Responsible Sourcing of Glass and Raw Materials

Photo: Valli Murthy, Environmental Policy AdviserMany sectors are discussing sustainability metrics. Valli Murthy, Environmental Policy Adviser, discusses how responsible sourcing issues are likely to become increasingly important to glass sectors in the future.

When a UK landscaping company decided to visit stone suppliers in India, they found that nearly 20% of workers in the quarries were children, some as young as six.

Responsible Sourcing (RS) is about ensuring that raw materials and products are mined, extracted and manufactured sustainably without causing serious damage to people or the environment. As well as managing ethics, RS can be a first step in managing risks to reputation, sustainability and security of supply in complex, global, raw materials supply chains.

There is increasing focus from governments on raw materials and a growing interest from brand owners in managing supply chain risk from sustainability issues. For example, there is a current ‘Public consultation on a possible EU initiative on responsible sourcing of minerals originating from conflict-affected and high-risk areas’ [1] . Security of supply of minerals, particularly rare earth metals, is also a hot topic.

Many sectors are discussing sustainability metrics, and responsible sourcing issues are likely to become increasingly important to glass sectors in the future.

What is responsible sourcing?

Accreditation against a RS standard ensures and demonstrates to customers that your company, and the suppliers of your major raw materials, are using good practice. Glass sustainability data summarised for RS schemes could also help downstream customers meet their own targets and secure contracts. Examples of this have been raised through our discussions with the construction sector and wider glass supply chain.

Implementing RS involves working with international suppliers to make sure that raw material providers are not using any practices which are harmful to people or the environment, such as slave labour, child labour or potentially dangerous health, safety and environmental practices. Raw material operations within Europe are already likely to be operating with health and safety, quality and environmental practices in mind, but it is important to check that practices are adequate.

Responsible sourcing of flat glass:

Responsibly sourced construction materials such as concrete, reinforcing steel and timber (Forestry Stewardship Council scheme) already exist in both the UK and abroad. When the UK window industries and government developed a voluntary ‘Windows Sustainability Action Plan’ (WSAP) in 2010, a key action for the flat glass sector was to investigate responsible sourcing.

Responsible sourcing of construction materials can currently be demonstrated though accreditation against one of two standards: BES 6001 by the Buildings Research Establishment (BRE) and BS:8902 by the British Standards Institute (BSI). Both were developed in the UK a few years ago to allow other construction materials to compete with successful timber sustainability schemes such as FSC. They can be used internationally.

The BRE standard contains prescriptive requirements, but interfaces well with building environmental assessment schemes such as BREEAM. The BRE standard currently requires that a minimum of 60% by weight of input raw materials should be assessed for RS. In the future, companies could consider including high risk, low volume, raw materials in order to create the greatest positive improvements.

The BSI standard is more flexible because it allows a custom made RS scheme for a material, group or sector. However, much work is required to create a credible scheme - including extensive stakeholder engagement and external accreditation.

Challenges of implementing RS for the flat glass industry:

The UK flat glass companies already have good Environmental, Health and Safety, Quality and Supplier management systems in place. This means that UK flat glass already meets many of the requirements of responsible sourcing standards.

The challenges lie in what happens after the glass leaves the manufacturing plant. Flat glass passes into a complex, downstream supply chain where it may be toughened, laminated, decorated, cut, made into integrated glazed units, added to frames, installed etc. This involves thousands of companies, the vast majority of whom are small operators. Does a RS certificate achieved by a flat glass manufacturer, need to be passed through the supply chain to the construction site? What about double and triple glazing units which may contain glass from more than one company? How should composite products such as insulating glass units (glass + frames + accessories) be treated?

It is also important that RS glass is recognised and rewarded by other existing environmental initiatives such as BREEAM for buildings. This allows maximum competitive advantages to be gained from the scheme.

How can British Glass help?

British Glass and the three UK flat glass companies have been actively working together to understand RS and to solve implementation problems. The group has engaged with the supply chain, standards organisations and the UK Contractors Group, and much progress has been made to date.

Using our expertise in both the environment and the glass industry, British Glass is in a strong position to develop and promote best practice in Responsible Sourcing. Through our experience of working with stakeholders at every level, we can support the industry and its supply chain to work efficiently towards ethical and sustainable production and use of glass.

1  http://trade.ec.europa.eu/consultations/index.cfm?consul_id=174

Reproduction of this published material is provided courtesy of Glass International - www.glass-international.com.

Published in Glass International June 2013.

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