Green to the core

Small health-product manufacturer Bio-Health is reaping the rewards of its comprehensive sustainability policy in ways it had not expected. June Crisp reports

My business partner and I have always had strong feelings about protecting the environment. That is one of the reasons we bought Bio-Health, a small herbal medicines and vitamin supplement manufacturer that uses only natural, additive-free ingredients, in 1996.

As a company, we have very strong links with the environment because of the type of business we run. The ingredients used in our products are sourced from nature, and it is in the interests of the company that we do everything we can to help preserve the future of plant life and the environment. However, we have also recognised the many other benefits of being a green company, such as cost savings, improved staff morale, and industry recognition, as well as satisfaction in the knowledge that we are doing all we can to help protect the planet.

Bio-Health's green project began in March 2004 when we realised that more than 80% of Kent companies employ less than 50 people. A member of staff suggested that if all SMEs contributed to environmental improvement in some small way, much could be achieved. We decided to embark on our own sustainable business programme. And, keeping small changes in mind, we systematically looked at each section of the company to see what changes we could make.

Everything was taken into consideration, from purchasing through to dispatch. We quickly realised that it wouldn't be difficult for the company to make a more concerted effort to cut back on energy and waste and that it may also save the company money in the long term.

We started with waste, recycling as much as possible. All waste paper is now collected, shredded and used as packaging material as an alternative to plastic chippings. All pallets, cardboard, ink cartridges, computers and parts are removed for recycling. And we have installed a composter to recycle all our production waste (herbal ingredients) and office kitchen waste. We use the compost on a wild flower garden that we planted next to our factory last year.

To cut down on fuel use and carbon emissions, we reviewed our sales approach and saved fuel by replacing the sales reps' store visits with a telesales operation.
Reps used to call on five to eight customers daily, covering many miles by car, whereas the telesales team calls more than 30 customers from one office. We have engaged three local herbalist trainers in the North, the South and the Midlands, who make visits to stores following arrangement by the telesales team.

This has eradicated pointless drop-in sales visits. In addition, we always try to source from local suppliers wherever possible to help reduce product mileage, and we encourage staff members to car-share.

We have also reduced company petrol consumption by offering staff free bicycles and helmets to cycle to work. We pay staff £1 for every day they cycle into work. This initiative has resulted in a further campaign to encourage the local council to introduce cycle paths in the local area because the roads on the Medway City Estate attract a lot of traffic. This campaign is ongoing and we have succeeded in gaining the support of other companies on the estate and the local press.

To save water, a small alteration to the flushing mechanism on toilets and urinals was made, reducing water usage from 1m3/day to 1m3/week.

We made as many cut
backs on waste and energy as possible. We then realised that making better use of the space in our factory and warehouse would help to improve energy efficiency and took steps to review the layout. We decided to invest in a mezzanine floor and initiated changes to the packing and dispatch areas to improve efficiency.

With these changes in place, we were able to extend production runs and increase storage space, resulting in savings in energy from more economical runs, less clean-down time and fewer cleaning materials.

To ensure our sustainability programme is implemented well, we have appointed two environment officers. These two officers were offered a small salary increase to take on the role in addition to their usual job. They are responsible for identifying methods of expanding the sustainability programme, encouraging other staff to come up with new ideas and ensuring that practices are adhered to.

We hold regular staff meetings to ensure that everyone in the company is involved and members of staff are rewarded with gift vouchers for any suggestions that we put into practice.

Not only does this help to keep everyone in the office on board with the programme, members of staff have told us they now "think green" at home too.

Since the initial launch of the programme and those first steps, we have been expanding the sustainability campaign with ever more creative ideas. Last year, we opened our wild flower garden. It was designed in consultation with Kent Wildlife and Business Bio-diversity to make use of an unused patch of land and to attract wildlife back into the area. Our offices and factory are on a busy industrial estate in Rochester with very little green space. It is now a great place for the staff to use in their breaks and we've already spotted numerous birds, insects and butterflies in the garden including the rare Adonis Blue butterfly.

To communicate the eco-friendly message to other businesses, we have established a green procurement questionnaire for companies wishing to do business with us.

We distribute leaflets on behalf of Bio-diversity Business and the Environment Agency with orders that are despatched, free of charge and we have also printed our own top tips for a better environment consumer leaflet, which is distributed via retailers. We are also working closely with local schools on projects that aim to educate children about the importance of protecting the environment and plant life.
Bio-Health is now operating a fully environmentally friendly company. No decision is made without consideration of resources - a green policy is a basis for everything we do.

As a result of the programme, Bio-Health has seen operating costs fall substantially. We now recycle over 80% of our waste material (our rubbish disposal has reduced from 2,200 litres per week to 250 litres every two weeks). We are saving £800 a year on rubbish collection and £1,300 on disposal of palettes. Plastic chippings for packaging used to cost £1,500 a year, we now use recycled, shredded paper.

We have saved about £2,500 annually on supplies such as water, electricity and telephone costs and more than £15,000 on fuel and car savings. The increase in storage space, although a large initial investment, has allowed for increased, more economical and energy-efficient production.

After three years, we are really seeing the difference and feeling the benefits of our green programme. Bio-Health has won awards for its commitment to the environment every year since the programme started. We have been presented with awards by both Kent Business and the South East England Development Agency. Applying for these awards on an annual basis has helped us to develop the programme from year to year and gain inspiration from other companies.

Our environmental campaign has also been covered widely in the press and on the radio. We hadn't been doing it for publicity but if we had paid for an advertising campaign, we could never have achieved those audience figures with our limited marketing budget.

The benefits of being green have been enormously rewarding for Bio-Health. Not only are we contributing to the protection of the environment, we are cutting our costs by doing so. We have found that our staff are happier in their work and show more loyalty to the company. There are fewer mistakes and absenteeism has fallen. On the whole, sustainability has made Bio-Health a happier place to work, and we can all feel proud of our efforts.

Through the sustainability programme, we are able to offer our customers something extra. When retailers stock our products, they know they are supporting an ethical company that takes the future of the environment into account in their manufacturing and operating processes.

If all small to medium-sized enterprises were encouraged to take the same steps that Bio-Health has, I believe the benefits for those companies and the environment would be enormous.

June Crisp is the sales and marketing director of Bio-Health

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