In the spotlight with Mark Howarth

19 March 2020

This month we put Mark Howarth in the spotlight to find out about his route into the health and safety industry, career highlights, and what's next for Lyreco.

How did you get into the health and safety industry?

I don’t think many people go through their early life and education dreaming of working in the health and safety industry and I was certainly no exception. My introduction to the world of PPE was via a large PPE distributor. I joined as part of their sales and management training scheme and have never looked back.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

This is an easy question to answer! Clearly, playing a critical role in ensuring that people are kept safe and healthy in their work is extremely important.

Genuinely, there is nothing more rewarding than assisting a customer in maintaining a safe working environment. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the health and safety industry in UK?

For me it has to be ensuring that our business practices take care of the environment and not just our people. That really is key.

As manufacturers, distributors and consumers of many disposable or limited life products made from a range of materials in a variety of packaging, we must work together to reduce our impact on our environment and reduce waste and carbon footprint.

In the coming years we must work together to make our industry more sustainable.

How do you think these challenges can be overcome?

From a Lyreco perspective we’ll ensure that our house is in order by continuing to develop our green approach across all of our product ranges. The drive will always be towards recycling, sustainability and low environmental impact. We’ll push our manufacturing partners to help deliver our goals. We know that we have to continue to lead in this area.

In terms of environmental impact we’ll look to set the bar, not just for our suppliers, but also for our competitors in the market. Improvement in any established industry generally starts with a disruptor doing things differently for the good of all…. Tesla is a great example of a new market entrant forcing the established brands to up their game. 

What sets Lyreco apart from its competitors?

For me its that we’re a company with real passion and determination to commit to environmental protection and social responsibility. It really is part of our DNA. From our onsite Beehives & Eco garden, our NDC solar panels and battery storage, our sustainable products and recycling services; we really leave no stone unturned. We’ve also supported 72,800 children in poor living conditions to get better access to education through our Lyreco for Education program. It’s an inspiring place to work.

What are you most memorable successes at Lyreco?

At the rate of growth we’re currently enjoying it can be difficult to pinpoint single successes – there are literally too many to mention! That said, our rate of growth in PPE really does show that we’re striking a chord in the marketplace. 

The development of our solar panels, gaining our zero to landfill status at all our sites in 2016, not to mention the work we do for so many local charities; they’re just a few of the things we do which identify us a partner of choice for a growing number of organisations.

What's next in the product pipeline for Lyreco?

A focus on sustainability and environment will see us launching NPI as it becomes available. We’ll also be developing an increased range of services around the product, with a focus on recycling and ownership of total product life cycle. You can be assured that we’ll be pushing our suppliers hard to ensure that customers get best value.

What's your vision for the future of Lyreco?

Many people still perceive us as a stationary company and yet we offer so much more across multiple product categories. I guess my vision sits around challenging that notion. I’d like us to be widely acknowledged as a first choice for any customer looking to partner with an ethically sound, environmentally active, globally positioned business supplies company.

We offer over 11,000 products from cleaning and catering to PPE, technology, furniture and print. This means we can help our customers consolidate their deliveries and cut their carbon emissions. For me it’s about really getting that message out there and helping customer understand how we can help them create a more sustainable business.

What do you think the medium-term future holds for the safety industry globally?

The industry will continue to grow – globally. However, as we start to develop stronger safety cultures in the emerging economies (BRICS), it follows that demand for our products will grow accordingly. Not only will we be working to develop a sustainable safety culture globally, we’ll also need to make sure that awareness and action around environmental issues keeps pace with this growth. We’ll really all need to pull together as a community to ensure that the emerging economies not only take health and safety seriously but also ensure that environmental impacts are managed as a result of consumption of PPE. 

What health and safety issues are you most passionate about? 

In my 20 or so years in the industry I’ve had the privilege to get to know some fantastic health and safety professionals in many and varied companies the length and breadth of the UK and beyond. The regularly recurring question from a distributors perspective is whether to challenge a customer’s decision-making process when you see an element of their policy which could be improved. When we interact with the buyers of our products, we have a distinct, ethical choice to make. Do we simply supply the customer with product to a pre-existing specification or, if we see an improvement to safety could be made, do we look instead to serve the customers best interests and make them aware of it? The latter choice is a path which is difficult to tread, but I believe passionately that we should always speak out if an improvement can be made.

How can we entice more young talent to work in the health and safety sector?

Another hobbyhorse of mine! With a media that’s obsessed with love island, bake off, masked singers and something called the X-factor, I do worry that the task of making our industry attractive to the younger generation is an uphill battle! At Lyreco we’ve faced this challenge – head on. We have a very active engagement scheme from secondary school onwards and I’m very proud and pleased to be actively involved in our very successful graduate scheme. Clearly our challenge is to show and tell the younger generation, that whilst the ability to bake a cake, hold a tune or dance a few steps are all very impressive, if it’s fulfilment, belonging and authenticity that you desire (and millennials will – they just don’t know it yet) from their chosen profession, the health and safety industry is second to none. Genuinely, a career in health and safety can be as noble and rewarding as that of a surgeon, firefighter or police officer.

Mark Howarth is industrial category manager at Lyreco UK & Ireland. For more information, visit