According to Chief Sustainability Officer John Sadlier, sustainability is a strategic imperative at Ardagh and in that context, in 2019 the group created the role of CSO and a Board level Committee to move the agenda forward. Working with the Board Sustainability Committee and his colleagues on the Global Executive, Mr Sadlier is responsible for managing all aspects of Ardagh’s sustainability agenda, ensuring it is at the core of the group’s activities.
This includes working closely with a wide range of stakeholders, including colleagues, customers, suppliers, regulators, trade associations and investors. “Sustainability has been a key priority at Ardagh for many years” John Sadlier confirms “and we have achieved an incredible amount to date.”
To enable the group to focus more significantly on sustainability, it was recognised that a full-time senior resource was needed to drive the agenda. Although metal and glass have different sustainability challenges, the fact that both are permanent, fully recyclable materials makes it easier to have common sustainability objectives across the group. “We have developed a strategy to maximise the benefits of our materials and make them even more sustainable” Mr Sadlier explains. “Having a group-wide strategy gives us the opportunity to maximise the benefits of our materials and production processes.”
Challenges and opportunities
As Ardagh works to reduce the amount of CO2 created in the manufacture of its products, however, some important challenges need to be faced and overcome. This includes the different recycling rates and practices encountered in the various countries where the group operates and the different sources of energy used to generate electricity in these countries, as well as different legislation around the installation of renewable energy sources.
With glass, most CO2 is generated in-house, whereas with metal, it is generated in the supply chain. Notwithstanding this difference, as well as focusing on Ardagh’s in-house operations for glass, it is critical for both materials that the team works closely with suppliers, regulators and national recycling efforts to improve recycling quality and quantity and make the organisation’s production processes as sustainable as possible.
According to John Sadlier, maintaining a co-ordinated, group-wide approach to resources is critical. “The role of CSO cannot drive this alone but we have the sponsorship of our Board and our Global Executive Team, backed up with resources, to drive the agenda throughout the business.”
In addition, Ardagh’s participation in wider industry projects is considered equally important in reaching the group’s sustainability goals. The hybrid ‘Furnace of the Future’, for example, is described as a positive example of co-ordinating a Europe-wide sustainability project, where everything learned from the project will eventually be used throughout the world and will help to make glass even more sustainable.
Ardagh’s creation of the Board Sustainability Committee and the appointment of a senior executive to the role emphasises the importance of sustainability to the business. The committee gives Board oversight to the sustainability agenda and provides the necessary support to ensure the agenda is implemented throughout the business. Chaired by the COO, it operates group-wide and is designed to better co-ordinate Ardagh’s global sustainability work, to accelerate its sustainability programmes and to increase responsiveness.
According to Mr Sadlier, gaining Board approval for Ardagh’s 2020 Sustainability Strategy has been a highlight of his first year in office. The group is signing up to the Science Based Target Institute (SBTI), illustrating a commitment to doing its part to restrict global warming to less than 1.5°C by 2050. “This builds on our existing targets” he confirms, while also emphasising that ambitious goals have similarly been set with respect to reducing water usage, NOx gases (in glass manufacture), VOCs (in metal) and waste to landfill.
Representing a critical element of Ardagh’s sustainability strategy, the social pillar of sustainability has been brought to the fore as a result of the recent Covid-19 pandemic. “Our focus is on giving back to the communities we live and work in via a new emphasis on education and by focusing on our people through initiatives around purpose, employee engagement, diversity and inclusion” John Sadlier explains.
A 2020 Sustainability Strategy has been created with the three main pillars of emissions, ecology and social, with ambitious goals set for each pillar, including signing up to the SBTI. “To achieve our objectives will require lots of work and commitment from our internal stakeholders, as well as our customers, suppliers and industry associations” Mr Sadlier confirms. “We want to become a benchmark for sustainability in the global packaging industry… to be the envy of the industry. We want people who think about Ardagh to think of us as exemplars on sustainability.”
In recent years, important external validation has been achieved, including gold level rating by EcoVadis, achieved only by the top 3% of companies assessed in the industry, for the fourth consecutive year. Ardagh has also received A-level rating from the Carbon Disclosure Project.
These accreditations complement multiple awards received over many years that recognise the group’s innovation in down-gauging and lightweighting metal and glass products respectively, as well as reducing energy consumption, while enhancing customer branding.
In 2020, for example, a project to process cullet fines has been selected as one of five finalists in the Pre-commercialised Innovation category of the International Sustainability Awards. Cullet fines are essentially glass dust that cannot be used in glass production and currently goes to aggregate or landfill. The project turns the fines into briquettes for remelting into glass containers.
Elsewhere, Ardagh’s sustainable Tesla battery at the Irvine glass facility in Scotland won the ‘Sustainable Initiative’ award in the International Beverage Awards.
Commitment to share best practice
Production facilities are benchmarked on a wide variety of measures including production efficiency, water use, recycled content and energy use. According to John Sadlier, different regions respond to local challenges and develop their own specific strengths. “Our established culture of sharing best practice means we quickly share great local initiatives across all facilities” he says. “Our glass production facility in Obernkirchen, Germany has been selected to develop the FEVE-led Hybrid Furnace of the Future and will be a key focus over the coming years.”
