Sustainability – January 2023

I am not sure whether it’s too late to wish you a happy new year but I am going to do it anyway – so Happy New Year one and all! I hope your journey into sustainability proves to be challenging and worthwhile.

Last year I wrote about all kinds of things that are, could or should be being done by industry operators. Some of those subjects such as biodiversity, renewable energy and data management are quite strategic and need serious planning and forethought – to do properly anyway. Perhaps sadly, of late, I have been in many conversations that reminded me that it’s absolutely fundamental to get the basics right – and keep them right – before embarking on big fancy pants projects. Let’s discuss some of these.

As part of our licence to operate, we literally have a licence to operate via the planning system and environmental permitting regulations. Here in 2023, I still find sometimes quite significant non-compliance to the conditions within those documents. It is correct to say that when I was implementing ISO14001 in large sector leading company during the late 1990s, there were a number of sites (well, pretty much all of them) which had some compliance issues. Much work was done to correct discrepancies and ensure a management process was in place which maintained compliance. Morally important but also instrumental to achieving ISO14001 certification. That was 25 years ago. Today, we should not be finding buildings without planning, plant built in the wrong place, trees not planted, hedgerows removed that should not have been, reports not filed, reserve matters not completed, etc, etc. Compliance is a principle and its fundamental. You cannot work ‘in spirit’ with the permit conditions.

I routinely drive past readymix and asphalt plants that look like someone forgot to align the belts and/or let the belt scrapers wear down to the mountings judging by the tidy conical heaps beneath – a fun thing to point out to the kids. That’s a pile of wasted carbon right there not to mention a visual measure of management (in)competence. At least it gives some use to the shiny new Bobcat.

Probably my favourite of all is the brown road. There is one near where I live, and I find it terrifying. I know it’s there, but daily I expect to find some poor unsuspecting motorist in the hedge. The challenges of road cleaning are not lost on me. Some deposits make it very difficult in bad weather. But was also know there are many examples of getting it right. If it can be right at some quarries it can be right at all of them. It always comes down to money and there not being enough of it to tackle the issue. I haven’t tried this but I am fairly sure that if you asked a number of publics about quarrying and what the negatives are, dirty roads would come pretty high up the list. We really do know better.

I could go on but I am sure the point is made. The fastest way to undermine your strategic sustainability investments is to fall at the first hurdle of the basics. I argue safety is part of this as well. A business cannot claim to be sustainable if it is producing LTIs. Moreover, everybody’s reputation within the sector is at stake on these issues and we have chosen a difficult enough path without throwing our own obstacles in our way.