2020 is very much the year of sustainability. As a planet we’re rapidly running out of time to attempt to rectify the damage that is happening to the world. Every person and every industry has it’s own part to play to help the overall cause. If we don’t, the ramifications will be disastrous, and we’re already seeing weather events being amplified as a result.
Hellish bushfires scorching swathes of Australia, the fastest-forming Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic last year. The Caribbean ravaged by record-breaking hurricanes last year. The hottest days every recorded in many European countries in 2019. These are just a few examples of the weather extremes and records that have taken place recently. It will only get worse if we fail to reverse course.
The idea of turning around climate change can seem an impossible task. We usually only ever hear of the very biggest projects and initiatives in the media. But as an industry, UK fenestration can do its bit. Below are ten ways companies in the window and door industry can do their bit to become more sustainable in their operations.
1. Ensure all post-consumer waste is recycled
If you’re an installer, make sure as many of your old frames are recycled. PVCu can be easily collected and recycled into new windows now. There is a growing network of recycling facilities across the UK, much of it created by systems companies who offer to come and pick up your old PVCu frames to be taken to their huge purpose-built recycling plants so that they can be turned into new profile and new windows again. There are also more and more local firms offering this service as well.
For aluminium and steel frames they can be taken to a local scrap merchant where you’ll be paid for taking in your post-consumer frames. And there are plenty of options when it comes to timer. For us, we have a farmer who comes and takes our post-consumer timber frames to be used on his farm, mostly to be used in his log burners.
If you can make sure your frames don’t end up in a landfill and at least turned into future building materials then thats a big step in the right direction. Millions of frames were saved from landfill due to PVCu recycling alone last year.
2. Ensure all other waste is recycled
No matter where you are in the fenestration supply chain you’ll produce waste of some kind. Whether its off-cuts, office paper work, plastic drinking bottles etc, waste is produced during the working day. The good news is that its already easy to recycle pretty much all waste produce. Paper, plastic, tins, off-cuts from profile can all be easily recycled, just like you do at home.
At our place, we have a special skip provided by our council. Everything that goes in there is taken to a larger recycling plant about 2o miles away where all the materials gets sorted, processed and sent on to be turned into something new. So long as we’re being told the truth, we’re pretty sure that all waste our business produces is recycled in some capacity.
3. Choose partly or fully-recycled profiles
I appreciate that for those who have suppliers who don’t have a recycled option, this would mean quite a big departure from the norm and a big change in direction for a fabricator or installer. But, one of the biggest things installers and fabricators can do is to choose products, be it PVCu, timber or aluminium, that are made from recycled materials. There should be no more stigma about recycled products being of poorer quality than virgin, as that myth no longer holds water. In the case of PVCu its been demonstrated to be better.
There are two advantages to this. Obviously using recycled product rather than virgin means less raw materials and less of a carbon footprint. But secondly, it would help boost demand for recycled products in the years to come, ensuring that more post-consumer frames enter the closed-loop recycling chain. It provides a boost in demand for those who recycle and those who make recycled fenestration product profiles.
On a personal note, I strongly believe all systems companies should be looking to make all their profiles from either partly or fully recycled materials. The technology and material is there. No excuses now, get on and do it.
4. Switch energy suppliers
There are far more providers than the big six when it comes to energy providers. One of the big things any fenestration business can do is to choose an energy supplier who gets their energy from renewable sources. Ovo is one, there are many other small providers that do the same. By choosing those, you can often save money, as we found out ourselves personally, and you can choose to have your gas and electricty come from renewable sources.
We found too that it was actually easier to deal with the smaller energy companies as they’re more tech-focused, online-based and much of what you use is manageable and flexible depending on your usage.
5. Fit solar panels
Think of all those factories we have as an industry with major roof space. Get some solar panels on there and start producing some of your own energy! Although you’re unlikely to make any money now from selling excess energy back to the grid, you can still provide plenty of your own.
6. Switch to hybridor fully electric vehicles
You don’t need a Prius. There’s a ton of high quality options available out there now. There are a lot of reps doing a lot of miles in a lot of company cars. Why not look at going hybrid or fully electric when those leases come up for renewal. You’ve got everything from Nissan to Tesla and all else in between depending on the budget. Electric charging infrastructure is quickly gearing up and some cars are self-charging hybrids so rely less on charging points at home or at work.
Are we that far fom electric LGVs and HGVs? Perhaps not. Elon Musk announced his Cybertruck not too long ago, and considering our manufacturing side of the industry relies heavily on larger vehicles, this is an area of development worth watching.
7. Pledge to green schemes
Its not always possible to avoid the carbon footprint when doing our work. However, we can do things to off-set the impacts we make. So why not sign up to a carbon-offset scheme? These are initiatives both domestic and around the world which aims to counteract the carbon produced by reversing it in some other way. It could be tree planting here in the UK or helping to fund it in other parts of the world. It could be helping to fund wind-farm projects. The range of options is actually a lot bigger than you think. You can find a great list of ideas here.
8. Go paperless, where you can
We are all heavy digital users. You can’t escape it. So perhaps by 2020 we would be forgiven in thinking that we would have ditched paper in the most part. As it is, we haven’t.
Whether its the contracts the home owner signs with an installer, the brochures fabricators give to installers, delivery notes, receipts or faxes, we’re still using plenty of paper. Of course paper can be recycled, but if we stop using as much paper, demand can fall, we spend less on new paper which means less demand for tress being felled to make them. Easier said than done I know, and it would required companies across the supply chain to invest in tech to replace the paper counterparts.
If you’re an installer, see if you can email a brochure to a potential customer first before you give them the paper version. I also think about our industry media. Printing costs are going up, delivery costs too. Its a major process to produce magazines and newspapers just for them to go in the (correct) bin. Any industry news we want to read can be easily found online, without the papertrail behind it.
So, if we cannot ditch paper in the near term, at least use a supplier of paper who uses recycled material, and make sure once its used, we dispose of it properly. Remember, consumption is one aspect, its how we deal with the waste that is just as important.
9. Insulate your workplace
Back to energy again. As we do with homes, we should be making our workspaces as insulated and energy efficient as possible so we don’t churn through masses of energy trying to keep the place warm.
Easier said than done when it comes to large factory spaces of course, and during the summer its not so much of an issue. During the winter though the factory floor can be very cold. So doing what you can to keep the place heated for longer will mean less paid out in heating bills and likely happier people on the shop floor who can go about their work comfortably!
10. Source locally
Goods have to be transported, whether its from systems company to fabricator, or fabricator to installer. So where you can, try and choose a supplier thats as local as possible to try and help reduce the carbon footprint caused by transport. Until we see electric HGVs taking over, the job of transport will remain the traditionally fuelled vehicles we have now.
Again, this isn’t always possible as there may not be a local option providing the products you want to sell. But if there is, then this is definitely one area that we can look at.
As an industry we have an immediate and urgent responsibility, as do all other sectors, to work to make what we do much more sustainable. We’re at a point now where we simply cannot wait any more. In all honesty the time to act was years ago, but only when things seem most urgent do we tend to act. The above ten ideas are just a small sample of what we can all do across fenestration to make what we do more sustainable and friendlier to the environment. We owe it to ourselves to make it happen.
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