From Fashion to Fittings – Defining roles of a woman in construction

Women in construction play a huge role in shaping the future of the industry and I am proud to be one of them.

I’m Meta, Sustainability Officer at Aalberts IPS UK, and I studied shoe design at University of Arts in London and began my career as a shoe designer for the renowned Nicholas Kirkwood. During my employment there, I developed an interest in sustainability, finishing my career in the fashion industry as sustainability manager for the brand before making the move to the UK manufacturing plant, part of the global Aalberts Group.

You may think that’s a bit of an unusual change of direction, however, sustainability and how manufacturers should understand how each raw material is sourced and how they are used, is intrinsic across all industries. This is why sharing our ideas could help other business in the industry to begin, or develop, their own sustainability journey.

For Aalberts IPS UK it was important to look at the impact our manufacturing had on the environment and what measures could be put in place to ensure our processes had minimal negative impact. To that end, we developed a robust environmental policy with an overarching goal to achieve Net Zero Carbon by 2050 or earlier.

By having such a clearly defined goal and delivery plan we not only elevate our own environmental credentials, but also help our customers meet legislative requirements, and end users with their own carbon goals and policies.

Unified goals

Initially, the global Aalberts Group which operates across four distinct market sectors, established a team of industry and environmental professionals from its head office in Utrecht, to understand the impact all businesses within our group had on the environment. Together, they identified several unified tangible goals that can be measured and which form part of an overarching environmental policy.

These goals are to:

• Operate from sustainable buildings with world-class operations
• Increase energy efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions
• Reduce water consumption
• Reduce waste and hazardous substances
• Reduce and more efficient use of raw materials
• Perform LCAs (Life Cycle Assessment) and work towards a circular economy
• Travel consciously, limiting downstream and upstream transport
• Enhance commitments in our supply chains

Giving structure to the company’s global sustainability ambitions, these goals have been translated into our UK business, to ensure delivery on our pledge whilst understanding the impact our processes have and the carbon that they generate.

A clear plan

To execute this long-term plan, changes are specific and measured, as all elements of the business from manufacturing to our people, are examined to see how best improvements can be made.

At our manufacturing site in Doncaster, one of the only brass foundries remaining in the UK, most of our raw material is 100% recycled copper that is sourced within the UK. Furthermore, we have reduced our non-recyclable material consumption, and any plastic packaging that we do use, will have at least 30% recycled material by the end of 2023.

Furthermore, we have achieved ISO 14001:2015 and our goal for 2023 is to develop this and achieve ISO 50001:2018 an international recognised energy management standard.

A modified space heating system, installation of automatic LED lighting and sourcing of 100% renewable electricity has reduced carbon emission by over they were first measured in 2019.

These are just some examples of the measures we have taken to reduce our carbon footprint and become a more sustainable business.

Defined reporting

Perhaps one of the biggest considerations when beginning a sustainability journey is to ensure that there are defined reporting procedures to successfully record activities, and the results that are achieved. This is the only way to ensure that you are on the right path to achieving those targets and it’s not merely a box ticking exercise.

At Aalberts IPS UK, we use a variety of reporting mechanisms. We have a robust methodology of calculating embodied carbon of our products and have found CIBSE TM65 Embodied Carbon in Building Services to be a significant asset in achieving this.

It also gives direction on how to use environmental product declarations (EPDs) a future goal in our sustainability plan, yet, with over 14,000 products and certificates required to be renewed every five years, the scale of the project is significant. This shows why sustainability must be a series of measures; some small, some large, but all an intrinsic part of business operations.

Women shaping the future of sustainability

I think that women can play a significant role in how sustainability integrates into businesses, and I’d love to see more people choosing it as a career. There are so many opportunities, and they will only increase. I’ve made a big step from fashion to fittings so I’m a great example of how changing industries when you have a set of core skills and knowledge is entirely possible.

In addition, as more young girls take STEM subjects in school, the careers associated with that are varied and vast across many different sectors, and I believe they have the power to truly shape the future of sustainability in business.

With more businesses requiring suppliers and partners to be accountable for their actions towards sustainability, and to be able to document this, an increasing number of job roles will be required. This is in line with the Government’s target to create as many as 1.8 million jobs in low-carbon and renewable energy economy by 2050. Businesses would therefore be well advised to look at ensuring sustainability roles are woven into the fabric of the business to ensure future progression as it now forms part of every business with an increasing emphasis on Environmental, Social and Governance policies. With that in mind, sustainability is no longer a ‘nice to have’, it’s a ‘must have’ and, from my perspective, women can have the skill set to really make a difference.

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