No longer just a matter of decreasing costs through improved efficiency, pressure on manufacturers towards sustainable production methods have come from environmental legislation and the expectations of society. Lorenzo Spoerry reports.
Green is now more than ever a potent marketing strategy.
Manufacturers are under pressure to show that each component of their supply chain is environmentally friendly. A certified carbon neutral product, for some companies, is now one of a supplier’s most important selling points.
The pressures on businesses to do less with more will only increase in the short and medium term as rising landfill costs, fluctuating energy prices, the rising cost of certain raw materials – notably steel – force companies to think further ahead and make important future investments now. Significant technological and behavioural changes will be required to meet these resource constraints.
The good news is that completely unexpected cost-saving benefits are often found in adopting more environmentally-friendly business practices.
The Manufacturer believes that the following companies are leading the way in developing sustainable products – products which help meet the needs of this generation without jeopardising future generations’ ability to meet theirs.
The downward trend in the prices of most consumer products and the concurrent rise in repair costs has meant that many durable goods like furniture are now considered disposable. This leads to a vast amount of wasted resources.
With products such as the “606” universal shelving system, part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the high-end minimalist furniture manufacturer has carved out a niche by counteracting this trend towards disposability and establishing extreme durability and versatility as its unique selling point. At the core of the “606” shelving system is the E-track. Attached directly to the wall, shelves, cabinets and tables are hung from the E-track and the entire system is easily modified to suit demands of space and taste.
Founded in Germany in 1959, Vitsoe moved production to the UK in 1995, eventually settling in Camden. Since then, sales have increased by 20% year-on-year.
Its customers, the majority of whom are adding to or modifying their existing Vitsoe collection, understand that they are making a lifelong commitment. Over the past 50 years, their customers have proved willing to pay a little more for the knowledge that they will be able to rearrange, reuse, and rely on their Vitsoe products for decades to come.
Suffolk-based Adnams produces traditional British ales which are sold to pubs and retail outlets across in the UK.
With help from the Carbon Trust and the University of East Anglia CRed carbon reduction scheme, Adnams reduced the carbon footprint of a single bottle of their East Green beer brand by 25%. A new distribution system incorporating solar heating and rainwater recovery technology allowed the company to reduce their electricity bills by £49,000 per annum; and investment in new steam production equipment that allows 90% of the heat for one brew to be used for the next has cut gas bills by 31% despite rising consumption.
Through carbon offsetting to the value of 0.004p a bottle, the company was able to get its beer officially certified as carbon neutral up to the distribution centre.
Adnams takes a distinctly holistic view to profit, ensuring that its impact on the environment is minimal.
Investments in green technology haven’t always been cheap – the new distribution centre which features glulam beams made from sustainable wood sources and rainwater-recycling techniques cost 15% more than a standard building – but Adnams takes the view that revenue-neutral or slightly revenue-negative investment in green production is worthwhile and contributes to the long term sustainability of the organisation.
Poole-based Lush has constantly been at the forefront of environmental innovation. Each Lush Shampoo Bar (55g) lasts as long as three bottles (250g) of ‘regular’ liquid shampoo, says the manufacturer, and would therefore save three bottles from being manufactured, transported and disposed of.
Compared to bottled liquid products, which are full of water and are heavy, bulky, and inefficient, Lush solid shampoo products are concentrated, weigh less easy to transport and are sold unpackaged. That means that one lorry load of shampoo bars would be enough for 800,000 washes, but it would take 15 lorry loads of liquid shampoo to do the same job.
Helen Ambrosen, Lush product creator and co-founder said: “We’ve been making them for years and they’ve now become a really important category for our customers, as more people feel they want to do something to help the environment. By buying something as simple as a shampoo bar they are helping to do their bit”.
Lush currently employs around 1,500 people, including manufacturing, shop staff and head office support.
4 Sonae Industria (UK)
Sonae Industria (UK) supplies 98% recycled particleboard to kitchen and flooring manufacturers. Its plant in Knowsley, Merseyside processes the partiallycleaned scrap wood.
A £6.5m investment in new cleaning facilities allowed the company to go from using 50% virgin wood, 50% recycled material to sourcing 98% of its wood from local authority waste sites used by the construction industry. Sonae Industria (UK)’s annual carbon footprint of 32,600 tonnes is about half that of the UK panel industry’s average.
