Coates recently released a sustainability plan that charts out the journey it will take to deliver on its 2040 net zero emissions commitment. Sheridan Jones, GM of Corporate Communications and Sustainability, explains why the leading Australian equipment solutions provider is taking a whole of business approach to sustainability – one which underpins its company vision and leverages on an inherently circular business model.
The Coates approach to sustainability is critical to the company’s vision of being a market leader in safe, smart, and sustainable equipment solutions. According to Sheridan Jones, those three words – safe, smart, and sustainable – are not just ostensibly connected to the company’s vision but are inherent to each other.
“Safe, smart and sustainable are intrinsically linked, they represent the key aspects of our business strategy and therefore are fundamental,” elaborates Sheridan. “Just as our approach to sustainability is not singularly focussed on our carbon footprint and emissions. It incorporates everything that we do, our whole of business practices.”
This whole of business approach articulates a higher purpose for Coates – one that goes beyond market performance.
“Coates’ sustainability plan recognises that sustainability is a key aspect of our current and future success,” says Sheridan. “Our plan leverages what we already do well and stretches us into new areas of focus to meet customer and stakeholder expectations, enhance our brand and reputation, and enables us to stand behind our company vision and deliver on that promise.”
Before developing and then publishing their initial sustainability plan Towards sustainability, the smart way, Coates spent a year researching what the core sustainability issues are in their business.
“We interviewed numerous people internally across our focus areas and conducted extensive external research which included benchmarking against industry peers in Australia and abroad,” says Sheridan. “We also consulted with some of our key customers, which was incredibly insightful, as it gave us an understanding of the steps we need to take to meet their expectations, and help our customers meet their sustainability goals, as well as our own.”
The result of this was a five-pillar framework which forms the basis of Coates’ ongoing sustainability strategy. The five pillars are: Our People, Our Communities, Resilience, Eco-efficiency and Greener Choices. At the centre of this framework is the circular economy concept, which is based on principles that design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, and regenerate natural systems.
“What emerged from our research was an understanding of the circular economy concept, and it became obvious that our equipment rental and solutions business is already circular by nature,” explains Sheridan. “We therefore established our framework around that whole concept, effectively designing a strategy that builds on what we already do well and is fit for purpose.”
Sheridan highlights the ‘Our People’ pillar first and foremost.
“This is a crucial pillar, as our people are our greatest asset. For us, it’s essential that we create an environment where our people can thrive and be at their best,” she says. “I believe it’s most people’s intention to work for an organisation that does good and be part of something which is meaningful and has a higher purpose.”
Which is why ‘Our Communities’ was identified as another key pillar in Coates’ sustainability framework.
“With a national footprint of over 150 branches across Australia, we touch a lot of communities,” Sheridan says. “And we don’t just service these communities with our equipment solutions, we offer a genuine helping hand when and where our communities need us the most. We want to build on that trust, so that communities feel they can rely on Coates to support them in the moments that matter.”
Coates’ community support is evidenced by involvement with charities such as the Seven Telethon, Westmead Children’s Hospital’s annual Christmas toy drive and the Humpty Dumpty Foundation. As part of the sustainability plan, however, the organisation is looking to enhance its social outreach further through the launch of the Coates Foundation.
“The purpose of the Coates Foundation is to provide a more structured and strategic approach to how we give back to our communities,” she explains. “For us it’s about leaving positive and lasting legacies in the communities in which we operate.”
Another example of this can be seen in Coates’ partnership with the Clontarf Foundation which was formalised in 2021. This partnership supports 120 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at Clontarf Academies. Additionally, the organisation is looking to leverage the partnership by creating some entry level pathways for Clontarf students over the next few years.
“Coates employees can engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in a myriad of social activities with the goal of building long-term relationships with the students and their culture,” elaborates Sheridan. “This also ties in with our commitment to advancing First Nations inclusion in our organisation.”
