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20 March 2015

Green SME Interview: Alex Hurst, Phoenix Taxis

Alex Hurst PhoenixAlex Hurst is the CEO of Phoenix Taxis based in Blyth Northumberland which currently has the biggest operational fleet of electric cars in the UK. In this revealing interview he tells the story of the business and some important insights into running a green business in the real world. It includes the first case I've come across of a sustainable decision being made in response to supplier pressure, rather than customer pressure.

What’s the history of Phoenix Taxis?

Phoenix taxis was started in 1990 by my Dad. Since then we’ve operated within the licensing restrictions of what was Blyth Valley in South East Northumberland. From 1990 to 2009, the company steadily grew to 80 cars. Since then, when the restrictions were relaxed, we were able to expand to the rest of Northumberland and since 2010, when I joined the business, we’ve managed to more than double in size to over 200 vehicles.

And when did the shift to low carbon vehicles happen?

The first step was the Nissan LEAF being the first widespread consumer EV available on the market. We kept an eye on it as, before me, my Dad has always used alternative fuels – LPG instead of petrol or diesel because of the cost savings. When the LEAF came onto the market, the subsidies from the Government made it a cost effective option as a taxi. We then had to get it licensed as a taxi.

We had a lot of trouble as it is quite small – many Councils including Northumberland refused, but we got on to Nissan who persuaded them to grant a license – I’m exactly not sure how! We got funding for six charging posts to accelerate the process, but they didn’t work. That held us up for 6-12 months because we couldn’t get more cars – we were limited to the two LEAFs we had bought in 2012 until the infrastructure was sorted.

However it was about this time, with just a couple of EVs and a couple of hybrids, that we realised that there was a customer demand for sustainable transport particularly amongst large corporate clients. We now have 41 hybrids and 32 EVs – that’s the biggest operational fleet of EVs on the road – I don’t know how long that will last when people cotton on to it!

So, the business case evolved from cost saving to customer demand?

Yes, definitely.

And you’ve now got a Lexus Hybrid and a Telsa Model S – did that come from customer demand? Read the rest of this entry »

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19 November 2014

Interview with Paul Taylor, Sustainability Manager, Camira Fabrics

paul taylorHere's an extract of an interview I did with Paul Taylor, Sustainability Manager of Camira Fabrics over the summer. Camira Fabrics is the biggest producer of commercial fabrics in the UK, producing 9 million metres of fabric per year, employing 600 people and turning over £70 million. Paul has since left the company, but there are some great nuggets of wisdom in here which we can all learn from.

How did you first get involved in sustainability?

You could say it started when I was five years old. I lived in Central London, surrounded by concrete, and I just felt claustrophobic. For one week a year we went to West Sussex to stay with a relative because the family couldn’t afford a holiday. But on the South Coast, when you are exposed for one week a year in the summer to coast line, marshes, sunsets, sky – it’s extraordinary the impact it has on you. Eventually I went off and studied environmental management and geomorphology – that was my passion to understand the world and to find a route where I could have a positive impact on it.

I started my professional life as a community development officer in Central London, because sustainability options weren’t open to me at that time. But those years taught me about how to have an impact on people and I decided that I had to find a career in sustainability. So it was apply for a job anywhere – pin on a map – and the first opportunity was at Middlesbrough Environment City. I had the opportunity to work on a project which was all about Agenda 21 and the world opened up. The path since has taken me through some dark days in the public sector, but nevertheless, it was a great, great experience. It was about realising you can’t just change the world from the bottom up, you have to have the policy from the top down as well – for a positive contribution you need to do both. And the path led me here, to Camira.

What’s the history of sustainability at Camira?

Camira has only been around since 1974. We started out as Camborne Fabrics, a textile supplier, and we began manufacturing here in Mirfield in 1987, and grew very quickly despite the perception that textiles production in the UK was declining. The big change happened when Camborne was bought by Interface in the late 1990s and became part of a company whose whole drive was around sustainability – and using sustainability to grow the business, not just as a bolt on. Camira was born in 2006 when there was a management buy-out from Interface. So we were born with a culture of sustainability, wholly owned by directors and investors who had seen what sustainability could do for a business. The turnover was £26m in 2006, now it’s £70m. And that’s been purely from a drive for sustainability- in terms of people understanding it, getting the processes right and the whole idea of leaving behind a better world than the one you found.

