The ABC of ESG 

Alan Guthrie reviews CPA’s Conference 2022 which discussed why plant-hire organisations need to adopt ESG strategies. Speakers discussed the challenges, gave practical advice on achieving improvements in the Environmental, Social and corporate Governance spheres – and explained how businesses can positively benefit from the process.

Until quite recently, industry professionals could have been forgiven for not knowing much about ESG (Environmental, Social and corporate Governance) strategies. However, following the unprecedented events of recent years, from the pandemic and lockdowns to supply chain disruptions and spiralling energy costs, ESG is now high on the corporate agenda for businesses both big and small. Basically, all companies need to know about it and take appropriate actions. 

But what does ESG mean in theory and practice? And how does it impact on plant-hire professionals? Those were the fundamental issues discussed at the CPA Conference 2022 entitled ‘ESG - Driving Change: How Environmental, Social and Governance Benefits Construction Plant Businesses’ held on 20th October 2022 at the Heart of England Conference and Events Centre near Coventry. 

The Conference comprised three panel discussions amongst industry professionals, with the debate steered by event convenor Merryn Myatt, a former BBC news presenter who now specialises in media management and communications for large and small organisations. She ensured that the discussions addressed key themes and challenges. 

Opening the Conference, CPA Chief Executive Kevin Minton described how ESG was another challenge that the Association was helping members to meet, following hard on the heels of issues like Covid-19, supply chain disruption, material costs, labour shortages, costs of capital and the red diesel rebate’s removal for construction use – let alone the political turmoil of recent months. 

The industry had been tested like at no other time previously, he said. However, plant-hirers had proved themselves to be flexible and adaptable in addressing these challenges and exemplifying best practice. 

ESG gives a similar opportunity for the industry to be modern and dynamic while remaining efficient and competitive. Moreover, organisations like the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) argue that investors and financial institutions increasingly look at a business’s ESG policies as part of their vetting and checking procedures, so the issue cannot be ignored, said Kevin. 

ESG is also an opportunity to engage with all elements of a company’s workforce and supply chain. And as more Tier 1 contractors adopt new approaches as part of their ESG policies, these will trickle down to other sub-contractors and suppliers, he said. 

Discussing the background to the implementation of ESG practices, the first panel session was entitled ‘Setting the Scene - the Economic Context and Outlook for UK plc’, with two speakers: Laura Capper, Head of Manufacturing & Construction for NatWest bank including Lombard, its asset finance division; and Chris Cassley, CPA Policy Manager. 

Laura Capper said that the political and economic background could hardly be more turbulent and unpredictable, with inflation at its highest level for more than 30 years and interest base rates rising sharply after being close to zero for 15 years. The Government needed to give clarity on issues like spending cuts and their possible impact on construction, as well as tackling interest rates. 

It also had to give more information to businesses about ESG obligations as certain European countries are already doing with greater clarity and encouragement, outlining a ‘road map’ to where firms should be heading. However, she said that banks remained committed to corporate lending. 

Laura said that construction firms had shown themselves to be flexible and forward-looking in their response to new ways of working throughout the pandemic and that they would doubtless adopt a similarly positive attitude to ESG responsibilities. 

Interestingly, she said that NatWest has seen significantly increased demand for finance towards solar panel installations and that plant-hirers and other organisations could benefit financially from such measures given the steep rise in energy costs. 

She added that, while interest in ESG has grown in recent years, firms needed to explore the solutions in more depth - and to appreciate the risks of not doing so. For example, companies involved in diesel engines or supplying parts for them will eventually find themselves without a market when carbon net-zero is reached as planned by 2050, so they had to realise the transition process required. 

Incidentally, NatWest offers a free tool for businesses to measure their carbon footprint, and the results can then be used as a benchmark for making future reductions. Check it out at

CPA’s Chris Cassley agreed that more Government action was needed to create the right investment climate in which firms could identify and implement ESG measures. Incentives like the Annual Investment Allowance and the super-deduction tax allowance on qualifying plant and machinery could encourage companies to invest in new electric, battery and solar products as well as other technologies. 

