Construction Plant News puts the questions to Phil Parker, Sunbelt Rentals Chief Financial Officer on the company’s sustainability policy.
What’s changed in the last two years for Sunbelt Rentals since the start of the pandemic?
We announced our rebrand from A-Plant to Sunbelt Rentals on March 5th 2020, just before the pandemic started. Our reasoning for this was entirely about creating one unified business that focused on our customers and our people. Based on direct input from our people and our customers we reset our vision, mission and our core values. One of the values that we introduced was acting responsibly, and as a business we are ultimately striving to be more sustainable.
Is Sunbelt Rentals seeing a change in demand since the start of the pandemic and how has it impacted the business?
Yes, absolutely. The uncertainty that the pandemic brought has highlighted all the benefits that rental solutions can provide to customers across multiple sectors. We’ve also been fortunate to be able use the depth and breadth of our offering to provide a unified solution to the NHS, through the provision of covid-19 testing centres, as well as working with event organisers to relaunch the events industry following the aftermath of the pandemic. With each of these opportunities the demand for sustainable and eco-friendly products has never been higher.
Has there been a shift to more sustainable or green requirements?
Yes, every conversation with every major contractor leads to a discussion about how they can be more sustainable. The biggest changes we’ve seen in recent years is linked to our power generation, accommodation, lighting and site services’ business. De-carbonisation is a key focus and in 2021 alone we supplied a number of fossil fuel free events, including COP26 and G7 Summit, where we supplied electric telehandlers, powered access, solar tower lights, electric charging stations, Stage V generators with HVO fuel, accommodation units and electric bikes.
Our tower light fleet is heavily weighted towards solar, battery and hybrid technology and is the greenest in the market. We have over 4,500 low or zero carbon tower lights available to hire.
And it’s not just greener equipment that’s in demand, telematics and data driven technology has never been more important. That’s why we have significantly invested in cloud-based solutions such as Command Centre, our secure customer portal accessible through the Sunbelt Rentals website. Designed to help our customers efficiently manage all their rental equipment 24/7. This investment in technology will help to drive the decarbonisation agenda and will enable customers to operate in a more sustainable way.
We understand that Sunbelt Rentals is leading the way in introducing greener technologies, can you tell me more about this?
Last year Sunbelt Rentals’ UK placed an order of €76 million with JCB, with 92 per cent of that being sustainable, Stage V or electric. Much of our new investment is in assets with enhanced environmental credentials. Our tower light fleet is heavily weighted towards solar or battery technology. We offer Stage V plant equipment, eco-insulated accommodation units, electric bikes, electric vehicle charging, hybrid power solutions and much more.
At 95 per cent recyclable construction, our Trakway system is the most environmentally friendly system available, and we’re also working alongside many of our customers to make the switch to HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) fuel and start reducing carbon emissions by 90 per cent – we are currently trailing hydrogen fuel generator propositions. Partnering with innovative start-ups we are keen to see how we can use technology to enhance battery storage capabilities which will reduce fuel usage. We’ve made a significant financial investment in electric delivery vehicles, which will increase over time – 80 per cent of emissions in the UK comes from delivery vehicles. We anticipate trialling hydrogen HGV vehicles in the future too.
What’s your view in terms of electric versions of mini-excavators or telehandlers?
From a concept and design perspective they’re great and the market is certainly moving in that direction. At the moment we’re finding that this type of equipment works best in niche applications such as low noise pollution zones, as well as underground, but feedback so far is extremely positive. We’re looking to the future and welcome further investment in the power infrastructure required to match the demand for this type of equipment.
What impact have you seen within the business by introducing these types of cutting edge, greener solutions?
Introducing green solutions has started to shift the mindset of people who were perhaps quite sceptical at first. It’s also highlighted the need to invest in training and upskilling our workforce, now more so than ever. We’ve made it our goal to upgrade our locations and the environments in which we operate from.
This investment includes the move to a sustainable logistics fleet to deliver our equipment and solutions. We are also working with Distribution Network Operators (DNO’s) who can help to install electric vehicle charging points. This will ensure that we have a sustainable fuel source as and when these changes come about.
Lastly, it is clear that you’ve made some great advances in the last 12 months. What can we expect to see from Sunbelt Rentals in 2022?
This you can expect to see Sunbelt Rentals operating in new markets that we haven’t necessarily ever been in before. Late last year we launched our 360 solutions, whereby we offer our customers a complete site solution. We are uniquely placed as the only rental company in the UK to offer such a solution, and we have a team of experts available to design, manage and coordinate projects offering clients a fully managed service in addition to our rental products.