Published On: Wed, Nov 23rd, 2022

An all-encompassing sustainable strategy

Attitudes to sustainability in the fenestration industry are changing. However, are we doing enough to clear a pathway to facilitate a sustainable future?  A trip to Belguim provided some insight for Windows Active Editor John Cowie…

Businesses are under all sorts of pressures at the moment. Whether it’s the escalating cost of energy, the limited supply of labour or raw material shortages, these issues are playing out in real-time and demand immediate actions and strategies. Few would blame business leaders for ignoring medium and long-term concerns over sustainability and the prospects of future business growth. However, these concerns will soon present themselves as areas that demand immediate action. When you hear executives involved in the oil industry making claims that they need to make as much money as possible out of fossil fuels now, as they won’t be around to witness the impact on the environment, it highlights the short-sighted and selfish attitudes at work in organisations that should be leading the charge towards a sustainable future. 

Attitudes are changing

Within the fenestration sector attitudes are changing. It was only 10 years ago when I asked a group of installers who were benefiting from the growing trend of replacing PVC-U windows with new PVC-U frames, what they did with the old frames – they sold them to a man who “probably just buried them in the ground or took them to the tip”. Nowadays industry understands it must have a more responsible attitude to a sustainable future. Partly down to pressure from Government and homeowners, businesses are being led down a pathway that focuses on protecting the environment. Within the PVC-consuming world, we are now seeing that roughly 28% of waste PVC-U material that could be recycled is being done so. Recycling is only part of the story and this was clear to see on a recent trip I made to Deceuninck’s advanced PVC-U recycling and compounding facility in Belgium. The plant has the capacity to reprocess up to 45,000 tonnes of post-consumer and post-manufacturing PVC-U per year. In real terms this gives Deceuninck the capacity to prevent more than three million windows from going to landfill annually. Importantly it has allowed the company to develop means for its main window and door profiles to include up to 50% recycled material. 

At Deceuninck the sustainability story is as much about recovery and recycling of end-of-life material as it is energy efficiency and carbon reduction. It is about designing windows and doors to use more recycled material and to use less energy and less carbon in manufacture. It is about driving forward energy performance in life and it is about making them easier to recycle and recover at end of life. Deceuninck has committed to ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse emissions through the corporate carbon reduction scheme, Science Based Targets (SBTi). Targets are considered “science-based” if they are in line with what the latest climate science deems necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C. This includes a commitment to cut the CO2 emissions from its own operations by 60% by 2030 from a 2021 baseline. Allowing for future growth in real terms this means reducing CO2 per tonne of product produced by 75%. This goes significantly beyond the SBTi minimum target of 42%. It has also committed to cut emissions from within its supply chain by 48% per tonne by 2030, as part of its wider journey to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

Wider sustainability strategy

This wider sustainability strategy is what makes Deceuninck stand out. The focus is on a shared commitment looking at how people, planet and community are the pillars of an integrated sustainability strategy. We often talk about creating a circular economy within a business, but it’s also the outside impacts we can make. The shared commitment path Deceuninck has followed also focuses on the creation of a sustainable “home” for its people, with a good working environment and an inclusive workplace. Long-lasting products are manufactured with the lowest possible ecological footprint while maintaining strong business ethics with employees and suppliers who respect ethical working standards. Rob McGlennon, Managing Director of Deceuninck in the UK, is keen to reiterate the importance of a truly sustainable approach and believes it is all-encompassing across all segments of the industry: “We know that our customers working in the commercial and specification sectors are already having to evidence the embodied carbon in the products that they supply but it’s no less important in retail as homeowners seek out sustainable products. This isn’t something that only systems companies need to be looking at. We all – that includes fabricators and installers – need to do our bit for the environment but also because sustainability is fast becoming a prerequisite for growth and profitability.”

Linked-up approach

The all-encompassing sustainable strategy at Deceuninck demonstrates well the linked-up approach responsible organisations should be following. It is always interesting to ask, what does it mean to be a sustainable leader? Benjamin Laker writing in Forbes gives a rounded answer that forms a good basis for a pathway to sustainability:  “Set goals and measure progress; Be flexible and experiment; Make sustainability a part of your brand; Communicate your efforts; Lead by example; Continuously strive to improve your sustainability practices over time.” Deceuninck is definitely on track to deliver in all these aspects.