Clarity about possible future spending cuts in another round of austerity measures would be required, and these will hopefully not limit Government support for research and development or product innovation. There has also been much talk of reforms to planning regulations to encourage house building and other construction projects, and this still needs to be confirmed and the implications for the industry discussed. 

Chris highlighted some of the benefits arising from adopting ESG measures including the positive impact they could have on a company’s image. People throughout an organisation and the wider community would appreciate the improvements being made. Moreover, job seekers increasingly want to work for companies that adopt green practices, so by not doing so an organisation might lose out on attracting the best talent. 

“Above all,” said Chris, “ESG shows business as a force for good. And it will make a difference for our children and future generations in the coming decades.” 

The second panel discussion entitled ‘ESG in Context and What it Means’ ventured more deeply into the reasons why it was important for companies to start embedding ESG into their core business operations. The four participants comprised Lara Young, Climate Change Director with Costain; Dani Saveker, global CEO and founder of the GLAS (Global Life Alignment System) for helping businesses adapt to significant challenges and entrepreneurial transitions; Tom Hadley, an independent consultant who has worked at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) and with the International Labour Organization (ILO); and David Murray, Executive Director of the Sustainability First environmental change charity and former CEO of The Green Party. 

Costain’s Lara Young suggested that in many ways adopting ESG measures made plain business sense. While some companies (such as publicly listed plc organisations) must already adopt them by law, others could also benefit from doing so now. Obviously different firms would have different goals according to the nature of their business and the markets they serve, but they could go beyond simply meeting sustainability targets: ESG policies could be shaped to address a company’s local environmental impact and its role in the community. 

She explained that ESG initiatives could follow recognised principles and frameworks set out on agreed metrics. These could be used by a business itself, and financial institutions, to benchmark the company’s performance and to monitor progress against identified and measurable targets. Indeed, following these processes could be invigorating for the firm and its personnel, working together to achieve common goals and demonstrating the green credentials of the organisation to stakeholders and investors. 

Moreover, Lara pointed out that good business models had to be adapted constantly anyway, with an eye on future changes and challenges. For example, a plant-hirer with many diesel machines in its fleet might need to retain them for several years to achieve the required return on investment, but a planned transition to new technology would need to be put in place to ensure long-term success. 

Convenor Merryn Myatt wondered whether ESG could camouflage ‘greenwashing’ (making environmental claims that cannot be substantiated). However, Lara suggested that regulations were constantly being tightened and that peer pressure, as well as public reaction, would persuade organisations to follow good practice. 

Tom Hadley agreed that companies obviously had to make verifiable claims about their ESG achievements, but that it was also important to set the right goals with measurable parameters. For example, just saying that a business was ‘the best to work for in its field’ was clearly superficial and meaningless; but understanding why people left your company and putting right any issues cited, or talking to existing personnel about why they liked working for the organisation could give benchmarks for improvement and useful, positive data. 

He stressed the fundamental importance of setting relevant, measurable goals, quoting as an example Heathrow Airport which has set itself the target of doubling the number of women in management posts by 2028. This set a benchmark against which progress could be monitored. 

Tom also said that smaller businesses should not feel overwhelmed or fear being left behind on their ESG journey when comparing themselves against larger counterparts with more resources. There would always be leaders and early adopters whose experiences can be emulated; and it is also important to involve all elements of the workforce, sharing opinions and experiences. This would again engender a sense of togetherness, perhaps making the business a more attractive place to work for and raising its profile in measurable ways. 

Indeed, Dani Saveker of GLAS warned against having a ‘tickbox culture’ that just generated bland data and prevented genuine engagement. Companies had to understand why they were setting particular ESG goals and what they wanted to achieve, much of which was sound traditional business outreach practice, such as engaging with local communities, charities and schools. 

She realised that firms had many management obligations and tasks besides ESG targets, so it was important to take ‘baby steps’ first. And implementing change was more a case of creating a new mindset and an ongoing process of improvement rather than seeking a one-off solution. 

