Paul Cooling, owner of two award-winning garden centres, talks about how and why Coolings has become one of the most environmentally outstanding businesses in the country
1. What was the motivation for Coolings’ Environmental Pledge?
It makes good sense for any business to review and reduce its environmental footprint for both local and global benefit. As a “green” business it is all the more important for Coolings to be perceived by employees, suppliers and customers as greener than green!
2. Can you describe one of Coolings’ environmental features?
We use a biomass boiler to heat our main building. It takes bulky timber and cardboard waste such as tree trunks, damaged pallets and packing crates that would otherwise end up in landfill. We have two tree surgeons as tenants on site who always have offcuts that cannot be split and used for domestic logs.
Although storing and processing the “fuel” for the boiler (along with stoking, de-ashing and maintenance) is time consuming, it is more than offset by the savings compared with having to pay for oil or gas. The cost savings in not having to pay for waste disposal are an added bonus.
We also use rainwater for irrigation and toilet flushing. The investment into reservoirs and pumps is paid back in less than four years as we do not need to buy so much water.
3. Coolings aims to recycle over 90% of its waste. How challenging is this?
We are fortunate in having the space to store separated waste, which then makes it economical for specialist recyclers to collect our waste at no charge. This covers rigid plastics, cardboard, polythene and all types of metal.
We also have a large compost heap that takes all our green waste for future use around the site. Glass bottles from the café and waste paper from the office are also recycled using the council recycling bins that are located on each of our sites.
4. How do you ensure that your suppliers meet your own sustainability expectations?
We are now starting to involve suppliers by letting them know what we are doing and encouraging them primarily to reduce packaging materials or alternatively to take back the packaging for re-use (reduce, re-use, recycle).
5. Which environmental measures do you think more SMEs should consider implementing?
Incorporating any new technology when rebuilding or refitting usually makes very good economic sense – much more so than retrofitting. Modern LED lighting, for instance, uses a tenth of the power of tungsten or halogen lighting. Heating systems are more efficient as are most new manufacturing systems.
6. How can other SMEs be convinced that environmental features are not just ‘nice-to-haves’ but actually make good business sense?
The economics speak for themselves – any business that has a vision longer than five years would be daft not to embrace such measures as most environmental investments pay back in less than this.
Even solar power (one of the least efficient in our climate) has a payback of eight years thanks to Government subsidies.
7. How are you making Coolings even more environmentally friendly?
By making ourselves aware of the latest developments and adapting what we do, especially when any building is renewed or refitted.
By making all of the Coolings team aware of the business benefits to our environmental measures. This gives them an understanding of why being green is so important. It also encourages them to think green for themselves and suggest other ways in which we can improve.
By educating all our visitors (customers and others) into the benefits of planting trees, shrubs and other plants.
Coolings Garden Centres are located in Knockholt, near Sevenoaks (Kent)