In a world of constrained resources and with the negative impacts of climate change being felt in many corners of the globe, doing more with less is proving to be a winning strategy. That is certainly the approach adopted by British Sugar, a part of AB Sugar, a wholly owned subsidiary of Associated British Foods.
- 21% of the company’s revenue comes from the sale of derivative co-products
- Energy consumption per tonne of sugar produced has fallen 25% since 1990
- Created more than 9,500 jobs along the chain of ingredient suppliers
- Manufacturing process yields virtually zero waste at less than 200g per tonne of sugar produced
- Co-products offering is now generating more than 20% of revenues
In fact, for the last ten years, the business has been creating value up and down its supply chain, wasting as little as possible at its four advanced manufacturing plants and finding new uses and markets for co-products that come out of its sugar making process.
“ Doing more with less is proving to be a sound strategy for a business whose co-products offering is generating more than 20% of revenues. ”
“Yes, sugar remains central to our activities. But we are evolving our operations to ensure we use all our raw materials as effectively as possible,” says Paul Kenward, managing director of British Sugar. “This is critical to our business as we drive resource efficiency throughout our operations and supply chain.”
Effective management of resources results in job creation
As such, the company wastes nothing. And by straddling other industries across rural communities, it has created more than 9,500 jobs along the chain of businesses that supplies its ingredients. As well as making sugar, the company’s products include electricity, renewable fuels, animal feeds and fertilisers, to name but a few. For example, it works closely with farmers to minimise the amount of soil and stones received with the deliveries of sugar beet. Any materials not recovered on farm are cleaned from the beet during processing of the crop and then recovered and conditioned before use in construction or landscaping.
Today, 21% of the company’s revenue comes from the sale of these derivative co-products, helping it manage exposure to global sugar pricing and foreign exchange rate fluctuations.
It is also reducing its exposure to energy market changes by making sure that all its plants are able to generate their own heat and power through combined heat and power (CHP) plants, for example. British Sugar exports enough energy (some 640,000 MWh) to power 120,000 homes.
Meanwhile, more than 70% of sugar beet is water. On average, this means the company receives over five million tonnes of water in the eight million tonnes of sugar beet it buys annually. It recovers this water through its plants to reduce the amount of water being removed from the environment. A great example is the recovery of evaporated steam to make hot water to diffuse sugar from the beet, meaning it also reuses energy too.
Elsewhere, to reduce the movement of heavy vehicles within its beet supply chain, British Sugar decided to work with partners to optimise haulage networks. Its back loading initiative, which sees its soil conditioning and topsoil co-products making use of the empty lorries that leave the sites having just delivered beet into the factories.
The impressive portfolio of co-products delivered by the company’s manufacturing process yields virtually zero waste at less than 200g per tonne of sugar produced.
Investing for long term benefit
It is a strategy that has demanded some £250m of investment over the last five years, introducing new technology and practices to improve resource efficiency across its four sites. Alongside the CHP plants, some £15m has been injected into anaerobic digestion (AD) systems which generate 88,000 MWh of renewable energy – enough to power 18,000 homes. And more than a decade ago, the company opened the UK’s first bioethanol plant with the capacity to produce up to 70 million litres of bioethanol for UK and European markets.
As a result, energy consumption per tonne of sugar produced has fallen 25% since 1990, leaving the business on track to achieve a 30% reduction by the end of this decade.
“There are a number of barriers to this type of approach,” says Katharine Teague, AB Sugar’s head of advocacy. “Opportunities that look good on paper may not be so when you fully understand the long-term trajectory on investment, especially when it comes to large, substantial projects. Sometimes it can take time to create a market for something.”
It is the “tenacity and passion” of the people at British Sugar that has been the drumbeat for innovation, she adds. “Our people are always looking for new opportunities – from junior team members to senior management. And they don’t just work in silos; these projects have to be cross-team, cross-business to work.”