Dani also highlighted that sustainability is about an organisation’s own future survival as well as that of the planet. “Ask yourself where will your business be in five years’ time. If you don’t grow the value of your business, then technically it is in decline. Adopting ESG practices can create growth and attract investors,” she said. 

David Murray of Sustainability First pointed out that various organisations can give guidance on benchmarking and achieving ESG goals. He also emphasised the important role that associations like CPA play in representing the views and requirements of their members to Government and regulatory bodies in order to shape policies. 

“Take ownership of ESG,” he said. “Don’t let it swamp you. Work together, collaborate and design a framework that works for you. Look beyond the acronyms and buzzwords.” 

Prior to lunch, Merryn carried out a ‘walking and talking’ roving interview session, whereby she carried out a live interview session with each of the 21 exhibitors at the Conference. The footage was live streamed to the audience and Merryn asked each of the exhibitors what was on their stands and what ESG meant to their organisations.

The final panel session, ‘ESG in Action’, highlighted practical steps that plant-hirers and suppliers are already taking to meet their obligations and to develop them for the future. The four participants included: Merrill Lynch, Director of L Lynch Plant & Haulage; Peter Beach, Sales & Marketing Director with welfare cabin manufacturer Genquip Groundhog; Rachel Preen, Commercial Director of sustainable lighting manufacturer Prolectric Services; and Huw Longton, Commercial Manager with the European Rental Association (ERA).

Merrill Lynch said that his company has pledged to achieve net-zero carbon status by 2040 and will do this by focusing on three areas: the firm’s plant hire fleet, its depots and its supply chain. By 2025, 80 per cent of Lynch’s HGVs will run on HVO or similar diesel alternatives and all its dozers will be able to operate with automated machine control systems. All drivers will be trained in environmentally aware driving practices. In addition, Lynch has an ongoing programme for installing solar panels, rainwater harvesting and recycling facilities at its depots.

Interestingly, the company’s suppliers will be expected to embrace similar plans to achieve net-zero status by 2040. Again, working together is key.

Merrill cited one example of promoting better on-site working practices through reducing machine idling on a particular highway project. It was found that operators often kept engines running so they could stay warm in cold weather. After talking to the client, it was agreed that more welfare cabins should be installed along the carriageway so that personnel could take breaks, and this saved the annual equivalent of £300,000 in diesel fuel costs.

Peter Beach of Genquip Groundhog explained how the company has commissioned the University of Sheffield to create a carbon reduction plan for the business, the first phase of which assessed the embedded carbon in the company’s processes at its factory in Neath. Everyone involved was asked for their input, from the managing director to paint buyers. The carbon footprints of customers, and in turn their own customers, were also explored to determine how they actually use the welfare cabins on sites.

Practical measures taken have included installing 95 solar panels on the roof of one of the Genquip Groundhog factory buildings, leading to an impressive 33 per cent reduction in electricity costs. The company is in the process of building a new main production plant opening next year, which will have no fewer than 568 solar panels.

Genquip Groundhog has also joined the Confor sustainable forestry organisation, through which the company will plant trees on adjacent land to offset its remaining carbon footprint.

Huw Longton of the ERA said that the EU had devised a programme of carbon reduction for adoption among member states, with the aim of achieving a 55 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and to be net-zero by 2050.

The ERA itself has developed a number of free ESG tools for hire companies to use, including an equipment CO2 calculator, a Sustainable Supplier Framework to promote best practice throughout the supply chain, and a CSR (corporate social responsibility) KPI Guidance Framework to help hire companies benchmark themselves against their peers. The Association has also published a Manifesto document highlighting the environmental benefits that arise out of hiring equipment rather than purchasing it, and obtaining the maximum working life from it.

Huw added that the ERA’s 2023 Convention in Maastricht on 7th and 8th June will focus on elements of ESG such as employee health, inclusion and building a good corporate reputation to help attract the best people.

Rachel Preen of Prolectric Services described how the company had benefited from commissioning a report into its environmental status by a specialist consultancy as a benchmarking exercise against which reductions could be implemented and monitored. This had examined the firm’s production processes, its workplace environment and its community involvement, amongst other criteria.