When the Knowsley site was first built in 1999, management recognised that virgin wood was going to be in limited supply, and decided to build the plant from scratch in an environmentally-friendly way. With the price of raw wood rising, many of the company’s competitors have been forced to gradually increase the levels of recycling they do in plants that were originally designed to process virgin wood fibre, giving Sonae a comparative advantage.
The food and drink processor and manufacturer diversified into liquid food contract packaging ten years ago, and watched its carbon footprint rise considerably. “Our aim is to be the most carbon efficient liquid food contract packaging business in the UK, and in 2007 we kicked off a programme to help us achieve that goal,” says James Lampe, sustainability and cost controller at Framptons.
Framptons began working closely with its suppliers, who responded enthusiastically. One supplier agreed to supply products in returnable containers. The company now recycles all wood, metals, plastics, food, paper, boards, phones and computer equipment. Investment in new steam production equipment and general energy efficiency savings means that the company generates 61g of CO2 for every litre of finished product — less than half the industry average. In 2009 the company was awarded the EEF Environmental Achievement Award. It employs 160 people in Shepton Mallet, Somerset.
6. Foster Refridgerator
The commercial refrigeration manufacturer’s Eco Pro product refrigerator range was developed through exhaustive field trials and independent testing by the University of Bristol’s Food Refrigeration and Process Engineering Centre.
Over a 10-year lifespan, Foster’s new refrigerators will save 4.6 tonnes more CO2 than equivalent models in the marketplace. “Refrigeration and air conditioning account for 10 per cent of worldwide carbon emissions, and we’re doing what we can to reduce that” says John Savage, food service director for Foster Refrigerator.
The Eco Pro range has qualified for the government’s Enhanced Capital Allowance which gives customers tax relief of up to 8.6% on any Eco Pro refrigerator or freezer product. Eco Pro refrigerators are also considerably cheaper to run than their competitors’ models, Foster claims.
The company has turned environmental innovation into a marketing tool, with considerable success.
Foster has seen sales to its core customer base increase by 20% and currently employs 245 people at its site in King’s Lynn in Norfolk.
7. Axion Polymers
Axion Polymers supplies some of the UK’s largest garment hanger manufacturers with its 100% postconsumer recycled product, Axpoly PS13, which now carries a label showing its carbon savings. This polystyrene is made from recycled coathangers, which is then re-used to make new ones in a closed-loop recycling process. Old hangers are collected from stores and either reused or broken up.
At its Salford site, Axion processes the shredded plastic into pellets which is then be used as 100% recycled polymer to make new coat hangers for some of the most wellknown brands in the UK retail sector.
Director Keith Freegard explains the business plan: “The UK retail market for consumer goods really appreciates the importance of ‘carbon impact’ as part of the marketing strategy for any new product. We have found that purchasers are often influenced by the relative ‘greenness’ of our product.”
Warwickshire-based Boss Design has been making carbon-neutral office furniture since 2007, and won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2009 and the Green Apple Awards – which reward environmental best practice – in three of the last four years. Recognised for its ergonomic quality as well as its design, the company’s Lily mesh-backed chair received silver awards for its aesthetics at The Office Show in Dubai this year.
All Boss Design’s products are designed to have minimal impact on the environment, with simple end-of-life-management with easy to remove components and the use of materials that can easily be recycled. During its life, the Lily chair’s components such as the upholstery and arms can be easily removed and replaced if required, reducing its carbon footprint by extending its lifespan. The product is 100% recyclable and already contains 63% recycled product when new.
9. Axon Automotive
Northamptonshire-based Axon Automotive has just launched its new plug-in hybrid. Fitted with a bioethanol engine and batteries, it emits 50g of CO2 per km and can reach 100mph. On road fuel consumption is expected to be 100 miles per gallon.
In a bid to reduce weight as much as possible, Axon cars have an ultra-lightweight carbon body using materials based on Formula 1 car bodies and buyers are likely to qualify for a £5,000 grant from the Government. This model should be available to buy as early as 2011.
The Wigan-based carpet manufacturer is marketing a new cushion backing which extends the life of carpets.
The backing contains 85% locally sourced, recycled content. Officially certified as carbon-neutral, the company’s stringent water monitoring policy and its use of dye injection instead of conventional yarn dying techniques has meant that total water consumption has been reduced by 60% since 1995. Total waste produced has also fallen sharply – by 70% – over the same period as UK landfill costs have risen.
In May, Milliken was awarded sixth place in the Sunday Times’ list of the 100 Best Green Companies.