Getting your hands dirty may sometimes be the only way to drive lasting and sustainable change. That was quite literally the case with Future Architectural Glass.
The multinational conglomerate achieved its first major sustainability goal with a sewage treatment plant at its UAE facility. From the outset, the project clocked several circular economy gains. It delivered treated water for irrigation, reduced the amount of water being purchased from the local utility by 25 per cent, and helped green the campus.
The plant, which was operational by the second half of 2021, diverted sewage from staff accommodation for about 200 workers, says Firoz Kachwala, Director at Future Architectural Glass. “The project generated 5,000 gallons of water per day. Together with the reduction in water from the utility, we were able to save 1.65 million gallons of water in 2021,” he says.
In addition, says Maintenance Manager Ram Prakash, the treated water is being diverted to a farm for organic fruit and vegetables, while creating better living space for company staff. He says, “Certainly, there were challenges such as licensing formalities and in trying to buck convention. But we finished in time and are now reaping the fruit of our efforts.”
The sewage treatment plant was one of several recommendations from Living Business, a programme that helps businesses transition to more sustainable operations. The programme is organised in collaboration with HSBC bank.
Future Architectural Glass is part of a 45-year-old group of companies with offices and manufacturing bases in the UAE, India, Singapore and the UK. The company specialises in architectural glass for building facades and internal glazing requirements, covering the whole spectrum of life and fire-safety products as well as creating bespoke solutions for architects. Its products are exported to more than 30 countries.
“Our focus has been to incorporate sustainable manufacturing practices across our ecosystem. We have taken a two-pronged approach: reduce the use of natural resources and generate natural resources by incorporating efficient processes and machinery,” Kachwala says. Our resolve to achieve these goals – and with them, a lower carbon footprint – has been strengthened with the encouragement and support of the HSBC and Living Business teams.”
Future Architectural Glass also achieved two other sustainability victories in 2021.
Over the first half of the year, fitting wash taps with aerators has helped reduce annual water consumption by 90 per cent, saving nine gallons per person per day.
In addition, the company swapped their energy-inefficient window air conditioners (ACs) for 43 high energy-efficient split AC units. The upgrade cuts electrical energy by 53 per cent for each unit, Prakash says, while cutting annual energy bills by 2 per cent. The exercise will deliver a return on investment (ROI) within five years.
Strategy for sustainability
For this article, the team shared what they learnt from their sustainability journey so far. Ram Prakash frames these lessons as actionable takeaways:
1. Incorporate science-based metrics across the production process to determine the scope of improvement.
2. Collaborate with experts and stakeholders – internal and external – to generate ideas and frame an action plan.
3. Share target initiatives and successes with others in the industry to increase mutual benefits.
4. Redesign and reimagine current business models to incorporate the circular economy.
5. Improve employee awareness and help them build the skills needed to attain your sustainability goals.
6. Set interim targets to meet the ultimate goal of net-zero operations.
Now Kachwala and his team are looking ahead to similar victories in 2022. “Last year, we focused on water conservation and in 2022 we are aiming to conserve electrical energy,” he says. Gains from the split AC units could reduce electricity use by up to 53 per cent, he adds. The company has also reached out to equipment manufacturers to replace electrical furnaces at its plants with the latest energy-efficient heaters, with estimated energy savings of 3.9 per cent.
As businesses grow, Prakash says, they gradually draw on greater environmental resources – and must likewise focus on giving back to the planet.
“With growing production volumes, our consumption also increased, which has a strong impact on the environment. But we need to protect the planet in the same way we work to grow our business,” Prakash says. In his view, prioritising the circular economy is the only way to achieve our common goals of sustainable business and social development and net-zero carbon emissions.
Future Architectural Glass will continue to work with Living Business. “The Living Business programme has become part of our strategy and has helped us become a more responsible manufacturer of architectural glass products, besides giving us great recognition within the industry,” Prakash says.