Appropriately enough, given the nature of its products, Prolectric has fitted solar panels to the roof of its premises which generate 33 per cent of its electricity requirements. Moreover, the company has calculated that the equipment it supplies reduces emissions by a level equivalent to £9 million worth of diesel.

The company is also adopting simpler measures like installing ‘Hippo’ blocks in toilet cisterns to reduce water usage per flush. Personnel are also encouraged to contribute their own ideas for achieving environmental benefits and Rachel said this instilled a sense of engagement and fun, which matches Prolectric’s approach to business.

Indeed, she suggested that it was all too easy to over-analyse ESG responsibilities and that if you take relevant actions, business success will surely follow because it is essentially sensible commercial practice. She also cited research saying that 80 per cent of graduates now only want to work for organisations that are adopting sound ESG practices.

This was echoed by Genquip Groundhog's Peter Beach who questioned why the path to net zero was so frequently described as a race. He believed it was more meaningful to proceed in a measured way, not over-reacting to every possible ESG consideration but concentrating on those with realisable, practical benefits. In this way, blind alleys and costly mistakes would be avoided.

Finally, Merrill Lynch considered the massive progress that had been made in technological developments over the past 20 years, such as the introduction of Stage V engines, better solar panels and machines using battery technology. These were helping business meet their ESG obligations. 

Who knows what the next few years will hold, but the ESG journey is certainly an exciting and valuable one.

Given the frequent references during the Conference to ongoing political turmoil and economic turbulence, it was hugely ironic when during the lunch break news filtered through of Liz Truss’s sudden resignation as prime minister. However, delegates just continued with the business at hand, again showing how the plant-hire industry retains a steadfast focus on the important matters with resilience and confidence.

From Theory to Practice - Focus on the Exhibitors 

This year’s CPA Conference attracted a record number of suppliers exhibiting products and services that can help plant-hirers achieve their ESG ambitions.

Point of Rental Software, which was the Conference’s Headline Sponsor, promoted the wide range of services it offers for hirers to handle all aspects of hire transactions. Besides hire management software suites, the company’s app modules for delivery drivers, mobile engineers and workshop technicians allow other areas of operations to be included. Amongst the latest developments to be launched soon is a ‘micro app’ called PoR Pay which integrates with programs such as Opayo (formerly Sage Pay) and Stripe to enable credit card payments to be processed.

Capja offers tailored digital services allowing organisations to automate their business and replace paper-based processes in offices and work sites. This avoids duplication, saves time and conveys a professional approach. Services include QR documents, document scanning and OCR, intelligent eForms, mobile apps, customer communications management and digital designs.

The CPCS (Construction Plant Competence Scheme) provides skills cards for the plant sector of the construction industry and allied activities. Part of the NOCN Group, CPCS says it is the largest plant card scheme and that it enables operatives to obtain and renew the qualifications they need to work safely and competently.


The European Rental Association (ERA) promoted ESG tools it has developed for hirers. The Sustainable Supplier Framework sets industry best practice guidelines in sustainability assessments of suppliers, while the Equipment CO2 Calculator estimates the carbon emissions of construction machinery. The CSR KPI Guidance Framework enables hirers to assess their current approach to sustainability.

Flannery Plant Hire promoted its new Skills Bootcamp in Plant Operations. Funded by the Department for Education, new industry entrants and those looking to upskill can learn how to operate machines in a competent, safe and environmentally friendly manner, and at the end of the course they are guaranteed a job interview.

FuelActive’s floating fuel pickup pipe draws clean fuel from the top of the level in the tank, avoiding contamination lying at the bottom which could damage Stage V engine injectors. Burning clean fuel increases energy efficiency, extends engine life and FuelActive says the system typically pays for itself in three months.

