No min no fee

Environmental consultants Enviros - a recent brand consolidation has seen the 'March' and 'Aspinwall' suffix dropped - has packaged ISO 14001 accreditation together with waste minimisation and a guarantee: the savings pay the fees, or the shortfall refunded. Textile rental operation Johnsons Apparelmaster took them up. Matt MacAllan reports.

Page five, paragraph four of BS EN ISO 14001: 1996 ‘Environmental Management Systems – Specification with guidance for use’ defines the overall aim of the standard as: “To support environmental protection and prevention of pollution in balance with socio-economic needs.” And whilst most companies with a certified Environmental Management System find it cost-effective, if not even the harbinger of measurable financial cost-savings, it does take time, it does take effort, and it does take money. (In a recent survey of 500 companies in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, 60% quoted a payback period of less than one year.)

Johnsons Apparelmaster is the commercial laundry arm of the Johnson Service Group plc, owner of such regional operations as Pullars, Zernys, Bollom, Crockatts, Smiths, Kneels, Harris Clean, Hartonclean and Johnsons. In late 1998, Apparelmaster was approached by Manchester-based environmental consultants Enviros with a proposal for the implementation of ISO 14001 to run hand-in-hand with an extensive waste minimisation programme. In a nutshell, if Johnsons didn’t save the equivalent of the consultant’s fees – some £80,000 – then Enviros would refund the difference. Linda Smith, senior consultant with Enviros, explains: “We very much saw this as the way to go in convincing industry that ISO 14001 didn’t necessarily have to mean spending lots of money. It could, if managed properly, be designed to save money. It’s the bottom line, for ourselves as well as for industry.”

Project champions

Johnsons, if a little sceptical at the prospect of what was, in effect, consultant-led ISO 14001 accreditation across 15 sites (from Aberdeen to Brighton) for free, agreed. The project was put into effect in March of last year, with a target date of final quarter this year to attain the standard. Meanwhile, Johnsons went ahead with the acquisition of industrial workwear cleaning operation Sketchley, based in Hinkley, Leicestershire, and 15 became 21.

A volunteer from each site, or ‘project champion’, acted as the implementation focus. Throughout the initial period of the project the champions got together for a communal training session every four to six weeks in Bootle, Johnsons administrative centre, for a morning of ISO 14001 and an afternoon of waste minimisation. Each site was subject to one detailed environmental review to identify ‘goods’ and ‘bads’ and to make recommendations for improvement.

All Johnsons Apparelmaster sites operate a wet washing process: various detergents, chemicals, water and heat go in one end with a load of dirty washing, and clean garments come out the other end; plus some dry cleaning. Smith catalogues the key environmental aspects: “Raw materials usage, including fuels and chemicals and their storage; utilities consumption; liquid wastes going to effluent; solid wastes, including a lot of packaging-type wastes; special wastes in the form of dry-cleaning solvent sludges; air emissions from the boilers; and for those sites that do have a dry cleaning function, VOC emissions.

“We encouraged the sites, through objectives and targets, to focus on getting good baseline data first, so that there was a figure to compare improvements against, and also to make sensible decisions about, rather than jumping in and rushing off to make lots of little improvements.” Montage monitoring software was installed across each site, putting data variability in context and so allowing real efficiencies to emerge.

Enviros compiled a database of “little improvements” from each site, such that best practice at one became best practice across the Apparelmaster board. For example, ensuring water dip levels in washing machines are set correctly – too much wastes water, too little leads to poor washing performance and consequent rewash – led the Johnsons Hull site to identify net annual savings of £2,299 per year. (Reducing the water level from 508 to 457mm reduces the volume from 908 to 795 litres, or 113 litres per rinse. Three rinses per wash, 54 washes per week, 52 weeks per year on two machines equates to 1,900m3 saving per year. Add to that an equivalent reduction in effluent disposal at 40p per cubic metre…) Attempts to reuse coathangers – Bootle uses around £20,000 of coathangers per year – were hampered by Gold Standard requirements for a new coathanger each time. The database also served to monitor cost savings which emerged from the ideas. As Smith states: “Johnsons made it quite clear from the early stages that they were going to be calculating the cost.”

Calculating the cost

“We’ve had one person at every plant doing one day a week for the best part of two years, which mounts up.” Martin Gregson, instigator of the EMS implementation, is technical director for Johnsons with a remit that includes the company’s health, safety and environmental performance. He admits to underestimating the effort required – by something like a factor of five. “Enviros, however, were very good,” he adds. “They led, they bullied, they cajoled and they encouraged. And true to their word they achieved the savings and more. We believed that we were already very good; we honestly doubted that they would find the savings. And we haven’t finished.”

Johnsons Apparelmaster gains accreditation to ISO 14001 this month.

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