National Group implements sustainability strategy

Enhanced ESG focus will help company, its customers and the environment, as move to low-carbon economy gains momentum.

National Group’s formalisation of its sustainability strategy provides a platform to build on its Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives in 2023 and beyond.

The mining services group finalised the National Group Sustainability Strategy and roadmap in the fourth quarter of 2022. The project involved extensive stakeholder consultation and industry research – and used external sustainability experts.

“National Group is working hard to drive sustainability throughout our organisation,” says founder and managing director Mark Ackroyd. “For us, that means reducing our environmental impact, supporting our people and communities, and ensuring the company’s governance decisions are aligned to its sustainability goals.”

Ackroyd says National Group’s sustainability strategy takes its ESG work to a new level. “We’ve always focused on safety, organisation culture and community support. We’ve always used top-tier equipment with better environmental performance. And we’ve grown sustainability through good governance and risk management for more than two decades. Our ESG strategy puts more structure around that work.”

Endorsed by the National Group Board, the strategy includes Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), measures ESG performance against local and international benchmarks and frameworks, and sets sustainability goals and targets.

The strategy also plans for the implementation of sustainability-related initiatives across National Group, as well as ongoing performance monitoring and reporting through sustainability strategy updates and KPI assessments.

“National Group is making a significant long-term commitment to sustainability,” says Ackroyd. “Through this strategy, we plan to measure and report our ESG performance – and continually look for improvements in this area.”

ESG initiatives

National Group’s sustainability work is timely. The push towards a low-carbon economy is quickening across the global mining sector and resource-related services.

National Group’s primary customers are increasingly focused on reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions by allocating more resources to developing lower-emission alternatives to diesel-powered assets.

“The complexity of decarbonisation poses challenges in the mining sector,” says Ackroyd. “National Group has an important role to play in supporting emissions reductions across our value chain. We continue to look for opportunities to partner with companies to enable reduction of emissions, consistent with net-zero aspirations.”

In environmental sustainability, National Group is working with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to reduce the emissions intensity of its mining fleet.

OEMs are responding to mining company demand for lower carbon by developing a range of new low-emissions hydrogen, hybrid and electric vehicles. Partnerships to trial and test the technologies are forming and National Group expects the new technologies will be operational with its key customers within 3-5 years.

Internally, National Group is focused on reducing its energy use and carbon emissions and producing less waste. “We are considering pathways to achieve net-zero emissions, including the short-term purchase of carbon offsets,” says Ackroyd.

In corporate social responsibility, National Group wants to build on its achievements in health and safety, fair employment, community engagement and diversity and inclusion. “National Group’s great strength is its culture,” says Ackroyd. “But we take nothing for granted and want to keep developing our human capital.”

To this end, National Group in 2020 launched a successful apprenticeship program that is creating opportunities for young people. More women have joined National Group in recent years and the company’s community engagement continues to grow.

National Group last year sponsored several new sporting and Indigenous initiatives and wants to increase its support for health-related charities in the next few years.

“National Group has always supported communities where our people live and work,” says Ackroyd. “We never thought of this as the ‘S’ in our ESG strategy. It was about doing the right thing and supporting communities who support us. But our sustainability strategy provides more structure to expand that work.”

In governance, National Group continues to assess opportunities and threats to its business model from sustainability trends. The Queensland-based company has successfully diversified its commodity and geographic exposure over the past five years and continues to reduce the proportion of revenue from thermal coal operations.

Through the sustainability strategy, National Group is also ensuring continued compliance with modern-slavery regulations. The company’s customers are prioritising modern-slavery risks and employee-engagement factors.

“Across National Group’s value chain, ESG is becoming a bigger factor,” says Ackroyd. “From the environmental performance of our fleet to our energy use, to how we treat our people and how we support communities … stakeholders are rightly expecting more from mining and other industries, and National Group is responding.”

Future focused

Ackroyd is passionate about the mining sector’s long-term role in the transition to renewable energies and decarbonisation. “National Group wants to contribute to improving the sustainability of Australia’s mining services. As a leading national provider of mining equipment and services, we have a role to play.”

Ackroyd is excited by the potential of new technologies in mining equipment to reduce carbon emissions across the company’s fleet this decade. “National Group is committed to protecting and maintaining our planet for future generations,” he says. “We have a responsibility to properly manage the environmental footprint of our business and drive emissions reduction and energy efficiency across our operations.”

He says National Group’s sustainability strategy will create opportunities over time. “It has already got us thinking more about how we can help companies in the green-metals space as demand for these minerals grows. National Group is exceptionally well placed to provide a full end-to-end solution for companies with green-metals projects.”

Ackroyd wants the company’s sustainability focus to create more jobs for mining communities, particularly in remote areas. “A key goal of our sustainability strategy is to contribute economically and socially to the communities in which we operate.”

But for all the potential, Ackroyd emphasises that National Group’s sustainability approach is a long-term journey. “This is not a short-term plan or a document that sits on a shelf. Our sustainability strategy will be progressively implemented from this year on. Sustainability will be a regular part of our day-to-day operations.”

Ackroyd also stresses that words about sustainability are not enough. “We have to measure and report on our sustainability performance and compare it against Australian and industry benchmarks and our peers. It’s not enough to say we want to be more sustainable. We have to demonstrate that through results, and we will.”

It’s fitting that National Group’s sustainability strategy was developed in its 25th anniversary year, says Ackroyd. “We said our anniversary was the start of a new chapter in National Group’s growth. Our headcount has more than doubled since 2019 and we have been awarded several major new contracts. The key is continuing to ensure that growth is sustainable for our stakeholders and the environment for years to come.

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  • This article is part of a series of sustainability features National Group has planned to 2023, to showcase its ESG initiatives.