How do you induct new employees into the culture?

Well we have a new laboratory manager starting this week and on day 3 I have her for half a day informal discussion on sustainability. Every single new person who walks through the door gets that half day – and we learn from it too – what their previous experience of sustainability has been. Read the rest of this entry »

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19 March 2014

Interview with Andy Griffiths, Sustainability Manager, Nestlé UK

Here's the latest in a series of interviews I have carried out with key industrial sustainability practitioners. Andy Griffiths is Sustainability Manager at Nestlé UK's Newcastle site which is the test bed for sustainability across the business. You can see the rest of the interviews here.


Hi Andy, how did you personally get started in sustainability?

I’m an engineer by trade so I’ve always been interested in engineering and technology but also I’ve a strong interest in self build and off-grid properties and how it would affect us in terms of lifestyle and where we would sit in our local community. When I came into this role two years ago, it was my first formal environmental management job.

My role covers safety, health, environment and security. From an environmental perspective, because we identified our Newcastle site as a 'lighthouse' site for sustainability, we have been looking at how we could structure an appropriate model to deliver that. So a lot of my time and focus, particularly in the first 18 months, has been establishing that model and the core activities within it.


What does the lighthouse status mean?

The lighthouse concept was developed a few years ago to pick one site which we could use as a sustainability model. This could be blueprinted and shared across our other sites.

We’ve got six pillars within the model: energy, water, waste, biodiversity, value chain and, most importantly, people and community. We identified early on that different things float different boats for different people. So instead of having an overall environmental message for everyone to buy into, we have those individual pillars with an aspirational ambition against each one. This allows individuals to tailor their preferences, so if someone is particularly interested in biodiversity, for example, they can really get hold of that. Someone else may be much more interested in energy so they can work on that instead.


Why was Newcastle picked as a lighthouse site?

There were two very important reasons:

First the variety of processes. This is a very complex site and covers a wide range of confectionary so anything we do here is as transferable as possible to other sites.

Secondly, the age of the site. Some organisations have developed really good principles and protocols for green field sites but it is much more challenging on pre-existing sites. This site has been here 56 years so if you can do it here, there’s no reason why you can’t do it anywhere else.


Read the rest of this entry »

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13 November 2013

Interview with Tom Smith, Sedex

tom smith sedexThis is the last in my series of interviews with leading sustainability practitioners which I carried out to gain examples and pithy insights from the front line for my latest publication, Building A Sustainable Supply Chain.

Sedex is a not-for profit ethical supply chain management service with about 29,000 members in 156 countries. As Director of Insight and Planning at Sedex, Tom Smith lives, eats and breathes supply chain sustainability and he is uniquely placed to give vital insights into this most important issue.

Where did the idea for Sedex come from?

We were founded by a group of UK retailers back in 2004. They had gone off in the mid-90s to set up their individual ethical trading programmes – each with their own audits, questionnaires, certifications, processes etc. By 2000 they had come across two big challenges:

1. There was a huge amount of duplication in questionnaires between different companies and suppliers were spending more time responding to questionnaires than actually fixing the problems. There was also huge duplication in ethical audits and the expense incurred;

2. The sheer volume of data. As ethical trade became more complex and covered more issues right down the supply chain, the volume of data that could be managed by Excel and people’s inboxes became limiting.

So the retailers said, we may all interpret and prioritise data in a different way, but the data we are looking for is the same. So this group, companies like Marks & Spencer, Tesco and the John Lewis Partnership, decided to create an on-line platform where any supplier of goods and services can complete a common set of questions, upload anything they’ve got onto one place – all their questionnaires, audit reports and certifications etc and share that out with multiple customers.

Are suppliers obliged to use the service?

