Model Behavior: Atlas Copco sets the bar for sustainable business and production practices

Words: Dan KamysMarch 2015


Embracing sustainability means more to industrial conglomerate Atlas Copco than merely following a trend. It’s been part of the company’s corporate culture for many years.

By John McCurry [caption id="attachment_6935" align="alignnone" width="605"]Photo courtesy of Atlas Copco Photo courtesy of Atlas Copco[/caption] Atlas Copco, a company offering breakers, drilling products and more to the masonry industry, recently made the 2015 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World Index, the ninth time the company has made the rankings. This year, Atlas Copco landed at 23rd on the list, which was unveiled in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This was a big move, up from 46th place last year, and the company ranked first in the machinery industry. It’s been a winning streak of sustainability awards, especially during the last year. The Swedish company also has received consistent recognition from the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI). Atlas Copco was recognized in September 2014 by the DJSI as being one of the top companies in its industry. The DJSI assesses 2,500 companies around the globe and includes 10 percent of those. That recognition followed an announcement in June that the company ranked seventh in the world in the Newsweek Green Rankings. The rankings are developed by Newsweek magazine and Global Knights Capital. Atlas Copco was also recognized by the Arizona-based Ethisphere Institute as being one of the world’s most ethical companies. It was one of 144 companies to receive the designation. Atlas Copco’s sustainability effort traces back to 2002, after the publishing of its “Business Code of Practice,” which summarized all internal policies, including environmental performance, says Sophie Gielen, the company’s marketing communications director. That progressed through the years. “In 2011, we decided to integrate sustainability goals into all sections of our operation, from our corporate office and many service centers around the globe to our products,” Gielen says. “Our goals impact not only our company, but also our customers.” Atlas Copco targets 2020 as a deadline for reaching its goals, including:
  • Increasing the energy efficiency of its equipment across all major product categories by at least 20 percent
  • Decreasing CO2 emissions from operations by a minimum of 20 percent in relation to cost of sales
  • Decreasing CO2 emissions from transport of goods by 20 percent in relation to cost of sales
  • Reducing or recycling waste
  • Maintaining current water consumption.
One of the company’s latest initiatives is its “Blue is the New Green” program, which seeks to link the company’s recognizable blue corporate color with green initiatives. “Today, we continue minimizing resource consumption through employee engagement, such as our Blue is the New Green program, and working with like-minded business partners, including distributors, subcontractors and suppliers,” Gielen says. “And, our diligence in finding sustainable productivity solutions allowed us to be recognized among the Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations on nine occasions. “We want to be a responsible corporate citizen in all the markets we serve by finding synergies between economic growth, environmental stewardship and socially responsible operations,” she continues. “So, we incorporated those goals into our business model, and developed our ‘Sustainable Productivity’ message that represents our goals as a business, from the corporate office to the end-user.” Gielen says the Blue is the New Green program encourages employees to make minor changes in their daily routines and workplace. These might include something simple such as drinking from a reusable coffee mug, instead of a disposable cup. They might also install motion-activated light switches or print less and double-sided. “These little changes add up to big results and promote lasting habits that reduce waste and conserve resources,” she says. “The program also incorporates visual elements, such as signs and labels, to inform people about the amount of CO2 or waste their activities produce. For instance, we might post a sign near a copier or printer that shows on average how much paper an average person uses.” Gielen says a company-wide survey found more than 65 percent of employees felt that a focused effort in natural-resource efficiency would create value for them and improve the performance of the company. The majority also expressed they would be interested in learning about their everyday impact and opportunities to reduce their environmental impact in the workplace. “Many employees also have their own ideas that can reduce waste creation and optimize resource consumption,” Gielen says. “So employees and managers can create waste-reducing ideas for their worksites and share them within the company with other regional sites. And employees have the chance to win rewards for their innovative ideas during our internal competition.” Using renewable energy sources, upgrading facilities and promoting recycling also builds onto the company’s sustainability practices. Gielen cites as an example Atlas Copco’s facility in Commerce City, Colo., which purchases renewable energy certificates to offset the company’s power consumption. “In 2014, we purchased 75 percent of our entire company’s electrical consumption from renewable sources using these certificates – the CO2-equivalent of 4,500 city buses,” Gielen says. “Through investing and upgrading, our Pennsylvania facility reduced its energy consumption roughly 36 percent. And, our South Carolina facility boasts recycling rates greater than 90 percent.” Gielen notes that Atlas Copco’s sustainability focus is also incorporated into its products. She says a variable-speed drive compressor, for example, can reduce a customer’s energy consumption and related carbon dioxide emissions as much as 35 percent. “We also design our equipment to optimize productivity, because if our customers can finish a project faster, that typically means less fuel consumption and fewer emissions in addition to increasing their bottom line,” she says. “We also work with business partners with similar environmental goals. As part of our global business model, we let our wide range of business partners, such as suppliers, subcontractors, joint venture partners, agents and distributors, know about our commitments included with our Business Code of Practice, and that part of our minimal expectations is that those partners be committed to developing an environmental policy or system of their own.” The environmental impact of the company’s efforts has resulted in less reusable and recyclable waste reaching landfills. Nearly all of the metal scrap is reused or recycled. In 2013 about 93 percent of its global corporate and production waste was reused or recycled. Transportation operations only created 200 metric tons of CO2 in 2013 – roughly a 12 percent improvement from 2012. This puts Atlas Copco on track for meeting its goal of a 20-percent reduction by 2020. The amount of CO2 the company’s transportation operations reduced between 2012 and 2013 – 27 metric tons – is roughly the equivalent of six passenger vehicles. Environmental initiatives also are evident with the company’s newest buildings, which are LEED certified such as its new offices near Vantaa, Finland.
John McCurry is an Atlanta-based business and technology journalist. Return to Table of Contents
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