EMCOR UK – An Interview on ISO 20400 and Sustainability in Practice

Recently, leading Facilities Management provider EMCOR UK gained conformity to the ISO 20400: 2017 standard for sustainable procurement. They are the first in their industry to do so and were the first in their industry to receive the predecessor standard BS 8903 in 2013. ISO 20400 provides guidance for any organisation of any size or type that believes in delivering sustainable outcomes, and provides a strategic framework to procure sustainably.

With over 4000 employees, EMCOR UK provides a full range of facilities management services, from asset management and maintenance to IT and data network solutions, from energy solutions and workplace design consultancy, to cleaning and catering. It’s quite impressive that sustainable procurement is deeply embedded in all of them. As the Strategic Supply Chain Director Terry Browne explained: “This recent announcement demonstrates how seriously we take corporate responsibility and how we collaborate with our customers and suppliers to make a very real and changing difference … Where BS 8903 was concerned with how you run your procurement and supply chain business; ISO 20400 goes further and reflects how you run your business, and it’s something that everyone in our company is committed to.” We spoke to him about the extent of CSR in their organisation and how sustainable that really is.

Why is adopting this standard so important to your organisation?

“Demonstrating, from the Board of Directors down, our commitment to ethical and sustainable practices in all that we do is fundamental to how we run EMCOR UK and to how our customers, partners, employees and shareholders perceive our values and behaviours. Our procurement and supply chain activities are pivotal to our growth and continuing success. One half of our turnover is dedicated to the procurement of goods and services from our supply chain, so it’s especially important that this aspect of our business is aligned with the sustainability and ethical reputation of our firm.”

“This is why we engaged immediately with the standard when it was announced, to reflect our continued belief in diversity, equality, fairness and sustainability. Whether that be for the lower-paid professionals working in our supply chain or for the wellbeing of all our direct employees. Basically,” he said, “we believe that adhering to the values of the standard is simply the right thing to do.”

And how do you adopt this ethos in terms of procurement and your supply chain?

“At the core of sustainable procurement is integrity and transparency, I firmly believe that. All our partners in our supply chain have to sign up to charters on modern slavery, ethical sourcing, minimum wage, re-usable resources, working conditions and so on. We actively pursue audits on these commitments. We also hold briefings for our supply chain partners, and events throughout the country, to help our suppliers understand our values. We appreciate that the most innovative approaches to sourcing come from our suppliers, so it makes sense that they are fully aligned with our values. In this way we can work closely with our suppliers to develop the best sustainable sourcing solutions we can.”

Can you give an example of how this has worked in practice?

“Yes – one topical example is how we dealt with single-use plastic in the supply chain. We are all very aware of the damage to our planet and especially to sea life, so one of our aspirations is to bring down consumption and displacement of single-use plastics. We have been working with a supplier of one of our core commodities to develop a powder concentrate delivered in small cardboard sachets instead of plastic containers to use as a fluid-based cleaner – this alone will reduce our consumption of plastic containers delivered to site, we anticipate, by 80%.

Another example is with our supplier of branded uniforms and personal-use equipment. We kit out 3000+ personnel a year, and have succeeded in removing all plastic from the packaging in which they are delivered to us, with no loss of quality to the workwear or equipment. That will reduce our plastic waste by half a tonne a year.”

“We are also working closely with our supply chain to right-size cardboard boxes. We’ve all had deliveries at home where the item is way smaller than the box it is delivered in; given that we take delivery of 50,000 boxes a year, this will be a substantial saving.”

The point is, that regardless of company size or nature, solutions like these are possible to put in place, but it all comes down to collaboration with the supply chain.

How do you prepare for accreditation?

“Because sustainability can mean different things to different people, and different organisations are at different levels of maturity, what the standard does is tangibly measure progress. We decided to adopt some of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) which were set up in 2015 by 193 countries under the UN banner. They looked at sustainability and other worldwide issues and created 17 targets to achieve by 2030. Together they are a tall order, so we selected a few of those to work into our corporate strategy. By selecting those goals, we forced ourselves to think differently.

In order to prepare for accreditation, you need your supply chain fully committed and pulling together, using their knowledge, ideas and leverage to make the necessary improvements across all of our respective businesses.”

What advice can you offer organisations in their first step towards sustainability accreditation?

“I would strongly advise people to sign up to Action Sustainability’s Supply Chain Sustainability School. It is a free online platform offering education and information on all sustainability issues. They hold events, share ideas, and offer advice for all organisations regardless of size, and help towards achieving the standard.”

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