Quantum Profile Systems Ltd (QPSL) in Oldham has made impressive strides in cutting energy consumption and carbon emissions over the last decade as part of a ‘lean, green, safe and clean’ ethos.
QPSL produces polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and aluminium products for the construction industry, including flooring accessory solutions, insulated building products, window and door components, and bespoke extruded PVC solutions.
As a manufacturing company, QPSL has long been aware of its impact on the planet and has maintained a comprehensive environmental management system (certified to the ISO 14001 standard) since 2013.
The business has also been working with specialist resource efficiency and sustainability advisors from the Growth Hub since 2012 to improve energy efficiency, minimise waste and reduce carbon emissions – becoming one of the Hub’s biggest success stories in the process.
The wide variety of measures taken to reduce energy consumption over the past decade range from upgraded compressors and chillers to LED lighting and improved process controls. As a result, the amount of power required to process one tonne of PVC product reduced by 15 per cent between 2013 and 2021.
The next improvement on the to-do list is a refurbished roof and solar PV array that will generate clean electricity on-site, providing protection from rapidly rising energy costs in the process.
“Increased energy costs have started to hit us badly,” says Product Manager, Dr. Diane Luther. “We first looked into installing solar in 2018, but at the time it was a payback of about 6 years. We picked it up again in mid-2021, re-did the calculations and the payback had dropped down to 2.5 years, then 2 years, and then just 20 months (pre-Energy Relief Scheme in October 2022). It’s a no-brainer now so we plan to have the solar up and running beginning of 2023.”
“There are always things you can test and experiment”
The measures implemented so far have already had a significant impact on carbon reduction, with emissions from energy and transport in 2021 nearly half of what they were in 2017.
Part of QPSL’s success is down to its lean manufacturing ethos. “We look at it as an ongoing process of continuous improvement,” Diane points out. “Whenever there is an upgrade in machinery or a good commercial reason to do something, we look at the additional environmental benefit we can achieve at the same time.
“A good example is our chillers. They were originally located inside, sucking in all the hot air from the extrusion machines in the factory. When it was time to upgrade and replace one of the chillers, we made the decision at the same time to move them all outside, which has reduced energy load significantly.”
Explaining further, Diane says: “It’s not just about trying to replace what you already have, but actually taking the time to step back, do some process mapping and think, can I change this process in a way that gives me more benefit overall? Can I change the way the machine is being used? Is there additional waste that can be avoided, not only in material or energy, but other inefficiencies such as time, re-work, and so on. There are always things you can test and experiment, and that’s part of the whole lean philosophy.”
Carbon reduction roadmap
During 2022, QPSL took steps to formalise its carbon reduction objectives and reporting process, having benefitted from the Growth Hub’s popular Journey to Net Zero (JTNZ) programme.
Although the business already had a head-start due to its successful environmental management system, JTNZ helped to widen the scope of its reporting and accumulate everything into one ‘carbon tracking’ file.
“Journey to Net Zero was good because it explained what activities you have to track, under which scope of emissions, and what is actually relevant to your business,” Diane comments. “We were already measuring activities like fuel usage per mile, energy consumption per processed tonne of material and waste going to recycling, which were all important to us. But they were all being tracked separately, so JTNZ helped me to understand how to bundle them up with other items and multiply them by the government index to get the carbon values for everything.”
Attending the online workshops with a range of other businesses was also a valuable experience, Diane adds: “Hearing from other manufacturers who have similar struggles is obviously useful. But even hearing from people from very different situations was insightful – a small office in Manchester city centre has to take a very different approach to net zero than us, for example. It was really good to get that broad spectrum and understand how net zero affects businesses differently.”
“Customers have started asking questions”
Having attended JTNZ, QPSL has now created a formal carbon reduction roadmap that breaks down its net zero ambitions, with measurable targets for 2025 through to 2050. Planned actions include moving to lower carbon logistics, switching to 100 per cent renewable energy, engaging with employees and sourcing more sustainably, such as prioritising suppliers that have a clear net zero statement.
The roadmap is already helping with stakeholder engagement and responding to customer requests, Diane explains: “We have an external paper that we can provide to stakeholders, and an internal paper with assigned responsibilities, so we can be held accountable if we don’t reach those goals.
“In the last year some of our larger customers have started asking questions like whether we have a sustainability statement and what plans we have in place for carbon reduction. We already had all the answers they were looking for, which is a nice confirmation that we are doing all the right things.”
Confronting the Scope 3 challenge
Moving forward, efforts to reduce waste and material use are high on the agenda. When indirect ‘Scope 3’ emissions from the value chain are included in the calculations, raw material and waste recycling account for the vast majority of QPSL’s total carbon footprint. By 2035, the business aims to have reduced disposed process waste to zero and cut general waste generation in half.
One example of an improvement in the pipeline is a plan to reduce process waste through new grinding equipment. Currently, much of the PVC waste created during the manufacturing process is ground back up and fed back into the system. However, the existing grinders are unable to grind down very large lumps of material and these pieces have to be collected by another company. QPSL plans to purchase a more energy efficient grinder capable of dealing with larger lumps of PVC and automatically feeding it back into the process. This will not only reduce waste and energy consumption but also time spent moving the material – a triple win.
“Seeing our Scope 3 impact for the first time was definitely a big moment,” Diane recalls. “Some of it we cannot do anything about at the moment, either because the solutions are not financially feasible or because we are dependent on wider changes, like the amount of recycled material available on the market. But there are still things we can influence.
“Another good example is travel. Since the pandemic we have replaced most in-person meetings with online ones. Previously, we were holding three or four in-person meetings a year with sales representatives who operate all across the UK and Ireland, but now we take a hybrid approach so people come in person just once or twice. There are lots of other meetings where we have stopped travelling altogether.”
“No one should miss out on this knowledge”
Commenting on the Growth Hub’s importance to QPSL’s impressive progress over the past decade, Diane says: “Having had this relationship for so many years, the Hub really knows our business and lets us know whenever there’s a new opportunity to consider.
“[Our advisor] Paul’s knowledge about energy in particular is worth its weight in gold. He’s helped us to log energy flows within the factory over the years and provided calculations so we could make sure that upgrades, including our solar roof, give us what we expect in terms of energy reduction.
“No one should miss out on this knowledge. Whether it’s energy or waste and recycling, I always go to the Growth Hub first to ask what they think.”