It was created to be a bottom up supplier driven service, not just first tier suppliers, but factories, farms, mines etc - the whole works - and to capture information at a site level, not the top line corporate reporting level.

So in 2004 it was launched as a not-for-profit member organisation to help drive practical ethical trading, not talking about the why, but about the how and helping the CSR managers view the data and make decisions, rather than spending 95% of their time collecting it. Read the rest of this entry »

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6 November 2013

Interview with Tracey Rawling Church, Head of CSR, KyoceraDUK

trcThe Kyoto Ceramic Company Limited was founded in 1959 by Kazuo Inamori and renamed Kyocera in 1982. It has grown into a multinational electronics and ceramics manufacturer with over 71,500 employees worldwide. Here I interview Tracey Rawling Church, Head of CSR at Kyocera Document Services UK and a well respected figure in the wider CSR/corporate sustainability field.

How did you personally get involved in the sustainability agenda?

I was a PR consultant by profession and I found myself being asked to represent clients who did things like selling cigarettes in vending machines. I wasn’t happy about that so I decided to find myself a job where I felt good about what I was doing.

I went to some interviews with charities and NGOs and realised that, coming from a commercial background their culture wasn’t quite crisp enough for me. I realised I needed to be in a business, so I needed to find an ethical business. About the time I was looking, Kyocera was launching its range of Ecosys cartridge free printers and I’d never seen green B2B marketing before. I’d seen green marketing from brands like Ecover and Bodyshop, but green B2B was new.

My experience was B2B so I got myself a job as their PR manager. I worked my way around the whole marketing team in the ensuing seventeen years doing some product management and marketing communications. During all this period, the time I was spending on sustainability strategy was growing in proportion to the amount of time I was spending on marketing until it got to the point where the marketing bit was vanishingly small. So we acknowledged that and changed my job title.

What I decided to do on the back of the launch of these cartridge-free printers was to start embedding sustainability into our marketing. To start with it had its own channel because no-one was going to buy a printer or a copier just because it was sustainable back in 1993. We set up a network we called The Green Card network for sustainability professionals where we talked about green office practice. That was a separate network for 10 years from 2000 to 2010 and then we felt the adoption of sustainability by business had reached a point where we could embed it into our overall communications. So the Green Card network became the Green Light area of our website.  Read the rest of this entry »

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31 October 2013

Interview with Sean Axon, Global Sustainability Director, Johnson Matthey plc

sean axonPrecious metals giant Johnson Matthey plc is one of those huge companies you may never have heard of, but if you have a conventional car then there's a one in three chance you own one of their catalytic convertors. The company is listed on the FTSE100, has 11,000 employees spread across 30 countries, and is one of Terra Infirma's clients. Here I interview Global Sustainability Director Sean Axon about his views on corporate sustainability in general, and supply chain management and employee engagement in particular.

How did you personally get involved in the sustainability agenda?

It goes back a long way. As a kid I was very interested in chemistry and what science could do, but equally realised the potential downside to ecology from industry.  I got a book with my Thomas Salter Chemistry set about industrial ecology and the effect of chemicals on the environment which was very influential. Later, at a key point in my career I got interested in green technologies – solutions that would provide answers to some problems such as greenhouse gases etc. So I started pursuing that as an area specific research interest in the company.

Once Johnson Matthey started developing some early thinking on sustainability, I got my foot in the door and said I’d be interested in contributing to the discussion. After about a year of that thinking evolving, there was a recognition that it needed some full time dedicated resource so I was invited by one of our Executive Committee members to take on the role and lead on sustainability. In our organisation, the fit of a technologist moving into the sustainability lead role was crucial. I’m not sure that somebody from a non-technical background would be the right fit for Johnson Matthey.

What is the business case for sustainability from your Johnson Matthey's point of view?

Lots. There is a financial benefit, clearly.

There is also a real sense around the legacy of our company, its founders and their attitude to ethical and moral behaviour. Our history is in assaying metals. The act of taking somebody’s precious metals and determining the composition for them is predicated on trust. So trust in assay and metal management is in-built in Johnson Matthey and our customers value that.

