Catching Up With … Steve Fisher
The Novelis president and CEO discusses the importance and impact of aluminum recycling.
Novelis, the world’s largest recycler of aluminum and producer of flat-rolled aluminum sheets, is headquartered in Atlanta and has 33 facilities around the world employing more than 14,500 people. Fisher has been with Novelis since 2006 and served as president and CEO since 2015. These are edited highlights from an interview.
Tell us about Novelis.
Approximately 60% [of the inputs to create our products] come from recycled materials. One of the largest sources is used beverage cans. We recycle 82 billion U.S. beverage cans annually. But we also take process scrap from all of our customers. We’ve set up recycling systems with our auto customers.
Why is aluminum recycling important?
For every ton of primary aluminum produced, if we can make that ton with recycled, we can save 95% of the energy [and greenhouse gas emissions] used in making the primary versus the recycled. It is by far the best way to reduce carbon emissions and to continue to keep things from going into other non-circular supply chains or worse, as waste into the Earth.
We’re trying to educate people on the circular attributes of an aluminum beverage package. It can be infinitely recycled over and over and over into the same product again and again. The sad part is, just take the state of Georgia, $70 million of aluminum is going into landfills on an annual basis. And that is just one state.
What are the company’s primary industries?
The largest is beverage packaging, which makes up approximately 60% of our total in-market sales. Auto has been growing over the last decade tremendously, and it is now our second largest at just under 20% of our in-market sales.
Then we’re also in specialty products, which can range from building and construction materials to heavier gauge for truck and trailer use to foil products.
Our last market is aircraft plate, aluminum going onto the [original equipment manufacturers] that manufacture planes.
How is aluminum recycled for cans?
There is greater than 75% recycled content in the package already. We’re going to continue to grow that with our customers. We produce the aluminum sheet and send it to our can makers. They make a can, send it to the fillers who fill it. [Then it’s sold, consumed and] put it back into a recycle bin. We remelt it and start that process over again. That’s what we call circular.
How do you work with the auto industry?
We are the world’s largest supplier of aluminum sheet to the automotive industry. You can find Novelis aluminum sheet material on over 315 vehicle models. Currently, the majority of a vehicle would be made of virgin aluminum with the exception of when we set up closed-loop recycling systems with our customers. When our product goes out in big coils and onto their stamping lines, they stamp the product, whether it be a door, a hood or whatever piece it is, roughly 40% to 60% of that coil goes to scrap on the floor. We kick it back into our manufacturing and melting processes. For Ford, that closed-loop recycling system [helps] produce 30,000 F-150 trucks per month. Our goal is to increase the percentage of recycled material.
How are you reducing your carbon footprint?
It’s not easy, but for us, it’s about increasing our recycling capacity, increasing the renewables that we have at our facilities and investing in promoting a more circular economy. We feel very good about the ability to reach the goal of reduction in the face of us having to grow, too. It’s going to be a journey to get to zero by 2050 or before. But there really has been a tremendous shift in our customers’ requirements and where they want to go, what we want to do. The entire supply chain and about every market we’re in is extremely focused on finding ways to reduce the carbon footprint of aluminum.