Pushing the envelope

Colin Torley, market development director at CMS Window Systems, explains why the company’s suite of energy efficient products is just one dimension to being an environmentally sustainability door and window business.

When double glazing first took off in the 1970s, the message of ‘keeping your home warm and dry’ was compelling given what had come before. That quickly evolved into an equally powerful ‘energy efficiency’ sell, helping homeowners and tenants to save money on their heating bills, which continues to be a major reason to purchase.

Over the past three decades, the fenestration sector has made an enormous contribution to making UK homes, public buildings and commercial properties more energy efficient, and relentless innovation continues to push the boundaries of what can be achieved.

When CMS became one of the first manufacturers in the UK to offer an ultra-low 0.8W/m2K whole window U-value for a PVCU product back in 2014, we had a proposition that was streets ahead of the minimum thermal performance requirements of the building regulations. And today, that remains the case.

But where next for thermal performance and, hence, energy efficiency? Pledges during the election campaign suggested that triple glazing could be the norm in the future to make the building envelope more insulated. Not a new idea, of course, and one that divides opinion, but could it be that triple glazing’s time has finally come? In reality, only legislation will make this a reality.

The most advanced PVCU and aluminium profile systems, in combination with high performance glazing, are already capable of delivering finished windows that insulate better than the walls they are fitted into. But often the performance capabilities are not fully realised because the quality of the fabrication and installation is below par.

That’s why we focus on ensuring that windows are manufactured without any weaknesses in their thermal insulation and are assembled to a high standard to avoid air leakage. But then the window has to be installed correctly. This is something we are in a position to manage and control with our installation teams who work in the new-build and social housing sectors. By continuously investing in training and skills for our window fitters, we are able to deliver on airtightness goals and ensure energy efficiency is not undermined by draughts resulting from poorly adjusted opening sashes or from around the frame.

Climate change seized the media agenda like never before in 2019, and it is becoming clear that no business can turn a blind eye if its effects are to be mitigated in the coming years. While the energy efficiency contribution made by window and doors in use continues to make a difference to reducing carbon emissions, every aspect of the supply chain needs to be scrutinised to ensure broader environmental sustainability is being pursued. We cannot sell ‘energy efficiency’ in isolation.

When CMS was formed back in 2006, we saw an opportunity to put environmental sustainability at the core of our business. At the time, anything that was perceived as ‘eco’ was often viewed with a degree of negativity, usually because changing to new ways of working or different products was time consuming and potentially costly, at least in the short term. Setting up a business from scratch, therefore, gave us an advantage, enabling us to configure our products, processes and strategy to fit with a changing world.

Key to this is minimising waste. CMS manufacturing sites feature in-house recycling centres where all post-consumer windows and doors – removed by installers during replacement contracts – plus production waste and packaging is separated into different streams and sent to specialist recyclers. Over 13 years, the processes have been continuously reviewed and improved, to a point where we have been running at 100%, zero landfill efficiency for the last two years. Instead, in 2018-19 we treated 2,806 tonnes of waste, 97% of which was recycled and 3% sent for waste-to-energy usage.

Much of this collected waste is PVCU profile, metal and glass which is sent back to the respective manufacturers for re-use in new products. This has enabled CMS to increase the amount of recycled content in new windows and doors significantly. For example, through our partnership with Saint-Gobain Glass, our new sealed units contain around 40% post-use glass – a market leading level.

This strategy of diverting previously used windows and doors away from landfill into content for new products is required in order to achieve a circular economy. This ‘closed loop’ approach helps to minimise resource use by reducing demand for new raw materials. And we also include people in this ‘closed loop’ analogy. People far from the job market, with no qualifications and a lack of work experience, can gain work experience in our recycling centres, which can lead to permanent employment elsewhere in the business. Any money gained from the high-quality waste materials that have been properly separated in our recycling centres helps towards the cost of creating these work placement positions.

Manufacturing and installing products that perform well in-use, and are produced in a way that minimises resource use and waste, is the solid foundation for developing a sustainable business with a minimal carbon footprint. But it has required buy-in at all levels, driven by the board and managed by our full-time environmental advisor who is responsible for ensuring that we deliver on our environmental commitments and continuously innovating to direct future strategy.

It is this approach that has enabled us to break new ground in our sector. Our manufacturing centres, which have the capacity to produce around 4,000 PVCU and aluminium units per week, are optimised for production efficiency.

Fossil fuel usage has always been a target for reduction too, which is why we installed biomass boilers as the primary heating source for our main factory and HQ in 2014. This switch has enabled significant carbon savings to be achieved – our modelling shows a saving of 95% versus electricity and 94% over diesel fuel.

We also scrutinised the fuel efficiency of our vehicle fleet. Electric vans have now been added to our fleet, following the investment in charging points at our sites, and we are looking to increase the number of zero-emissions vehicles as the technology matures. In the meantime, we ensure our diesel-powered van fleet runs as efficiently as possible, with vehicle tracking and driver training programmes working together to reduce fuel usage and exhaust emissions.

Every manufacturing business has an impact on its local environment, but up to now the default mindset has been to simply minimise these impacts. The new approach adopted by CMS is now focused on adding value and improving our local environment through our operations with our new Biodiversity Programme as the catalyst.

This programme aims to protect and enhance our local environment and involves the ecological management of areas within CMS sites to promote flora and fauna and preserve natural habitats. Our 15-acre Castlecary site sits among ancient woodland and freshwater habitats, which we believe can be enhanced with a positive approach, kept on track by pursuing an external award, the ‘John Muir Award, Conservation’.

Our Biodiversity Programme is designed to encourage growth of all relevant biomes and introduce wildlife diversity areas. This started with the installation of bird boxes, bee ‘B&B’s’ and bat boxes (many manufactured in-house using waste materials), plus the planting of native species to increase pollinators. It is supported by environmental awareness training for the whole CMS workforce to encourage staff to consider how their actions impact on the local environment, with a view to fostering a better culture.

One of the greatest things about this programme is the extent to which we have been able to engage our employees. Many members of the team have welcomed the opportunity to be involved and taken part in litter picks, in-depth site surveys, and a wildlife watch to assess the current environment.

Our Innovation Hub continues to demonstrate how today’s advanced building products and systems can be applied in refurbishment projects to deliver homes and buildings fit for a low carbon economy. This facility is a working example of what is possible with the right mindset, with a highly insulated building fabric supplemented by green technologies including an intelligent heat recovery air source and heat pump technology for internal climate control.

Having the Innovation Hub on site and at the heart of our business has been crucial to keeping environmental sustainability visible and at the ‘front of mind’ throughout the CMS team. It is regularly used for staff training and development purposes, including as the base for our CMS Academy for apprentices, customer and supplier meetings and community events.

As window and door manufacturers are increasingly asked to demonstrate how sustainable they are, product performance is already just one factor in buying decisions. That’s why investing in broader sustainability initiatives as CMS has done since day one is critical to future business success.

And as we take the business forward, it is an ethos that we have applied to our recently launched CMS Trade division too. This ensures our installer customer base across Scotland can source environmentally sustainable products to satisfy the appetite of their end-customers and benefit practically by saving money on waste disposal costs by allowing us to recycle their old, post-use windows and doors free of charge.