Genquip Groundhog previewed its new i550, a twin-axle 5m long welfare cabin which has four solar panels, a large inverter and two lithium batteries that provide enough energy to run the unit in typical operation. A backup power source only operates if the batteries have 20 per cent of charge, cutting out again at 80 per cent.

inspHire’s software systems enable hirers to manage all aspects of the hire process, from booking and ordering equipment to invoicing and workshop procedures. inspHire Mobile allows personnel to work remotely on or offline, and digital resource management brings paperless environmental benefits. Cloud-based storage also removes the expense of having local servers.

JCB displayed the 1TE electric high-tip dumper from the manufacturer’s E-TECH range of zero emission, low noise machines. The 1-tonne unit has a steel skip, an articulated chassis and, instead of individual wheel motors, it incorporates conventional drive axles and a drop box for full-time, all-wheel drive.

L Lynch Plant Hire & Haulage highlighted its ESG initiatives. Regarding the Environment it is reducing carbon emissions by adopting digital working and new technologies, while Social goals prioritise leaving a positive legacy for the company’s teams, stakeholders and the wider community. On Governance, Lynch aims to create a fair and transparent workplace. 

Lifos promoted its new Lifos Fort battery pack which can incorporate a solar panel that is stored inside the unit. Wind turbines and generators can also be connected. To maximise useful life and reduce landfill waste, Lifos can swap the batteries after seven years and give the machine a further five year warranty.

The MachineMax equipment management platform offers a digital solution for maximising off-highway plant profitability. It works with any equipment that has an onboard tracking system and captures data relating to idling, location, emissions, fuel consumption and other parameters. This enables improvements in productivity and efficiency to be made and carbon reductions achieved.

MHM Plant offers generators, lighting towers, fuel management products and other equipment for re-hire and sale. Products displayed at the Conference included the MG 6000 SSY-5-ECO 6kVA generator which has an automotive-style stop/start system; the ST-9 diesel-free solar lighting tower; and the compact solar Street Lite which has a 5.5m mast.

Nexus Vehicle Rental’s online platform enables customers to hire plant, lighting, access machines and site welfare and accommodation units via a single source, as well as vehicles and HGVs. It has national agreements in place with multiple companies. Users can control and monitor their hire transactions using the company’s IRIS rental management software.

Plant Planet is an independent magazine delivering news and insights from the plant machinery industry. Its core aim is to provide readers with impartial information from across the world of heavy machinery in print, online and app formats, including the bi-monthly magazine and an online news platform.

Rather than its own services, machinery hirer Plantforce promoted the Plant & Hire Aid Alliance’s campaign to give Ukrainian children a happier Christmas this year. People can send wrapped toys and gifts to a central collection point by 8 December for transportation in a dedicated articulated lorry and distribution by local volunteers. For details visit

Prolectric Services says its solar lighting towers give 16 hours’ operation per night, all year and in all weathers. The range includes CCTV security cameras, solar hybrid generators, solar lighting bollards and battery powered link lighting for trackside use. The equipment increases sustainability, reduces fuel costs and gives social benefits like low noise levels.

Robustrack offers a broad portfolio of excavator attachments enabling users to achieve greater efficiency by using one machine to undertake more tasks. These range from flail mowers and concrete mixing buckets, to post drivers and tree shears, and attachments like crusher buckets allow materials to be recycled on site.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) promoted the range of training services and industry recognised qualifications that it offers. Its construction portfolio categories include: Operative and specialisms; Technical, supervisory and management; and Street Works. Also available are NVQ certificates and  Diplomas as well as Customised Awards. Qualifications are developed in partnership with industry professionals.

Thomas Plant Hire displayed a simulator at the Conference to enable visitors to trial the OnGrade machine control system that can be fitted to equipment like dozers and excavators for greater efficiency. The Deeside-based company has expanded its fleet significantly to help Tier 1 contractors and other users meet ESG obligations.

WowNow Hire is a nationwide managed intermediary hire service that sources, delivers and collects assets including powered access, plant, tools, waste services and site accommodation. WowNow Hire (formerly known as Nationwide Hire) was formed in 1995 to meet demand from shopfitters working in unfamiliar locations and has evolved to serve additional markets.