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THE BUSINESS OF GOING GREEN: AN INTERVIEW WITH GREEN BUSINESS PROGRAMME MANAGER JAMES HOGAN

In Paris last November the leaders of all the world’s nations came together to set long term goals to tackle climate change. After almost two weeks of talks and negotiations an agreement was reached. It was the first climate deal to commit all countries to cut emissions. Compromises had to be made, and the end agreement wasn’t perfect, but the fact that everyone had committed was held as a great success.

The implication is that when entire nations commit to environmentally friendly policies they are doing so at a financial loss. To a certain degree, this is true. This is the reason why $100 billion a year in climate finance was committed to supporting developing countries. However, this is all at a macro level. We are talking about nations where change is slow and inefficiency rampant. At the micro level the picture is much different. For a business, big or small, introducing green policies does not mean that they will be taking on financial loss. Though the belief that going green is terribly expense was held by many until very recently; in 2016 it has officially been put to rest. Going green is not only good for the environment, it is financially profitable.

In Ireland we are seeing first-hand just how profitable it can be when the cost of waste is eliminated. The energy saving sector is now more than a cottage industry, as can be seen with the success of Cork-based firm Nualight, and more recently the UCD spin-out Oxymem. The future belongs to those who can curb waste and reduce energy costs. In a country with a very small reserve of fossil fuels but with plenty of potential to harness renewable energy, green thinking has turned from being solely an environmental matter to being one of profitability. The issue is no longer the resistance to going green but the knowledge as to where to begin. This is where Green Business comes into play.

Green Business is a service funded by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Its objective is to deliver substantive resource efficiency improvements and cost savings to businesses around the country, through waste prevention and reductions in water and energy consumption. The service is free, and it has helped businesses save hundreds of thousands.

The charm of Green Business is that they don’t demand large investments to be made. Most of the opportunities they identify cost very little, if anything at all, and they are often surprisingly simple and creative. In their booklet ‘Greening your Business… How Much Can you Save?’ they give some case studies that exemplify how a little extra thought put into business practices can not only be environmentally friendly but also save significant sums of money. For example, they explain how Kerry Foods began a practice of saving loaf end slices to use as raw material for bread crumbs.

This reduced waste costs by €7,500/annum and generated an income of €8,000 from sale of the product. Another example is Sodexo, a large IT company in Cork. By simply switching from using disposable paper cups in the canteen to issuing thermal mugs free of charge to all 2,000 members of staff they were able to save €120,000/ annum. Such efficiency measure seem almost like old wives wisdom (Eat your bread! Don’t throw out a good cup!) and in a way, that’s precisely what it is.

James Hogan is the Programme Manager for Green Business. He has 20 years experience in the field of environmental science, having worked as waste minimisation officer with the pharmaceutical industry and more recently as environmental consultant with the Cleaner Technology Centre, CIT where he has worked on a wide variety national resource efficiency programmes and on a number of international cleaner production and carbon management projects under the EU LIFE,Tempus and Asia Pro Programmes. With Green Business James now sets his sights on improving the efficiency of Irish businesses by helping them reduce consumption of resources such as energy, water and raw materials. We talked to him about the service and how it works.

What is Green Business?

Green Business is a free and confidential resource efficiency service for all types of SMEs in Ireland. We’re funded by the Environmental Protection Agency under the National Waste Prevention Programme with the objective of delivering substantive resource efficiency improvements and cost savings, through waste prevention and reductions in water and energy consumption. Businesses can request a free site visit carried out by our experienced Green Business advisers. These consultants then provide a report, which identifies opportunities to reduce waste, water and energy consumption.

Many saving opportunities the advisers identify are either ‘no-cost’ and ‘low-cost’, with short payback periods, which are attractive to business. And companies can be reassured that all information is treated as confidential and is not passed to any outside party. The Clean Technology Centre, at CIT, manages Green Business. The CTC team has 120 years experience working with business, industry, and the public sector in the area of improved environmental performance and resource efficiency.

What are the most prevalent forms of waste that you discover while carrying out your assessments?

As energy is the biggest utility spend for most businesses, the greatest opportunities are identified in this area. On average a Green Business assessment identifies €40,000 worth of savings for the companies we visit; 70% of which are associated with energy. Typical wastage of energy is attributable to inefficient equipment used for lighting, refrigeration, heating air compressors, etc., as well as equipment being left on needlessly;extractor fans, heating, cooling, lighting. Most companies also don’t make good use of waste heat.

Other wasteful practices which occur in every business include leaving equipment on at night and weekends, wasting water with the continuous flushing of urinals, the use and disposal of paper cups.

What are the biggest obstacles you come against when trying to get businesses to adopt green thinking?

Many businesses lack the time and resource to be able to focus on resource efficiency, even if it will make significant savings. There is a lack of monitoring and measuring of energy, waste and water, and a lack of benchmarking of resources used.

I also find that companies often don’t fully understand their energy bills – many don’t realise that they are needlessly paying too much for their energy and don’t know how to read their bills. There is also a lack of transparency in the breakdown of the costs in bills. We can help them understand this.

The wide range of technologies and methodologies for improving resource efficiency can be confusing and overwhelming for businesses.People tend to fall back on what they know rather than trusting in a new machine, product or method. It is our job to help them see the benefits of making the switch. And of course finance is seen is a significant barrier. Getting the upfront capital for energy efficiency investment is not an easy thing, even when the long term savings are attractive.

Is the adoption of Green Business ideals dominantly for financial reasons or do you think businesses are becoming more environmentally aware?

The key driver is still cost savings and improving the bottom line. However, the growing demand for products that are produced sustainably is driving the green agenda, which companies must adhere to or loose market share. The Origin Green Programme has been hugely successful in encouraging food manufacturers in Ireland to adopt the Green Agenda which has boosted Ireland’s Green reputation on the international stage.

Can you give an example of how waste can be turned into profit?

Hotels, restaurants , hospitals and other food providers waste an incredible amount of valuable food every day. It’s estimated that every tonne of food waste discarded costs the business, or the public sector in the case of hospitals, €5,000. This cost is associated with the purchase of food, cost of labour and energy to prepare food, as well as waste management costs. The average Irish hotel disposes of 50 tonnes of food per annum.0% of this food waste, or 30 tonnes per hotel per annum, is avoidable.

Based on a value of €5,000/tonne the average Irish hotel has potential to reduce its costs by €150,000/ annum. This is equivalent to these hotels bringing in an additional €1.5million income with a profit margin of 10%. It might just be easier to reduce food waste by 60%!!

What other services does Green Business offer?

After the free on-site Resource Efficiency Assessments carried out by our experts we will follow up with on an on-going bases to assist with the new resource efficiency programme. We are basically a 24/7 advice service on how to green your business. We also hold regional seminars and conferences to introduce the concept of waste prevention and discuss resource efficiency issues with businesses. Any business with a utility spend in excess of €25,000 can apply for an REA.

(This includes costs of energy, waste management and water). To apply fill in an REA application form available online at: www.greenbusiness.ie/contact-us/ or email contactus@greenbusiness.ie with your request. Support and advice for any size business can be found online at: greenbusiness.ie/resources.

 

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