Technological advances are essential for the group to make continued progress. For example, developments in cullet processing technology have reduced the quantity of inclusions and improved the quality of cullet, allowing Ardagh to use more recycled material in its batch recipe. Elsewhere, advances in transit packaging have allowed the group to reduce the amount of materials used and to increase the amount of reusable packaging.
“In terms of energy production, we have capitalised on technological advances that have reduced the cost of renewable energy, making it comparable in cost to fossil fuel-generated electricity” Mr Sadlier explains. “We have a solar installation next to our Bridgeton facility in New Jersey, USA and are working on several other installations across the group. We also work with our capital equipment suppliers to take advantage of their energy-reducing innovations.”
As mentioned previously, Ardagh is a founder member of FEVE’s ‘Furnace of the Future’ project, which is described as a potentially pivotal project for the international glass packaging community. “It will take a large, dedicated team and I’m proud to be a member of that team” says John Sadlier. “It will be extremely influential and a game changer in terms of sustainability… we aim to demonstrate the viability of electric melting on a commercial scale, which would revolutionise the consumer glass packaging market. It represents a step change opportunity for the industry to produce glass packaging by replacing current fossil fuel energy sources and cutting CO2 emissions by as much as 60%. The new technology will enable the industry to produce more than 300 tonnes per furnace of any glass colour, per day, using high levels of recycled glass.”
Similarly, the FEVE-led ‘Close the Glass Loop’ platform, which will unite the glass collection and recycling value chain, is recognised for its fundamental importance to the glass packaging industry. Their goal is to achieve a 90% average EU collection rate of used glass packaging by 2030 (from the current average of 76%) and better quality of recycled glass, so more recycled content can be used in production.
Ardagh Group is actively supporting various pilot projects to increase the quality and quantity of recycling in the key regions where it operates. To achieve 90% collection rates, broad scale co-ordination of larger initiatives will be needed across Europe, together with a series of smaller scale local initiatives. Via its previously mentioned cullet fines processing project, for example, Ardagh is developing another source of cullet that will return the same benefits as normal cullet in terms of reduced energy costs, reductions in CO2 emission and reducing the use of raw materials.
Separately, the group has recently conducted research into the recycling habits of 2100 households across Europe during lockdown. Its findings show a significant behaviour change where, on average, 34% of consumers are recycling more glass packaging through domestic recycling streams during a difficult and challenging time.
Having recently joined the FEVE Board, John Sadlier is encouraged to see the level of co-operation among members on key sustainability initiatives. “With the challenges we face as an industry, this co-operation on sustainability is critical to our success and I’ve no doubt that, with FEVE’s stewardship, this will deliver long-term benefits for the industry.”
As well as working closely with customers to drive forward key sustainability issues, the Ardagh Group’s Chief Sustainability Officer is highly encouraged by the results of a 2020 FEVE/Friends of Glass consumer survey, revealing that people are buying more glass than ever before. “Nine in ten would recommend glass as the best packaging material to friends and family and two in five consumers actively choose glass as they see it as more recyclable than other packaging materials” Mr Sadlier reports. “When buying food and drink, consumers are considering the environmental impact of packaging as an important part of the decision-making process. Glass is overwhelmingly the preferred consumer packaging choice in terms of avoiding littering, packaging waste and addressing climate change. The fact that consumers are actively choosing to buy more glass packaging due to its sustainable properties is extremely encouraging for Ardagh and the glass industry.”
In North America, Ardagh is also leveraging involvement with industry associations to strengthen glass’ environmental footprint and drive understanding across stakeholders that glass is a model of sustainability. Ardagh’s President and CEO of Glass – North America, Bertrand Paulet, is Chairman of the US-based Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), the main association representing glass manufacturers across the country. GPI is actively articulating the environmental advantages of glass across the media and of great importance these days, to legislators, as they create packaging policy at state and federal levels. The association is also targeting improvement of glass recycling and content rates and is directly investing in local recycling programmes while currently creating an industry-wide strategy to raise rates substantially over the next few years.
The social pillar of Ardagh’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy is all about relationships with stakeholders. As a result, the group’s CSR policy and the social aspects of its sustainability strategy are one and the same.
“In terms of giving back to our communities, going forward, we want to focus on education” John Sadlier confirms. “Having an active relationship within the communities in which we operate is really important to us and has been for many years. We aim to have at least one meaningful community involvement project at each of our facilities as part of our long-term sustainability targets. Having community projects in place comes naturally to our production facilities and helps us to engage with the local communities. It also allows us to inform people about our products, processes and recycling.”
Throughout the global Covid-19 pandemic, many employees have volunteered in their communities and donated time, supplies and funds to local charities. Inspired by its people, Ardagh created a $2 million fund to support those most affected by Covid-19 in the communities in which the group operates. The fund was allocated to charities nominated by Ardagh’s local teams.