Meet the eco-entrepreneurs

‘A lot of environmental initiatives are seen as costing money – for example, going carbon neutral – but this one offers the double whammy of cost savings and doing something to help the environment.’

It’s a persuasive pitch from Adam Warren, MD of watercooler supplier Greencare H2O, and one of many entrepreneurs promising to save business costs as well as the planet.

According to Warren, Greencare’s watercoolers, which are fitted to the mains, could save companies 70 per cent of their water costs while offering a product barely different from the bottled stuff. ‘It’s not a second-best option,’ says Warren. ‘Filtered, chilled tapwater is indistinguisable in any kind of blind tasting from bottled water.

‘I don’t want to start ranting about the health benefits, but UK tapwater is as safe as you come across. It has to meet standards that are far higher than anything imposed on the bottled water industry.’

Trimming costs

While Warren focuses on water, other bright sparks have concentrated on the resource that tends to cost businesses most. According to research by IPSOS MORI, energy accounts for nearly ten per cent of small businesses’ costs, and rising prices are stretching budgets still further.

Stephen Bridges, MD of Airius Europe, has a product which he says can slash energy bills by between 15 and 50 per cent. It was invented by plastics manufacturer mid-western American Ray Avidon. He noticed that he was heating the top six feet of his warehouses to 40 degrees in order to maintain a comfortable temperature of 21 degrees in the bottom six feet. Facing energy bills of over $200,000, he decided to act, and the Airius system was the result.

‘At school you learn that heat rises,’ says Bridges. ‘All we do is push it down again. [The system] consumes virtually no energy and you get capital payback within two winters, or in some cases one winter.’

The system, which works by ‘pushing’ a very narrow, slow-moving column of air from ceiling to floor, costs between £1,500 and £14,000 to install depending on the size of the space. Though most effective for large, high spaces, there is a version of the product designed for offices.

‘At every sales presentation, we put one under the table without telling people,’ says Bridges. ‘Within ten minutes people are saying, “It feels so nice in here!”’

Switching off

One prerequisite for cutting energy consumption is keeping a close eye on it. Invisible Systems is a company that aims to help businesses do just that.

From around £1,000, the company installs a system which helps managers see at a glance how much energy is being used, and sends warning messages to their computers or mobile phones if this crosses a particular threshold.

MD Pete Thompson says that a typical retail outlet might expect the system to generate savings within six months. ‘What we’ve found is, previously shop managers were trained to switch appliances off when they weren’t needed and this resulted in a drop in energy costs of about 20 per cent,’ Thompson explains. ‘That might last for a month or so, but then the old habits return.If energy usage is continuously monitored, however, the business keeps saving money.’

The IPSOS MORI survey mentioned above suggests that over half of managers pay more attention to saving energy at home than they do at work.

Innovators like Warren, Bridges and Thompson are determined to change their minds.

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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