Management Briefing

Sustainability in Soft Drinks - Part V: Walking the Walk in Wakefield

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In the final part of this year's Sustainability in Soft Drinks management briefing, Ben Cooper reports from Coca-Cola Enterprises' plant in Wakefield, UK, where he saw sustainability innovation in practice at Europe's largest soft drinks factory.

For those who doubt the commitment of giant industrial manufacturers to sustainability, or their capability to match rhetoric with achievement, a visit to the Coca-Cola Enterprises (CCE) plant in Wakefield might prompt pause for reconsideration. For the facility, which produces 1bn litres of soft drinks a year, making it Europe's largest soft drinks manufacturing facility, exhibits an unremitting emphasis on resource efficiency at every turn, and shows how the company is translating its environmental aspirations into action.

Speaking with Ian Johnson, director, supply chain operations at CCE Wakefield, as he explains the technological innovations at the plant and the efficiencies they have created, including numerous energy-saving ideas originated by his staff, it becomes clear that there is keen engagement in sustainability on the shop floor.

Economies of scale and resource efficiency

Having seen an investment of some GBP100m between 2009 and 2014, when the plant celebrated its 25th anniversary, CCE boasts some impressive attributes and numbers. With seven filling lines, CCE Wakefield is capable of producing 6,000 cans of soft drink every minute, or 100 per second, and up to 2,200 PET bottles a minute. It can produce 450m "preform" PET bottle moulds a year and has a surface area equivalent to 16 football pitches.

So, it's big. But, is big beautiful in terms of sustainability? Small boutique operations may have sustainability benefits to offer but, in terms of sheer resource efficiency, large plants operated by companies prepared to make long-sighted investment in sustainable innovation, tend to win hands down. Coca-Cola Enterprises Wakefield is no exception. The plant's impressive record on water efficiency illustrates the point. Since 2008, the water intensity ratio at Wakefield has fallen from 1.32 litres/litre to 1.18 litres/litre last year, which represents a "massive improvement", Johnson says. The target for 2015 is 1.17 litres/litre and he is "absolutely confident we'll achieve that".

The fact that CCE's company-wide 2020 target for water efficiency is 1.20 litres/litre shows how well Wakefield is doing and underlines that large installations can indeed be the best performers in terms of environmental impacts.

Contrary to what many may feel about British weather, there are areas of water stress in the UK, "though I'm not sure Yorkshire's one of them", Johnson quips. Nevertheless, just because a site is in an area where water is plentiful "doesn't mean we take our eye off the ball in terms of our water use ratio", Joe Franses, CCE's director of corporate responsibility & sustainability, adds.

Johnson's keenness that his factory is the highest achieving plant on sustainability metrics in the CCE network is made clear throughout the tour. Energy use intensity has fallen from 74.7 kwh (kilowatt hours)/1,000 litres of product to 62.8kwh/1,000 litres. In terms of low-carbon or renewable energy sources, the company installed a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) unit last year, while the plant also boasts a small solar capability and has had an anaerobic digester since it opened in 1989.

Metering and monitoring

One of seven lines at CCE Wakefield that allow the plant to produce 1bn litres of soft drinks a year across 254 SKUs

That energy efficiency has already been driven down well below CCE's global 2020 target of 72.73kwh/1,000 litres is perhaps not surprising given that there are as many as 140 electrical meters on the site, the data from which are constantly fed into a management system, monitored by Tomasz Parzyk, the plant's environment manager. But, Parzyk does not simply monitor; he drives constant improvement and develops ways of making the plant more efficient. An example Parzyk gives is a bottling line which also shrink-wraps the PET bottles together. He was able to show from the data he gathers that the one-hour warm-up time originally thought necessary for the line to be ready to do this was excessive and the machine could be ready to operate in half that time.

