How Encirc is smashing the glass ceiling of supply chain sustainability

As businesses begin to look beyond the 'low-hanging fruit' of on-site sustainability solutions, a growing number of firms are turning their attentions to supply chain management as a way of reducing emissions and environmental footprints even further.

But issues over traceability, implementation and behaviour change are creating virtual barriers within global supply chains, making it harder for an organisation to formulate an ethical and responsible CSR strategy that goes beyond its own operations.

Northern Ireland-based glass packaging manufacturer Encirc is one company that has taken this supply chain sustainability challenge head-on; revolutionising and streamlining its in-house operating systems to create a low-emissions model that is beginning to branch out to other suppliers.

Speaking exclusively to edie ahead of this month’s edie Live exhibition (scroll down for details), Encirc’s head of strategic development and sustainability lead Fiacre O’Donnell explained how the company’s vision to innovate glass packaging solutions is beginning to “change the industry norm” of producing waste and emissions.

“Encirc has a vision and mission to become a world-class organisation that innovates sustainable glass packaging solutions,” O’Donnell said. “This isn’t something we’re willing to stand still on. We want to keep going and we will keep going. It’s an industry norm to produce waste but we’re working on changing the norm.”

Encirc, which produces glass alcohol, water and food containers for the likes of Australian Vintage, Gallo, SHS Group and Heineken, has already enlisted the support of sustainability frameworks and guidelines in the form of ISO 14001 to improve its operational output. And logistically, the company has also been introducing greener transportation techniques in an effort to lower emissions and “improve the commercial flexibility” of the companies it sells to.

The business has a relatively unique business model which enables it to manufacture glass bottles and containers from recycled glass components, before filling those bottles on site and transporting them to various business clients through optimised driving routes. This route-optimisation lowers the amount of time that the products spend on the road, and therefore reduces subsequent transport emissions.

“A normal business model would usually see other companies send the packages down the road for someone else to fill,” O’Donnell added. “A lot of beverage companies don’t have the warehouse space and have to transport everything they do to a central facility, before transporting it further to markets. It’s practically empty miles.”

O’Donnell noted that Encirc’s ability to mix the beverage on-site allows for an “efficient route of transport” to be introduced that optimises the amount that can be transported at one go, as well as the quality of the product.

“When we make the bottle, we can actually mix the drink that’s going into the bottles and containers on site. The glass never leaves the site like it would for other companies, and we are actually capturing the miles and time it would spend on the road.”

Glass half-full

According to O’Donnell, one of the big difficulties in transporting wine is the chance that it can be “cooked” during the transportation of high-volumes. But, by mixing the ingredients in-house, Encirc can produce the same volume of wine without the quality suffering.

The mixing process, which also extends to beer, allows for ingredients to arrive from the Southern Hemisphere – typically Australia – in double the strength. This innovative transportation method has seen Encirc – which fills more than six million bottles each week – reduce carbon emissions by 127 grams per bottle in the UK.

When you combine these carbon saving mixing techniques – which accounts for 32% of the combined UK and Irish glass containermarket – with Encirc’s transportation methods, a wholesale effort to reduce emissions begins to form.

“We used to have one customer that would transport the bottles from us and then send the vehicles back with nothing on it,” O’Donnell said. “It was a 250-mile journey and half of it was empty emissions.

“But because we can produce an array of products, and custom-make them on site, customer can now send products directly to retailers and stores. By planning our routes, we can mitigate empty journeys as our vehicles travel store to store with different products before returning to us in the shortest route possible.”

These greener vehicle journeys have been aided by Encirc’s on-going attempts to reduce product weight and make manufacturing processes more energy-efficient. The group has become the first beverage company to produce 48 bottles from one machine cycle, for example, while the introduction of a load hog plastic-layered pad has allowed the company to add more layers of glass to each bottle and improve durability – saving the company an extra 230 lorry journeys each year.

Improved machine cycles have also created a domino effect, improving glass production and durability to a point where Encirc no longer needs to use the plastic shrouds that prevent bottles from being damage – a change that has led to 146,000kg less plastic being used each year.

The Academy

While major brands across the country attempt to encourage supply chains to adopt more sustainable product-flow models, Encirc is already operating within a best practice mantra which has proved so successful that an academy has been set up to pass on these green operational methods.

The Encirc Academy was founded in response to requests from the industry to share a “world-class journey by providing training, support and assistance” for companies outside of the UK, which aims to help them increase the productivity of their manufacturing process.

“The Academy was a recognition of the capabilities that we have for utilising machines and getting the maximum that we can out of them,” O’ Donnell said. “We only started producing glass in Derrylin in 1998, and a lot of the trainers have 20 years or less experience but are already teaching companies that are much older than we are; it’s a good vindication of our process.”

Having recently invested more than £650,000 on machinery and furnace upgrades at the Derrylin facilities, Encirc is now looking at what other green innovations would complement its operations, with a particular interest in automation software, data exchange technology and the Internet of Things as part of ‘Industry 4.0’.

“We are constantly pushing and challenging ourselves to perform better,” O’Donnell concluded. “We’ve set up a number of strategic projects that will come into effect this year to push us onto the next level.”

Fiacre O’Donnell at edie Live

Fiacre O’Donnell will be speaking on the Resource Efficiency Theatre at edie Live in May, discussing how companies can boost efficiency and minimise energy consumption in their supply chains, alongside associates from Dell and the University of York.

If you manage your company’s energy, sustainability, environmental or corporate responsibility, then two days at edie Live will give you a free pass to all the learning, peer-to-peer networking, innovative suppliers and inspiration you need to drive sustainability through your organisation.

View the full edie Live agenda and register to attend for free here.

Matt Mace

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