Case study Going green: Challenge or opportunity?

Professor John Anderson, Chair of the Institute of Directors Glasgow and West of Scotland branch, Head of SME Growth and Board Development at Strathclyde Business School, and Non-Executive Director of The Beal Group, discusses how businesses reducing their carbon footprint can see financial, as well as environmental, benefits.

In the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st Century, cost reductions in businesses were frequently pursued via disposable product culture. Single-use plastics were seen as the holy grail, whereas now we realise it was a curse rather than a solution.

The last ten years have focused on the ability to recycle single-use products, with recycling hailed as the answer to our problems. However, the reality is that the environmental and financial costs involved in collecting, sorting, cleaning and processing plastics is taking its toll on both the environment and consumers.

This current decade seems to be focusing on taxing the problem, seeing this as the way to make the bitter pill that little bit sweeter. However, as with most taxes it’s the consumer who ends up footing the bill – and nobody likes a price increase.

We need more innovative solutions to tackle this problem. I sit on the board of The Beal Group, a textile company supplying a range of products to a host of markets throughout the UK, which has developed new products and support services to enable significant reductions of single-use plastics in commercial applications.

The Beal Group has been working with some of its key customers – including JW Fillshill, Portakabin and General Electric – to manufacture products that can be re-used, have their lifespan extended by repairs and then, at the end of their product life, be regenerated as part of their new 2nd life™ programme, where products are used efficiently to become part of a new different product. These 2nd life™ products include bags, insulation, and agricultural protection covers.

These products hold great potential to reduce waste in the distribution sector, where supermarkets are looking to replace their reliance on single-use shrink film and move towards reusable nets. Or in the modular building sector, where buildings can now be transported with branded reusable weather production covers, rather than being laboriously wrapped in shrink wrap.

These innovations mean that – taking into account the product life costs, skip and landfill costs, and avoiding the single-use plastic tax – these reusable products are now significantly more cost efficient and environmentally friendly than the products that they replace. Shrink wrap is a product found in most industrial businesses, whether it be to wrap a pallet or a product. It has a carbon footprint in the UK of 900,000 tonnes per annum, and that’s before we consider how much goes to landfill!

This work shows that it is possible for companies to simultaneously cut costs whilst working towards achieving net zero goals. One customer alone has seen a six-figure reduction in expenditure on shrink wrap versus a reusable product, whilst another has saved over 840 tonnes of their carbon footprint.

Becoming more sustainable doesn’t have to come at the cost of profitability. The goal here is simple: to help reduce companies’ costs as well as their reliance on single-use plastics, all whilst helping them to promote their brand. Who wouldn’t consider that to be a good solution?

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