Here comes the sun!

Here comes the sun!

  • Mar 16,2023

Stuart Wilkinson, Director at P Wilkinson Containers and William Say Ltd, explains why renewable energy is key to the future of packaging 

It was 13 years ago now that P Wilkinson Containers and William Say installed a solar array on every flat roof on site at the factory in Bermondsey. As relatively early adopters of solar energy, particularly in the manufacturing and packaging sectors, our London site is one of the largest solar farms in capital. 

As any facilities or operations managers in the manufacturing or packaging industries will already be aware, energy consumption is on the rise. When factories and production lines grow, new equipment – in quantity or by design – can increase energy consumption on site, and businesses can be tripped up by grid constraints. It can cost several thousands to install a new transformer or lay cables to increase energy capacity. Solar panels may offer a better ROI than a new or increased grid connection and gives the ability to use your own power first before tapping into the grid. 

Additionally, companies are coming under increased pressure to reduce carbon emissions, no matter what the sector. Not only do we feel this pressure ourselves, but it also comes from our customers who want their own brands to meet environmental targets in areas such as packaging. 

One of the most significant changes that manufacturers and packaging producers can make is to reduce carbon emissions by switching the source of their energy provision.  However, according to a CDP report, only 28% of companies have a low-carbon transition plan in place to meet their climate goals.    

The UK’s total solar capacity stands at around 14.6GW according to trade body Solar Energy UK. As part of a ‘solar revolution’, it’s set to increase further with 0.73 gigawatts of solar PV being installed in UK1. Data also shows that if industries such as manufacturing, warehousing and logistics installed solar panels on available roof space, as we have done at P Wilkinson Containers and William Say, then this sector alone could deliver the entire UK solar requirement for 2030 forecast by the National Grid without using any new land2. 

In the current climate, every business will be looking for ways to access lower-cost, carbon-free energy and whilst solar panels don’t cover the full energy consumption on our site, it important to us – and our customers – that we are taking steps to achieve reduced carbon emissions every day.  

As a packaging manufacturer, supplier, and stockist, reduced carbon emissions in our product lines is a key metric in the procurement process, with companies using energy source, consumption, and emissions as criteria by which to rate suppliers  

We know from talking to our own customers that most, if not all of them, are looking for packaging materials which correlate with their own ESG targets and reassure consumers that they are being mindful of environmental credentials without greenwashing. In new enquiries, we’ve found that this is as important to SMEs and start-ups, as it is to larger national or global brands – it’s great to see that this is now a universal concern for businesses, regardless of size or sector.  

Solar farm at William Say

At William Say, every piece of metal packaging including commercial containers, paint cans and consumer tins, is manufactured with machinery powered by the solar farm. Our cans and tins feature a ‘manufactured in London using solar power’ embossing on the base, verifying both the small carbon footprint of a product made in the UK, and the eco credentials of solar powered manufacture. This authentication is especially helpful for customers who want to feature this aspect of packaging in their own marketing and ESG materials. 

Additionally, our tins are also embossed with the ‘Metal Recycles Forever’ logo which reminds consumers to recycle their cans and tins, and more generally that metal holds a special status as a permanently available packaging material. Metal can be recycled infinitely with no loss of quality – and coupled with the advantages of solar power, makes a solid choice for environmentally aware brands. 

We’ve been located on our site in the centre of London for over four decades now and hope to continue here for many more to come. In this context, solar panels are as much an investment into our own sustainable future as our customers. The solar farm generates energy for us every day – and even overnight if there is a full moon! 

We can utilise the generated energy for all sorts of purposes, from the can-making factory, to recharging a laptop or car, or simply boiling the kettle for a coffee. We have a dashboard on the factory floor that shows generation and consumption, and maintenance has been straightforward. 

To other packaging manufacturers, suppliers, and stockists, I would share that I am delighted that we became early adopters of solar power and are pleased with the positive impact it has on our product lines and supply chains. 13 years later, we’ve tried and tested the model, and I have no hesitation in recommending solar panels to help futureproof business.  

Solar power will play a key role in manufacturers’ ability to overcome the energy crisis alongside improving sustainability credentials for themselves and their customers. 

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