Why quantifying progress is essential for a sustainable future

NovaCast is committed to using renewable energyDuring recent years there has been an ever-growing awareness of the impact that our activities have on the world we live in. Whatever your perspective on the causes of global warming, it is a matter of fact that most of us in the developed world cause harm to our environment through the products we consume, the food we eat, the miles we travel, and the energy we use. For individuals it is tempting to think that the changes they can make will not have a significant impact; that so much of the damage inflicted is in areas out of their control. And this can be the impression in the corporate world as well.

For many businesses, the move towards a more sustainable future where the damage they inflict on the natural world through their day-to-day activities is as low as possible, is not held back by a lack of desire or ambition. In many cases, companies that seek to improve their sustainability credentials quickly find that the progress they can make, within their own four walls, is limited. That is because the bulk of their carbon footprint (up to 90%) lies in indirect emissions within their supply chains.

Whatever their motivation for adopting a more sustainable approach to business; be it stakeholder expectations, regulatory enforcement, opportunities for profit, or just doing the right thing, a business needs to look beyond its internal processes and into its extended supply chains.

Instilling an ethos of sustainability

NovaCast is a good example of how change can happen and how an ethos of sustainability can become instilled and grow throughout a supply chain. While its owner/MD Richard Phillips has long held the desire to become more sustainable as a business, the challenge was daunting. As a traditional foundry, NovaCast was using processes that were inherently polluting with many noxious emissions, high energy usage and no way of accurately monitoring the impact that all this was having on the environment.

So, what changed? For NovaCast, it was partly a commercial imperative, driven by a significant customer that wanted to demonstrate its own environmental credentials and, to achieve this, was prepared to put pressure on its supply chain. For Richard Phillips, this was additional motivation to make significant changes throughout his business. He commented; “For our customer, it was like pushing against an open door. We were delighted to be able to consolidate our commercial relationship by confirming our commitment to sustainability. The problem was that we needed to prove our commitment and demonstrate the improvements we had already made and had planned – and that was our biggest challenge.”

Unless you have a way of benchmarking your environmental impact it is hard to credibly claim that you are implementing the changes that make a real difference. As with any business-planning, accurate monitoring, measurement, and reporting are the only way that progress can be quantified. So, in addition to implementing a whole raft of initiatives within the business, which included investment in innovative digital technologies that reduce waste, changes to the flux used that drastically reduced toxic emissions, and switching to renewable energy supply, NovaCast also engaged with EcoVadis, the world’s largest sustainability benchmarking organisation.

The result has been dramatic, not only in terms of verifying the progress being made, but also in driving further improvements, motivating staff, engaging with prospective customers, and consolidating existing relationships. In its first year of engagement with EcoVadis, NovaCast improved its sustainability score by 61%, an achievement that placed the business within the top 8% of metal casting companies on the platform globally. And more improvements are in the pipeline. NovaCast publishes its EcoVadis scorecard results and sustainability policies on its website.

Initiatives in sustainability at NovaCast

A commitment to use renewable electricity in the foundry is the latest in a series of initiatives at NovaCast aimed at making the business more sustainable. Others have included investing in technology that will deliver castings using less raw materials and energy. 3D modelling and casting simulation software has enabled the foundry design engineering team to influence the design process at a much earlier stage – suggesting design modifications or combining multiple assemblies into a single, more efficient casting that can take weight, materials, and cost out of components while improving performance. Rapid prototyping using additive technology (3D Printing) has reduced the need for patterns to be made in the traditional way, and using 3D scanning of existing components has enabled reverse engineering. Both lead to greater production efficiencies, design improvements and lower use of resources.

Adapting or changing other aspects of the production process, such as changing the flux used, using recycled metal and reclaiming casting sand, has delivered environmental impact improvements or reduced the resources used. And recent investment in the Synchro ERP system has allowed the business to have far greater control, understanding and clarity, while investment in UKAS ISO9001 accreditation has imposed quality disciplines and monitoring throughout the company.

The way forwards

For Richard Phillips, his own company’s journey is the perfect demonstration of how rapid progress towards a more sustainable future can happen within the corporate world. “Today, we provide the evidence that allows our customers to demonstrate their own commitment to sustainability through the commercial decisions they make, just as we make investment and purchasing decisions based on the environmental credentials of our suppliers. You can really sense the momentum growing, which certainly gives me hope that we’ll achieve a more sustainable future.”

To find out more about NovaCast’s sustainability credentials or how working with us can support your own environmental goals, call a member of NovaCast’s team on +44 (0) 1225 707466, send us a message here or email sales@novacast.co.uk.