Previously O-I’s Vice President of Global Government Affairs, Randy Burns’ current role as Chief Sustainability and Corporate Affairs Officer was created by the company in May 2020 to elevate sustainability into a senior level of management and drive the agenda deep into the organisation.
Leading O-I’s Sustainability and Social Responsibility, Government and Public Affairs and Corporate Communications strategy, Mr Burns’ role also entails connecting the company with external stakeholders.
“Sustainability has always been important to the business but the improved approach helps broaden our horizons” explains Randy Burns.
Recognising that it does business uniquely in each geography in which it operates, O-I’s business structure enables top line global scale functions such as R&D and operational skills to be deployed locally. Elevating sustainability to the same hierarchy in the company makes it easier to replicate success and leverage opportunities in different countries by unifying the sustainability reporting.
“Having a global leader drive the sustainability agenda across all countries with this structure means we can function at maximum impact” Mr Burns believes. “And of course, having sustainability at the highest management level demonstrates the company’s commitment to driving this agenda globally. We are certainly elevating our sustainability ambitions.”
Co-ordinating sustainability across O-I’s international operations is a challenging prospect and part of Randy Burns’ role is to build the infrastructure to accomplish sustainability goals in all corners of the company.
“We looked at various structures to create a global matrix organisation” he confides. “As an analogy, a plant manager in our business doesn’t make glass, he oversees glass being made. And that’s the same with my role in sustainability… there’s a lot of work to do but with the function at global level, we have a matrix organisation with the necessary resources in place on a global scale to deploy sustainability easily into the fabric of our existing infrastructure.”
Clear road ahead
O-I’s vision for the group’s approach to sustainability in the future is to create the most innovative and brand-building packaging company– as well as the most sustainable, according to Randy Burns.
“Our priority will be to continue on the path of reducing emissions, looking at our energy usage differently and exploring ways in which to increase recycling, while paying attention to all other variables that factor into being a sustainable manufacturing company, such as for example, community engagements, water usages etc” Mr Burns clarifies. “To follow up our previous CSR report, soon we will publish a comprehensive sustainability report to outline our agenda” he adds.
According to Mr Burns, the Covid-19 pandemic won’t prevent O-I from pursuing goals already articulated by the company but it has interrupted consumer recycling trends in some geographies, particularly in North America. The combination of a change in consumer patterns due to people staying at home, along with changes to collection services etc, are a challenge to recycling infrastructures in some regions and to manufacturers with recycled content in their supply chain, he cautions, noting that O-I was “very active in drawing attention to this at the beginning of the pandemic.”
Recycled content is a very important component to sustainability for O-I and improving the recycling infrastructure in North America is a priority for the company. Seeking industry-wide initiatives for long-term solutions, O-I is a member and supporter of the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), the US trade association that promotes glass as a packaging choice, advances environmental and recycling policies, advocates industry standards and educates packaging professionals.
“Industry collaboration is addressing recycling inefficiencies in North America and GPI has studies underway to determine how best to improve” says Randy Burns. “There will be developments on that in the coming year that will align with major effort from the GRC” [Glass Recycling Coalition, which promotes glass as a core recyclable]. In the know will be Jim Nordmeyer, O-I’s Vice President of Global Sustainability, who is a board member of the GRC.
“North America is a priority but we need to look globally for solutions and the best recycling infrastructures” Randy Burns continues. “For example, our Estonian plant uses waste heat to supply energy to neighbouring towns, so it can’t just be about recycling when we are integrating our operations in a sustainable way into the communities in which we operate. It’s as much about balancing people and the prosperity of our operations as it is about what comes out of our factory; part of that is what you make but also how you make it and how that fits into the community.”
With its own focus on containers that will provide the most circulatory potential, O-I looks to Europe as a “great example of how glassmaking can be very circular” according to Mr Burns. “Technology advancements in glass melting will play a major role moving forward to reduce carbon to required levels” he affirms.
O-I is pushing for progress with its Modular Advanced Glass Manufacturing Asset (MAGMA) project to enable a flexible, modular, expandable glassmaking process that does not require the resources of a traditional furnace. The company is currently operating both a prototype and pilot.
“O-I has always been an innovator in glassmaking, inventing the first mass bottle making machine over 100 years ago and with MAGMA, we are reinventing how glass packaging is made” claims Randy Burns. “We want to innovate our way to a better future because that is what O-I stands for.
“In addition, we are looking to innovate collaboratively with the industry on different types of furnace technology. With our more sustainable view to operations, we need to make glass with different technology. Like the rest of the glass industry, we are investing and are anxious for results but our strategy is holistic and doesn’t favour or exclude any options; we want to capture the very best of what’s available on the marketplace.”
By supporting initiatives such as those co-ordinated by Glass Futures and FEVE, O-I shows its commitment to the consideration of sustainability from a manufacturing point-of-view. O-I is one of the founding members of Glass Futures and Ludovic Valette, Vice President of Global Technology at O-I, represents the company as part of the Board of Directors, focused on the decarbonisation of the UK glass industry.
In addition, O-I co-founded and supports FEVE’s ‘Furnace of the Future’ project to develop the world’s first large-scale, hybrid oxy-fuel furnace to run on 80% renewable electricity. The venture is “a fundamental milestone” in the industry’s decarbonisation journey towards climate-neutral glass packaging, replacing current fossil fuel energy sources and cutting CO2 emissions by 50%, according to Randy Burns.
A crucial element of the company’s research and development programme towards increased sustainability is O-I’s Innovation Centre at its global headquarters in Perrysburg, Ohio. The 24,000ft2 building, which recently celebrated its seventh anniversary of producing glass, features a quarter-sized furnace and two small production lines that allow the company to trial new processes and prototype new product designs without interrupting the factory lines.
“We are able to recreate the challenges of the plants themselves and safely address them in a controlled environment” Mr Burns explains. “For example, we can look at ways to make the process more efficient, and safer, and can experiment with different inputs to address some of the aspirations of our customers.”
O-I is also keen to safeguard a key part of its sustainability strategy; its workforce. “Our people are what makes sustainability happen” says Randy Burns. “We are completely focused on making sure our workforce mirrors the surrounding communities and it’s always been a priority to have an inclusive workplace. Our employees are passionate about sustainability and are working at it every day; it’s very important to keep them engaged on the subject matter to fuel their enthusiasm.”
Something to shout about
Although customers and consumers have their part to play in influencing a drive to sustainability, in O-I’s case the goal has constantly been in sight, Mr Burns believes. “Sustainability has always been a major part of O-I’s business, not just because of the nature of what we produce but because we felt in every corner of the globe there was heightened interest in ensuring our operations fit in with their communities and economies etc. By elevating sustainability to the top level, we can now demonstrate our commitment of being completely aligned to the needs of our communities, customers, investors and external stakeholders etc.”
O-I’s sustainability message is now coming across, loud and clear.