In fact, Coates launched its first Reconciliation Action Plan in July 2020. Since then, it’s increased its number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees by over 200 per cent.
“It was a proud moment for our company to officially join the National Reconciliation Movement and make a commitment to doing better,” says Sheridan. “We have a target participation rate of 10 per cent of our apprentices to identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander by 2025, as well as an overall employee participation rate of 2.5 per cent. It’s pleasing that we’ve already grown our employee representation from seven employees to 25 employees in the last 18 months.”
Fundamental to Coates’ community initiatives is another one of the sustainability framework key pillars – Resilience.
“Resilience emerged as an important theme from our research, particularly from the internal feedback. For example, our people feel incredibly proud of the work we have done to support communities through the disastrous Australian bushfires,” explains Sheridan. “We recognise that we are strong in a crisis, and so resilience is about helping our customers and communities prepare for, respond and recover quickly from unexpected challenges.”
Concurrent with building resilience, Coates is committed to delivering more while using fewer natural resources and generating less waste; the basis of the Eco-efficiency pillar.
“This will be one of the main tools we’ll use for promoting sustainable development, as it focuses on reducing waste and improving energy efficiency and water management,” says Sheridan. “This means transitioning to renewables and achieving our net zero emissions targets. We’re committed to a 30 per cent reduction by 2026, a 50 per reduction by 2030 and to net zero by 2040.”
While the Eco-efficiency aspect of Coates’ sustainability plan focuses on Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, its Greener Choices pillar is about providing its customers with sustainable solutions, effectively supporting a reduction in Scope 3 emissions and reinforcing a circular economy approach.
“This is a compelling value proposition for our customers, working with our supply chain we’re currently establishing a circular systems plan for our major product categories,” explains Sheridan. “Our ‘Greener Choices’ catalogue will give customers clear insights into how our hire and solutions offerings can support their sustainability goals, by highlighting specific equipment benefits such as reduced energy use, lower emissions and reduced noise impacts on site.”
A good illustration of how Coates is providing ‘Greener Choices’ can be seen in its solar lighting offering.
“Solar lighting for construction is an example of a sustainable equipment solution, as are our battery-operated tools, and we’re continuing to trial hybrid battery and solar units to reduce energy consumption,” says Sheridan. “Another exciting area of development is our IoT-enabled telemetry solution. Working with industry partners, Coates developed
an IoT-enabled telemetry solution that is capable of being retrofitted to all of our machines. This is enabling our customers to understand their hire equipment profile, and to make data-driven hire decisions. Our systems track location and utilisation, and the resulting data is allowing our customers to make smarter hiring choices, reduce waste and utilise equipment more efficiently. “
Moreover, Coates has partnered with Monash University in Melbourne to develop Quadshore 150, a world-first lightweight heavy-duty structural support solution for temporary works up to 150 tonnes.
“At its heart, Coates is an innovative organisation, and we want to be working with the best and brightest on sustainability challenges,” Sheridan explains.
The design of Quadshore 150 as a structural prop is considered revolutionary. Features such as its lightweight but high-strength structural elements as well as boltless connections combine to create significant benefits. Among those are reduced labour, handling, storage, installation and de-installation costs – which also means less safety issues among workers – as well as decreased transportation and handling, and a lower carbon footprint.
Whilst the Coates sustainability plan is wide-reaching, and the targets are bold, Sheridan is not only confident that the organisation will deliver on its promises but will be reporting on their progress annually.
“At Coates, we aspire to strengthen the resilience of our people, our customers, and our planet by playing our part in the circular economy. Through driving eco-efficiency and resilience in our business and equipment solutions, we will contribute to a sustainable economy that keeps products and materials in use, designs out waste and pollution, and helps regenerate the natural environment,” concludes Sheridan. “We will release our sustainability report under the Globally Reporting Initiative framework and in line with the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures every year, to transparently share how we are tracking with our sustainability plan.”