Johnson points out that while metering has always been possible, advances in software have greatly enhanced the potential to analyse data from multiple points. "The meters have always been there; it's the software that makes it possible," he says. "If we'd installed 140 meters we'd also have employed three people. You've still got the cost of the meters but the actual analysis is very, very easy and cheap to do."

CCE has a well-developed sustainability strategy and has been commended for the strong lead from the top on reducing environmental impact, but the efficiencies derived on-site at Wakefield suggest bottom-up innovation has just as important a role to play in sustainability as top-down change management. Moreover, improvements in processes derived locally are spread from site to site through the contact Johnson and other staff have with their counterparts within CCE or the wider Coca-Cola bottler network. Johnson mentions direct exchange of information and processes between Wakefield and CCE's plant at Grigny in France and visits from technical staff at Coca-Cola FEMSA, Coca-Cola's Latin American bottling partner.

The monitoring also means that managers know staff are following the correct - and most efficient - procedures. "We are able to monitor the behaviour of the technicians on the shop floor, to map it and see where they are able to apply those principles," says Parzyk. "We are able to show them on the graph what the good looks like and what the bad looks like."

Profiting from sustainability

The 1.2 mw Combined Heat & Power unit at CCE Wakefield has reduced the plant's carbon footprint by 5.6%

Sceptics might say this is all about cost control rather than sustainability and, to a degree, they would have a point. Certainly, minimising costs is a critical imperative, but seeing the innovations at first hand shows just how intertwined environmental and economic sustainability have now become. Coca-Cola Enterprises Wakefield undeniably reveals a company that is serious about cost savings, efficiency and profitability, something CCE shareholders will be delighted to see. It also shows that the company views maximising its use of all natural resources and minimising its impacts as essential in that endeavour.

Moreover, there is a tangible sense that when discussing these innovations with operations staff it is both the natural resource as well as the financial efficiencies that are being considered. "A few years ago, we talked about pounds and kilowatt hours, last year we started talking about tonnes of CO2 saved and that's a really visible shift," Parzyk says. "You're not talking about the equipment efficiency, you're talking about what's the real benefits to the environment."

Underlining the point, the company's new 1.2 megawatt Combined Heat & Power (CHP) unit is an example of an investment where the environmental benefit is more significant than the cost saving. "The total cost saving on the CHP is marginal," say Johnson. However, the unit provides 20% of the electricity and 90% of the heat required on the site and has reduced the plant's carbon footprint by 5.6%.

A smart warehouse

CCE Wakefield's GBP30m Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) warehouse was added last year, offering numerous energy savings

Moving into the company's new GBP30m Automated Storage & Retrieval System (ASRS) warehouse is a slightly unnerving experience. It is very quiet and darker than other parts of the plant. Sometimes, it "can be totally black", Johnson remarks. In comparison with the hive of human activity in the plant's conventional warehouse, the ASRS warehouse is a little sepulchral. Nevertheless, one cannot but be impressed at the technological innovation on display, and its value in environmental terms.

Johnson explains that the conveyor only moves when it needs to move a pallet, so a lot of the time it is stationary. The optimal load for each section of the conveyor belt is three pallets, so even once a pallet is being moved along into the warehouse or towards one of the lorry bays, the conveyor will abruptly stop. The warehouse is thinking. Another section of the network eerily starts up and a pallet is moved along and, like a train joining from a siding, combined with two others to make the most efficient load, and together they continue their journey.

Construction of the 34-metre high facility, capable of holding some 30,000 pallets, allowed CCE to dispense with an external storage facility 17 miles away, saving around 500,000 truck road miles a year.

It is not only journalists who are given tours of the Wakefield plant. The plant hosts visits from secondary-school children, with a dedicated education centre on-site, one of eight the company operates throughout Europe. Within its educational outreach mission, the company places a strong emphasis on sustainability, helping to realise the pledge in its sustainability mission statement to "inspire for tomorrow". The other part of that mission statement is "to deliver for today", a goal CCE Wakefield appears to be playing its part in fulfilling.

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