In the company’s September 2021 quarterly earnings call with analysts, Brendan Horgan, CEO, Ashtead Group — the parent company of Sunbelt Rentals, Fort Mill, S.C. — shared that the company was following its road map for reducing carbon emissions.
A key part of that road map is for Sunbelt Rentals to “reduce our carbon emissions by 35 percent per dollar of revenue off a 2018 baseline by 2030. We call it our 35 by 30 plan,” says Al Halvorsen, vice president of Sunbelt Rentals’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) program. This program is taking the lead on spearheading the reduction effort.
Hiring Halvorsen, who spent the last 20-plus years in the field of environmental sustainability for PepsiCo and Frito Lay North America, resulted in the formation of the ESG team. But sustainability is nothing new to Sunbelt Rentals — the program focuses and heightens the company’s already robust, longtime commitment to sustainability.
“While we may not have had a formal sustainability named program until now, efforts toward it have been imbedded in Sunbelt Rentals’ culture for years,” Halvorsen says. “It has been continuously in our DNA to optimize and run our operations as efficiently as possible. We’ve put forth efforts to be more efficient as we look at growing our business while reducing our environmental footprint.”
The goal, which was originally announced in April 2021, was developed after extensive monitoring, measuring and reporting to determine where its greenhouse gases were coming from. These have been outlined in two broad categories or scopes.
- Scope 1: “We learned that the majority of emissions are from our fleet of company-owned vehicles. When we look at that having a large part of our emissions, we knew we needed to start investing in improvements. We are working with our operations and on-the-road fleet team to be more efficient and drive fewer miles while still delivering the same amount of equipment. We’re also improving our miles per gallon in our vehicles and implementing ways to electrify our fleet,” Halvorsen says.
- Scope 2: “This is indirect greenhouse gas emissions that come from our purchase of electricity at our locations. We are looking at implementing additional electric efficiency programs, mostly around lighting. It also will include other attributes of efficiency such as using high-efficiency air conditioners. Overall, this area accounts for a smaller percentage of our total greenhouse gas emissions, but we are doubling our efforts in the future to reduce them,” Halvorsen says.
To emphasize the importance of this goal, the company has made “Lead by way of ESG” one of the five actionable components of the Sunbelt 3.0 strategy.
“This is a strategy that looks at the next three years. It is our corporate strategy and vision all the way out to 2024. ‘Lead by way of ESG’ is part of the plan that Brendan Horgan, CEO, shared with the entire company in April,” Halvorsen says.
As part of the 3.0 strategy, the company has set a goal of 15 percent reduction in carbon intensity by the end of 2024. “This is an interim goal on the way to the 35 percent reduction goal,” he says.
To encourage all 15,000 employees at its more than 1,000 locations to be onboard and thinking about their roles in this effort, Sunbelt Rentals devoted a day during its Safety Week, which started Oct. 18, to highlight what it means to “Lead by way of ESG,” Halvorsen says.
“We dedicated one day to ESG, where we explained the initiative, talked about what ESG is from a 30,000-ft. level and then shared what team members can do to support ESG. For instance, I asked one of our truck drivers what he could do to support ESG. He said that he could continue to reduce idling time when driving his truck. We included messages from our counter staff and other teammates to help everyone understand the steps they can take to help achieve our goals,” Halvorsen says.
As the company grows, either by building new stores or acquiring existing operations, the ESG message will be an important part of training and the overall culture, he says, adding that it also is about showing how rental can help customers reduce their carbon footprint.
“We are at an opportune point to help our customers with their carbon emissions goals by renting equipment from us. When they do that, they don’t have to purchase their own piece of equipment. That means the number of backhoes and excavators and the embodied carbon in that equipment is less. We do a great job of maintaining our equipment. By delivering our equipment on the most fuel-efficient fleets, we can be more efficient than a company that is delivering their own assets to their job sites. The rental industry is on the forefront, in the sharing/circular economy, to continue driving down greenhouse emissions,” Halvorsen says.
The overall goal is to be sustainable. “To me, the best definition of sustainability is from the Brundtland Report, which defines sustainability as meeting the needs of today without compromising the needs of the future generations. It’s important not only for Sunbelt Rentals but also our future team members and the world in general. That is why we are working on trying to reduce that environmental footprint,” he says.