Business Spotlights: Encirc

Business spotlight - Encirc

Framing sustainability as an investment for future-proofing businesses

Part of the Vidrala Group based in Spain, Encirc incorporates four sites in England, Northern Ireland and Italy. Born in 1998 with their first plant in Northern Ireland, Encirc has gone on to not only become the market leader in the UK but also the most sustainable business of its kind in the world. 

Each year, they produce over four billion glass containers for leading global brands, filling many of them for retail across the UK and Europe. Fiacre O’Donnell joined Encirc in 1998 and held various roles in planning, sales and marketing before being appointed as Sustainability Director of Encirc’s Spanish-parent company, Vidrala, in 2020. 

He holds an MBA from the Ulster Business School and a PG Certificate in Sustainable Business from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). Fiacre was also a winner of the Drink Business ‘Green Personality of the Year’ for the work undertaken by Vidrala to decarbonise the UK beverage industry and is a current holder of the George Dawson Award for services to the environment. He is also a member of both the BITC NI Environmental Leadership and Climate Champions teams. 

Encirc is the only company in the world to offer a fully comprehensive range of services throughout the supply chain. Fiacre shares a bit more about Encirc: “We link high-quality container glass manufacturing and advanced filling facilities with warehousing and logistics. Additionally, we offer three world-class services in one unique package. Our exclusive offering helps our customers lower their environmental footprint while also significantly cutting their transportation costs.”

Committing to sustainability and overcoming challenges 

Encirc is steadfast in its mission, ZE30, aiming to produce zero-emission glass by 2030. Embracing its sustainability journey, Encirc acknowledges the inherent challenges, especially considering the energy-intensive nature of glass manufacturing, which primarily relies on natural gas. Efforts to mitigate emissions include trialling biofuel in furnaces, reducing emissions by nearly 90%, with plans to experiment with hydrogen, increasing electrification, and exploring biomethane use.

Fiacre says: “Some of the raw materials are rich in carbon, which is released when these materials are melted in the furnace. This can be greatly impacted by replacing raw materials with cullet, a type of recycled glass. Fiacre explains that for every 10 percent extra recycled glass they use, they reduce the carbon impact by 5 percent.”

He adds: “Glass, being heavier than other packaging materials, is thus heavier to transport. We have trialled HVO in our trucks, have completed several rail trials and have our 360 model. Our 360 model brings beverages, for the most part, wine, from countries all over the world. This wine arrives in 20,000+ litre tanks. We put this wine into bottles we have made and then store it in a bonded warehouse. We then offer a consolidated loading option to customers and retail, reducing the need to use distribution warehouses.” 

Glass is a very traditional material, one of the foundation industries. As such, the phrases ‘industry norm’ and ‘the way we have always done it’ can be prevalent. Fiacre shares how Encirc is challenging these beliefs: “We realise the impact our people can have, and so by sharing the decarbonised future vision, training and developing all staff and including everyone in finding solutions, we have reduced energy consumption, all forms of waste, and ultimately created a sustainability-focused environment.” 

Using the four P’s to drive sustainability

Encirc is committed to doing better for the planet. While glass itself is a natural and infinitely recyclable product, its 360 approach sets it apart from competitors. This approach creates flexibility whilst minimising carbon impact. Fiacre assures sustainability in business is not just as simple as focusing on reducing carbon footprint. 

Fiacre explains: “To address this, we’ve launched our Glass Made Good campaign, and to create the world’s most ethically responsible containers, we work within our four core pillars – People, Place, Planet, and Prosperity. These Four P’s guide us in our decision-making processes and are all linked by one core element: sustainability. We are dedicated to ensuring that our people, our customers, and our communities must all benefit from our prosperity.” 

He adds: “We’ve identified our mission and drafted a sustainability strategy that we’re now weaving into the day-to-day workings of our business. Our staff are constantly innovating, and it has been a lot of fun to see the results after implementing these changes.”

In 2021, Encirc completed a trial designed to create the world’s most sustainable bottle using 100 percent recycled glass in a furnace run on biofuel. Fiacre shares that this was a massive undertaking, and although the trial was successful, what they perhaps weren’t expecting to see was a shift amongst the teams. 

This shift has meant management is feeding back about ideas their employees are pitching to them, so innovation is at an all-time high. Fiacre says: “Our focus now is on promoting collaboration and improvement throughout our sector whilst continuing to seek out and create efficiencies and changes in line with our strategy. Sustainability doesn’t just make sense ethically; it’s an investment to future-proofing your organisation, and now is the time to innovate.” 

The way ahead for Encirc

Encirc aims to become the first to globally mass produce zero carbon emission glass containers by 2030. Its ambitious sustainability mission, ZE30, represents Encirc’s biggest commitment to date and will see the company trailblaze in multiple areas, such as the use of alternative fuel sources and radical supply chain models, including bulk shipping and intermodal transport. 

By pushing the boundaries of what is possible in these areas, Encirc aims to reduce its environmental impact while supporting its partners and leading the way for the wider industry to follow. Fiacre’s advice to other businesses looking to take their first steps towards embracing sustainability is: “Identify your mission. Having a mission will shape your entire sustainability strategy and define your objectives.”

He adds: “Only you can decide what fits your overall company culture, but your mission is the best place to start. Remember that sustainability is not just about carbon; we should refer to the SDGs and ensure we use them as our guidance. Moreover, success will come when we work together – governments, businesses, educational institutions, NGOs – all of us.” 

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