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Global aluminum and glass supplier paves road for sustainability’s economic viability

Through its partnership with Convoy, Ardagh Group saved 34,632 pounds of CO2 in the past year by maximizing efficiency and eliminating empty miles

For the environmentally minded consumer, dropping an empty soda can or beer bottle into a recycling bin might at times be reduced to an act of faith.

In a recent interview with Ardagh Group, one of the world’s leading suppliers of metal cans and glass bottles, it became clear that on the supply side, recycling is more than faith; it’s strategy, data and, eventually, financial viability. In other words, the circular economy for aluminium and glass — a structure that benefits business, society and the environment — is operationally and actively sought.

Based in Luxembourg, Ardagh Group is a leading metal and glass packaging solution supplier that operates 57 production facilities in 12 countries, employs over 16,000 people and boasts global sales of approximately $7 billion. With such a sprawling supply chain network and an interest in creating a shared community value around sustainability, Ardagh recently appointed John Sadlier, its chief procurement officer, as the first chief sustainability officer. Sadlier brought his background in procurement to determine a sustainability strategy with three pillars: emissions, ecology and social.

“While emission levels for metal and glass are similar, the challenges are different,” said Sadlier. “The glass business is largely Scope 1 and 2 emissions. In other words, it’s about the direct and indirect emissions that come from inside your own four walls. The most exciting thing we’re working on is a project called the Furnace for the Future ⁠— a consortium of 19 different glassmakers in Europe putting together a furnace that will use 20% fossil fuel energy and 80% electricity instead of the usual 80% gas and 20% electricity. Although a lot of the technology is known technology, putting it together as an ensemble into one big furnace will be the first of its kind.”

If recycled glass is melted and remade from the primarily renewable energy in this hybrid furnace, the entire process is minimizing waste and extraction of raw materials. In fact, the process is continually using the same materials over and over. Aluminium operates largely the same. After the can is emptied and recycled, it’s melted; 60 days later, the can is remade, refilled and sold, creating a circular economy.

However, the carbon emissions for aluminum are considered Scope 3, requiring a look at the emissions created from the activity around the can’s distribution and transportation network. On both sides of the Atlantic, Ardagh considers itself a large over-the-road full-truckload shipper of bulky products.

“We try to have the plant located close to the customer, but that’s not always the case,” said Sadlier. “We implement just-in-time fulfillment for our customers because they’re very high-speed large bottlers or food centers. Therefore, we need a very close business relationship with our freight partners, and they need to bring solutions to us. Convoy does a very good job with that.”

In the past year alone, Convoy’s network optimization solutions have saved Ardagh 34,632 pounds of CO2 emissions and 1,539 gallons of fuel by utilizing Convoy’s automated reloads capability and green appointment windows. Over the same time period, Ardagh shipment volume increased, further accelerating its carbon emission savings. Sadlier credits Convoy’s innovative solutions, as well as its what-can-I-do-for-you attitude, in building the foundation for a strong partnership. In a shipping network like Ardagh’s, some lanes are easier to satisfy than others, so Sadlier is grateful to Convoy’s hard work in sourcing those hard-to-find haulers.

“What excites me is rolling the clock forward five, six years,” he said. “What are we going to see coming down the track in terms of electric, hydrogen trucks that are not using fossil fuel? We’re seeing it now with the transition in the car and truck space and when that moves, boy will it move and really be a dial changer.”

Due to Ardagh’s extensive network and the pressure of just-in-time requirements, Sadlier doesn’t think it will be an early adopter in this new wave of innovation, but through its partnership with Convoy, it’s positioning itself to be a fast second-wave adopter.

“Our partnership with Convoy allows us to look a bit further down the road. It’s not a transactional one-day-to-the-next relationship. As we transition to a low-carbon transport infrastructure, everything I’ve seen would indicate that Convoy is the type of company that will get us there as quickly as possible, but in an economically sensible manner.”

This article is published jointly with our partners at Convoy. To view more Future of Freight content, click here.

Corrie White

Corrie is fascinated how the supply chain is simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. She covers freight technology, cross-border freight and the effects of consumer behavior on the freight industry. Alongside writing about transportation, her poetry has been published widely in literary magazines. She holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Greensboro.