Mannok CEO, Liam McCaffrey, Jennifer Fulton, Ulster Wildlife CEO, Minister Edwin Poots MLA, Aine Murphy MLA, with Mannok Environmental Team and Directors, Ulster Wildlife Team

Mannok cements carbon challenge commitment

GOAL Firm hopes to be carbon neutral in 25 years

A decade ago carbon emissions and sequestration featured as footnotes in many business environmental reports. Today, sequestration is viewed as a key asset in a world where the rolling rock of climate change shows no signs of slowing with only faint hope the diminishing moss might somehow miraculously reattach itself.

Last week the border-straddling manufacturer Mannok took a step forward by announcing lofty ambitions to promote greater biodiversity across its Irish sites.

In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, working with Ulster Wildlife, Mannok aspires to become as positively carbon neutral as possible over the coming 25 years by restoring spent areas of industrial development and other land holdings as viable habitats. The outcome is Mannok’s new Natural Assets Action Plans (NAAP), which couples as a mission statement to mitigate the company’s impact on the environment.

“Yes, is the simple answer,” says Mannok CEO, Liam McCaffrey, when asked if the aggregates industry can ever really become carbon neutral, and admitting the biggest carbon producers are in cement and concrete product manufacturing.

He told The Anglo-Celt: “What’s happening already, with CO2 levies, the cost of producing carbon will drive to such a level it will soon become economic to recapture and that, as we see it, is probably the long-term solution for the cement industry.”

Looking at where carbon credits are already reducing in different phases annually, Mr McCaffrey foresees a point where Mannok can no longer rely on buying in credits to offset emissions.

“Cement is a high emitter of carbon, that’s just a fact. But you don’t achieve anything by running away from the issues. What you do is you address it, and do it wholeheartedly. The amount of carbon sequestration we can achieve through the natural assets we have, through the land, the bogs, is significant enough in the context of what we do. It’s very important we embrace that.”

Dr Michael Meharg is one of the key authors of the environmental and biodiversity mapping study that took over 12 months to complete, and examined every area of Mannok’s landholdings, which spans almost 2,000 acres in 47 separate locations - both north and south of the Irish border.

Among the sites surveyed were quarries at Swanlinbar, Doon, at Ballyconnell and Teemore, at Williamstown in Galway, Granard in Longford, as well as near Kells in Co Meath.

The report was launched at a dedicated event last week, attended by NI Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Edwin Poots MLA.

By committing to this new NAAP, Mannok hopes to increase awareness and an understanding of the biodiversities that exists locally. The firm also intends to use that knowledge to inform future business practices to ensure a positive biodiversity legacy as sites are spent.

Dr Meharg, who spent a career working in government biodiversity protection programmes, told those in attendance that some 24 hectares, or 25 per cent of the overall Doon quarry site near Ballyconnell, currently comprises what is considered “priority habitat”.

The area, he points out, contains a wealth of species-rich grassland, woodland, heath, bog, ponds and hedgerows. The same area again is estimated to be species-poor grassland with huge potential for recovery, rewilding, or planting.

Among the species of interest found across Mannok sites by Dr Meharg are the Bee Orchid, a protected plant that colonises areas of lime-rich soil; the Marsh Fritillary butterfly, the only European-protected invertebrate; and a plethora of cliff-nesting birds such as the kestrel, to sand martin, and peregrine falcon.

Said the expert: “Environmentalists and businesses don’t always be seen to be on the same page. All too often we hear of NGOs criticising business, and criticising farmers and other folk for the work they do, and not nearly enough looking at the positives that are there, and the ways in which we can all work together.”

To that extent, Dr Meharg credited Mannok for its attempts to ensure landholdings become resilient to predicted climate change effects.

Professor Jim McAdam, whose 40-year career focused on examining grassland and ecosystems, in a separate analysis, showed how Mannok’s NI sites hold 495,138 tonnes of carbon (tCO2eq) in the soil, and 9,801 in vegetation, and 325,062 in the soil at sites south of the border, and 13,238 in vegetation.

“We were getting sites with three and four metres of peat,” he explained. “Once you go down a metre of peat you’re storing 1,200 tonnes of carbon for every hectare.”

While trees and woodland habitats have the best potential for increased sequestration, the peatlands, Prof McAdam says were in “reasonable condition” with scope for more “restoration” in future.

Mannok sustainability manager, Paul Monaghan, meanwile explained how the NAAP will form a crucial part of the company’s overarching sustainability strategy, focusing on three key pillars - people, planet and partners. “There are no ‘no-go’ areas whenever it comes to Mannok discussing what it means to be a sustainable and responsible business. It’s so refreshing for me to work with an organisation that takes that type of approach to sustainability,” he said.

The event capped off with Mannok receiving a silver-standard award from Lisa McIlvenna of Business in the Community Northern Ireland, who welcomed the shift by businesses in the province striving to become more socially and environmentally responsible.

“It is integral to us cracking this climate crisis we’re facing at the moment. It’s part and parcel of everything we’re trying to address, and it’s that collaborative approach we need to see businesses taking if we’re going to really make the most of some of the challenges facing us over the next five to 10 years.”

Speaking to the Celt, Mr McCaffrey says it is incumbent upon all industries in Ireland to be more eco-conscious, and believes that no one wants to work for a company not actively engaged in addressing the sustainability agenda up front.

“With the scramble there is for talent, it’s one of a number of increasingly important factors. This isn’t an immediate fix. It’s a journey that’s going to go on for the next 20 or 30 years.

“I don’t know if we’re ahead of the curve, but what I can say on behalf of the business is we’re open to embracing change. We have the ambition to get the job done in the years ahead, and when we come to the finishing post, which is 2050 when everyone needs to be carbon neutral, certainly we’re going to be there.”