Aspiring to a circular economy: a fresh environmental vision

Simply complying with environmental legislation isn’t enough for Siemens Power Generation Services. Under the direction of environmental advisor Aimee Nelson, the business is raising its game with a host of new initiatives. 

Whilst the UK government wants the country to be carbon neutral by 2050, Siemens has set itself a tougher target of 2030.  Improving the energy efficiency of buildings and production facilities is a big focus for Siemens sites across the UK, none more so than Newcastle.


“We’ve had the environmental standard ISO 140001 for some years, but people here feel there is more we could be doing,” says Aimee Nelson. “That’s really why I was brought in, to breathe new life into our environmental ambitions.”


Since completing an environmental management degree a decade ago she’s worked with a host of manufacturing companies looking at everything from air emissions and water discharge to waste sampling and environmental noise. “It’s a massively rewarding field to be in,” she says. “I do feel I’m making a difference.”


One major focus in Newcastle is waste. “We’ve been leading the way in Siemens UK when it comes to sending zero waste to landfill. Other Siemens businesses have been adopting our practices and seeing it’s achievable for them too,” explains Aimee.


“Instead of sending our waste to landfill, it goes to an energy from waste plant, plus we’re re-using materials, or substituting them for better alternatives, to minimise waste as far as possible.” It’s called going up the waste hierarchy: waste prevention, the ultimate aim, is at the top, followed by re-use, recycling, recovery including energy recovery and, as a last option, safe disposal.


Work has begun to reduce single-use plastic at Newcastle – with plans to eliminate bottled water from the canteen, for example, and provide jugs of water and glasses in meetings – and plastic packaging is being substituted. Aimee is also working closely with the supply chain management team to challenge suppliers who, for example, send 1,000 washers each individually wrapped in plastic in a box. And the business is finding smarter solutions to deal with its wood waste.

We’ve been leading the way in Siemens UK when it comes to sending zero waste to landfill. Other Siemens businesses have been adopting our practices and seeing it’s achievable for them too
Aimee Nelson - Environmental Advisor

“Instead of sending it to be recycled and chipped into MDF, we’re looking at a community wood recycling company. They make and sell things like tables and benches from waste wood, and employ people who are struggling to find work.”


Mindful of the waste hierarchy, Aimee also wants more wood packaging to be re-used. “Siemens and many of our suppliers brand their wooden packaging which makes it harder to re-use. We’ve therefore asked our suppliers to de-brand their packaging and we will too – we have a joiner on site who makes bespoke packaging for sending out a lot of our equipment, so it’s within our control – which gives our customers the scope to re-use our packaging. Wherever possible we want to re-use rather than recycle.”


Meanwhile the energy efficiency of buildings is under scrutiny. In the near future, all lighting will be replaced with intelligent LED technology that delivers ‘daylight harvesting’ – in other words, the lux level automatically adjusts according to the natural light level, saving money and energy.


Also underway is an inventory of hazardous materials on site. As well as checking the necessary risk assessments are in place, the cataloguing will be a chance to see whether there are now alternative materials, less hazardous to health, which could be substituted for those previously specified. “You can easily use the same material from the same supplier for 20 years without anyone questioning what’s in it or if there’s a safer option,” says Aimee.


Asbestos is one hazardous material to receive special attention. A major programme will soon be completed to remove high-risk asbestos from the Newcastle site or, where it’s safer to do so, to leave it in situ and encapsulate it. “We were already compliant with environmental legislation but we wanted to do more to bring the risk level down to the absolute minimum.”


The future, says Aimee, is all about finding ways to continue improving. Take water reduction, and a suggestion the business put forward in a Siemens UK employee competition: “We’re looking into a rainwater harvesting system, which could also save energy and help to offset our carbon tax.”


An inspiration for Aimee is long distance yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur. Her foundation works with business, government and academia to accelerate the transition to what’s known as a circular economy – “an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design”. Ellen describes a linear economy as “take-make-waste” and wants instead to design-out waste and pollution.


“Ellen’s very passionate about rethinking the way we design and make things and our use of resources,” says Aimee. “She shows where we should be heading.”

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