The other part was the recognition that the world was changing – governance practices, legislation and stakeholders taking more and more of an acute interest in this. And we’re seeing that ever more strongly, for example in the investor community and amongst our customers. Many of our products have arisen because of environmental legislation – they have been developed to help our customers meet tighter standards.

Security of supply is a part of the business case. Anticipating and planning for changes in the supply of materials has an impact on the products we make and their formulation. That also drives innovation in R&D in how we formulate or reformulate products.

Sustainability is not an add-on or an adjunct to our business – we really believe that it is at the core of our business. Our sustainability targets are the metrics by which we will judge the success of the business. Read the rest of this entry »

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23 October 2013

Interview with Ramon Arratia, Interface

RamonRamon Arratia is a Sustainability Director at carpet and floor covering giant InterfaceFLOR, reknowned as true sustainability front-runners. Ramon is a regular speaker on sustainability issues and author of the book Full Product Transparency. In this exclusive no-holds-barred interview, Arratia lays down the law on industrial sustainability in no uncertain terms.

How did you personally get involved in the sustainability agenda?

I wasn’t passionate about sustainability at first. I was a quality manager at Ericsson, when I was offered a job as sustainability manager and I took it. I soon realised that we had to deal with the biggest impacts first, rather than just say ‘oh, we have to do something’ and putting efforts into pet issues or issues that are not strategic. I’m not a hippie or a tree hugger who wants to ‘oh, save the world’, I’m more of a cynical person who wants to focus on the things that will make the biggest difference.

I moved from Ericsson to Vodafone in the UK and from there to InterfaceFLOR five years ago.

What are the main challenges you face?

We’ve come a long way in terms of managing our factories, but our factories only represent 10% of the whole impact of carpet. Most of the impact of carpet is in the raw material. So our main challenge is finding alternative raw materials or recycled raw materials that are cheaper than our current raw materials.  That’s a huge challenge.

We have achieved this in a couple of instances, but in others we still have to pay a premium price. Our recycled fishing net yarn is such a premium product – we accept it because we think reputation or margin-wise we recover that cost.

It depends on the customer – the average carpet fitter isn’t going to pay a premium, but if you sell it to, say, PwC in London where their biggest cost by far is employees, they’re willing to pay a premium for having nice offices with a nice story behind its fittings to keep those employees happy.

Read the rest of this entry »

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14 October 2013

Interview with Stephen Weldon, CSR Manager of Greggs plc

sweldonI recently carried out a number of interviews with top CSR/Sustainability Managers for a couple of book projects I am working on. As I am only lifting short quotes for the books from each one, I thought I would share longer versions here over the next few weeks.

First up is Stephen Weldon, CSR Manager of British high street bakery  Greggs plc, a FTSE100 company.

So Stephen, how did you personally get involved in the sustainability agenda?

Purely by accident! I joined a public transport company called The Go Ahead Group as a graduate trainee. One of the hot topics at the time was air pollution in urban areas and we were an urban transport company. So we starting researching technologies to reduce urban pollution air emissions and presented that at the Labour Party conference.

On the back of this, the Deputy Chief Executive decided it was about time we had our own standalone report, so we ended up doing an environmental report for the Go Ahead Group. I was at Go Ahead for another 13 years and did all of their CSR reporting.

What is the business case for sustainability from your company’s point of view?

It’s done because it is the right thing to do. It stems back to Ian Gregg’s view that a successful business has a responsibility to put something back into local communities that helped it grow. That’s the angle that Greggs originally came at SR from – giving something back to local communities, initially via charitable grants which is how the Greggs Foundation came into existence.- It has become a deeply engrained part of the culture of the company.

On the back of that, as SR has moved on in the wider industry, the environmental element has come in. Greggs is a big user of energy as we have over 1600 shops, each of which is in effect a mini production facility that burns electricity in the form of cooking, heating, cooling, lighting, tills, computers etc. We also have central production facilities and we operate our own distribution fleet, all of which require energy. The rising price of energy and fuel brings cost control into the SR mix, as well as the responsibility to local communities. Read the rest of this entry »

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