Sustainability must be at the heart of FMCG businesses to have a global impact

Global exports from the UK reached a record 150 countries in 2015, and at United Biscuits (UB), things aren’t any different.

UB bakes some of the best loved sweet and savoury biscuits and cakes in the UK such as McVitie’s, Jacob’s, go ahead!, and Carr’s. We’ve focused on growing our brands across international markets, particularly in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, and it’s clear there’s a taste for great British baking across the world. In fact, last year alone 45,000 tonnes of biscuits were shipped from the UK around the world and to date, we’ve seen a total of £130m in retail sales from exports of the original McVitie’s Digestive, increasing by 20% year-on-year.

This exponential growth for businesses like ours is certainly a positive thing for the UK economy, but, as I outlined at edie Live last week, with business activity becoming increasingly international, ensuring sustainability and managing environmental impact is more important than ever.

In order to maintain a rate of growth like this, whilst achieving longevity in a global marketplace, a sustainable strategy needs to be at the heart of everything businesses do. With the eyes of the world on their operations, no longer is there anywhere to hide; and as the relationship between sustainability and consumers, suppliers and businesses becomes increasingly entwined, there is a need to maintain and accelerate the momentum gathered.

At United Biscuits, we position sustainability at the heart of our business and the results speak for themselves. As a part of our sustainability programme, we saved 1.6 million wrappers from landfill, reduced water consumption by 37% and reduced carbon emissions by 43% as a direct result of ‘Fewer & Friendlier Miles’ which saw United Biscuits remove 30 million truck miles from UK roads since 2005.

And we’re not the only ones; reports show that UK businesses have rapidly increased their capacity to engage with sustainable practices in recent years, with many companies now having a better knowledge and understanding of how to implement a successful strategy. edie’s 2015 Sustainability Leaders Awards saw a record number of entries across 14 categories, demonstrating the ongoing improvement businesses are making, taking sustainability seriously.

It seems that improved efforts from UK businesses are being recognised, and the importance of maintaining this momentum is, for many, becoming a business imperative. However, logistics and operations is not where the sustainability story should end.

When it comes to implementing a sustainable strategy within a business, reducing carbon emissions and waste is only half the battle. Sustainable practices within a business should permeate its influence and engagement within the local community and with its own employees in order to truly affect change and future-proof its operations.

To drive this change throughout the business, we ask a dedicated group of employees called Energy Champions to put this into practice and place the onus of responsibility for meeting targets and introducing forward-thinking energy projects on the employees.

Our Energy Champions are at each United Biscuits site around the world.  An example of one of their energy saving initiatives was setting up Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Plants.  CHP are gas-powered turbine engines that generate electricity and from these turbines heat is generated which is then converted into hot water and used as energy source. We use this hot water to supplement systems requiring hot water therefore saving further on gas usage to boil water. This was one project initiated by our Site Energy Champions and is now being implemented across other sites with annual cost savings of over half a million pounds.

At United Biscuits, we pride ourselves on inspiring some of the best talent in the industry to carry out and improve our environmental goals. Last year, in the UK alone, we recruited 34 apprentices, 12 interns, and offered over 60 student summer work experience placements. We also recruited 14 new graduates across our UK sites – sustainable business is an intrinsic part of their training and day-to-day operations and informs everything they do.

By inspiring the next generation of talent to consider the environment from the perspective of an international business and take action, they can see the improvements they make and this mind-set follows them throughout their career and spreads positive messages and actions across the business.  

Similarly when it comes to community engagement the importance of demonstrating a sustainable agenda will encourage sustainable action at a local level. For example our participation in ‘Give & Gain Day’, the UK’s only national day of volunteering organised by Business in the Community, the Prince’s Responsible Business Network. Since 2008, over 110,000 people in 38 countries around the world have taken part and we are proud to be part of it. 

At United Biscuits, we have the conviction that sustainability should be central to how we sell products in more than 130 countries. Whilst the progress of environmental practices within UK businesses is encouraging, only by putting sustainability at the heart of all aspects of its operation, from employee engagement to inspiring the local community, will UK businesses truly be able to future-proof their operations on a global scale.

Rob Wright is head of distribution at United Biscuits.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie