnecessary waste driven from mismatched forecasting and conflicting production and head office priorities, pushed me to improve relationships, understanding and collaboration between sites and head office. Having outlets for unused products in place, ensuring decision making is fast, effective and appropriate, and empowering people to make good, timely decisions is essential. Waste hurts your bottom line, your reputation and if unused, your communities.
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far and how have you overcome it?
Sustainability in both manufacture and sourcing is complex and closely entwined. Brands and retailers are placing increasingly high ESG (environmental, social and governance) demands on manufacturers. In my new role at WBA I have spent the last nine months working to improve transparency through the supply chain so, in collaboration with our manufacturers, we can pinpoint sustainability hotspots and focus on what is of material importance.
As I had come from manufacturing, and felt survey fatigue for myself, it was essential to me that the tool we used served both WBA and our suppliers. I am delighted to say that with WBA’s significant investment, our assessment tool, THESIS is incredibly affordable and, unusually, shares insight back to manufacturers. Our suppliers receive a report detailing their unmanaged risks along with tailored action recommendations to reduce them, it also pinpoints opportunities and potential USPs through benchmarking them against their competitor set.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in manufacturing during your career?
The care taken to ensure the safety of people in manufacturing, the increasing lookout for their mental wellbeing and support systems put in place to address them.
What are the biggest challenges that are facing manufacturing as a whole and how are you and your company seeking to address this?
Our manufacturing industry must set itself up for success in the dynamic and rapidly changing environment. ESG legislation and regulation is coming and fast. This year we see the Plastics Tax hitting manufacturing hard and against the many other price increases, all are feeling the squeeze. But there is more to come. The most significant is carbon taxation which has support from likely quarters such as the UN, but more unlikely.
Can manufacturing learn anything from any other sectors? If so, what?
I think we can all learn from these incredible, fresh, unicorn businesses which are challenging everything we’ve done before and thinking outside the stratosphere, let alone the box. According to Larry Fink, the CEO of Blackrock investments, the next 1,000 unicorns “won’t be search engines or social media companies, they’ll be sustainable, scalable innovators – startups that help the world decarbonise” – that sounds a lot like manufacturers to me!
What do you think will be the long-term legacy of this current period of unprecedented change with the manufacturing sector?
I hope it’s sustainable manufacture with circularity built in.
What advice would you have for any younger people who are considering a career in manufacturing?
That the choices available to you are enormous – you can make, innovate and shape. Make our food and our products – anything and everything in fact. You can innovate to make them better, quicker, slicker, tastier and of course more sustainable. And you can shape, by learning to lead with integrity, transforming site cultures, and improving efficient productivity.