Heating Trade Supplies Group:
Marek Bidwell talks to Mark Matteo, CEO of Heating Trade Supplies Group and National Boilers Parts about their contribution to the Circular Economy in the North East of England.
Awareness is increasing that something is wrong with our traditional ‘take-make-break’ economy. The BBC’s recent ‘Blue Planet 2’ series highlighted the devastating ecological impacts of consumer waste in the oceans and consumers are growing increasingly sceptical of companies that sell products that have built-in obsolescence, costing more and adding to the waste crisis.
UK government agency, DEFRA, calculated that business could save around £23bn per year by using resources more efficiently and producing less waste. Theresa May’s government is committed to making sure this happens by promoting “reuse, remanufacturing and recycling” in their ‘25 Year Environment Plan’ published in February 2018.
When organisations embark on a journey to reduce waste they often set ‘zero-waste-to-landfill’ targets and focus on sub-optimal outcomes such as incinerating waste for energy. However, the real wins for the environment and business, are achieved when items are reused or remanufactured, thus eliminating waste altogether, often called ‘The Circular Economy’.
Heating Trade Supplies is one company who is turning this concept into reality. They started trading five years ago with the aim of saving money for heating engineers and maintenance companies on boiler parts and at the same time extending the life of boiler components – a first in the North of England. The factory receives faulty boilers parts, such as Printed Circuit Boards and heat exchangers, repairs and tests them in their dedicated workshops, before dispatching them with a 12 months replacement warranty.
I visited their workshop, near the north entrance to the Tyne Tunnel, and waste met by CEO, Mark Matteo. It is a busy scene on arrival due to high demand for parts and repairs following extremely cold weather and snow in Britain the previous week. He tells me that it was all hands on deck over the weekend clearing the backlog.
I start by asking Mark what inspired him to set up the company. “I served my time as a Heating Engineer in Turkey, but then when I started working in England repairing boilers I was forced to buy entire replacement parts at a high price when I might only need one small component, and have to dispose of the rest of it, so I felt really bad having to pay several hundred pounds when I only need one component worth a few pounds. Many of the parts, especially the electronic parts, are fixable. They consist of three or four hundred components, but when there is a fault it is likely that one of only ten moving components has failed.”
Touring the workshop, I observe engineers swapping out components and testing the repaired items. Other staff are reconditioning heat exchangers for a second life. They clearly take pride in their work and show me the spotless results. Mark tells me that having a dedicated facility is essential: “Without a workshop, you are very limited because the only way to test a PCB is to fit it on the appliance. We have developed test rigs that mimic the each of the hundreds of types of boilers, allowing us to find out which components are faulty.”
Following the development of quality management system (ISO 9001:2015) the company developed a standard system whereby when they receive a faulty PCB, they not only swap out the damaged components but replace all the moving components on a PCB that commonly cause a fault. “The repaired board is practically as good as a new, if not better because our replacement components are higher rated than the originals,” says Mark. “Customers also have legitimate questions about the safety of refurbished components for gas boilers. All our work is carried out under the quality standard ISO 9001, replacement components are traceable to their country of origin and we obtain Certificates of Conformity from suppliers. We also employ a number of qualified Gas Safe registered engineers at the factory.”
Mark is clearly enthusiastic about the benefits of the service he provides, not only for the environment and the customer but also the local economy. He says, “every single item we refurbish would have been imported from other countries, so we believe that we are keeping the money in the country”.
Increasingly HTS are attracting larger corporate customers because the service offers a ‘win-win’ for them in terms of reducing the cost of replacement parts and helping them to meet their sustainability objectives. Some of these companies offer a guarantee to domestic customers that they will either get their old boiler working or provide them with a replacement. However, some domestic boilers are over 20 years old and spare parts are no longer available. “It happens very often that heating engineers have to replace the entire heating system in a house just because they can’t source a small part, but there is nothing wrong with the larger system,” says Mark. Walking around the warehouse I observe a library of stacked and labelled refurbished components, many of which come from obsolete models. He adds: “If necessary we can also manufacture such obsolete parts in a dedicated facility”.
Michelle Oliver, who is responsible for environmental management at HTS, shows me how they segregate various types of waste arising in the factory, including electrical waste that is beyond repair, which is collected by a licensed electrical waste reprocessor. Packaging material removed from incoming goods is shredded and used for packing parts to customers. Michelle says that the company is gearing up for assessment against the international environmental standard (ISO 14001:2015) in June.
I am keen to understand what the challenges are in this line of business, with a view to learning lessons for the wider circular economy. “The biggest challenge the sector has is that it is seasonal,” says Mark. “When we are busy we are extremely busy, and boilers all decide to break down at the same time, so everybody needs parts. The other challenge we have is that, although it is great that we do a unique job, the downside is that there are a very limited number of qualified people who we can employ, so we have to look far and wide for skilled engineers, but we have now started training some local young people in these skills. So, expanding the business not as easy as expanding a usual mainstream business.”
Towards the end of our discussion, I ask Mark how he sees the wider political, economic and environmental challenges facing the country may affect the business. “I moved to the UK in 1998 to work as a Heating Engineer, and although prices of food and goods have risen substantially during this period the wages of a typical engineer have remained the same – we are all poorer. Fifteen or twenty years ago when we went to repair a boiler the customer didn’t care too much how much a part cost, but times are getting harder following the recession, oil prices are fluctuating, and people are wondering what Brexit will bring. For example, the day after the Brexit vote, bills for our materials went up 20% against the Euro and Dollar, so we can feel it. People are being a lot more careful to purchase energy efficient boilers, insulate their houses to insure against rises in energy prices, and it is the same with companies. They can’t ignore refurbish and remanufacturing options anymore. I think that our type of industry will become more and more important in the future.”
Following our meeting, I reflect on the success that HTS has had in stimulating the circular economy in the heating sector by employing eco-design principles such as modularity, durability, and efficiency, and hope that the lessons learned here will encourage innovation in other sectors.
Marek Bidwell is Director of Bidwell Management Systems, an IEMA Fellow and a visiting lecturer in Environmental Management at Newcastle University. Marek has led the design, development and implementation of environmental management systems in many organisations across the UK. He is the founder of Green Thinkers book club and author of a series of articles on environmental management systems and ISO 14001:2015.
Marek Bidwell interviews Helena Tinker from Manchester Metropolitan University about her experience making the transition to ISO 14001:2015.
Helena Tinker is the Environment and Energy Systems Manager at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is responsible for the University’s Environmental Management System, Policy and Strategy implementation.
Manchester Metropolitan is one of the largest campus-based universities in the UK, with a total student population of approximately 38,000 and approximately 4,000 staff. The University has pursued an environmental sustainability agenda for a number of years and was ranked as one of the top three greenest UK universities by The People and Planet Green League in 2015 and the greenest university in 2013.
Manchester Metropolitan has implemented an environmental management system using the EcoCampus framework. They achieved bronze in 2012, silver in 2014 and gold in 2015. In early 2016, they were assessed against the final stage of EcoCampus (that includes the check and review stages of the standard) achieving EcoCampus Platinum and ISO 14001:2015 simultaneously.
In May this year, Helena presented a summary of the university’s journey towards ISO 14001:2015 at the annual conference of The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges.
Give me a flavour of how you prepared for the 14001 transition?
When we were working towards gold EcoCampus in 2015, I reviewed early drafts of the ISO 14001:2015 standard to ensure the systems we developed incorporated the new requirements, such as leadership commitment and context analysis, and then tweaked the systems when the final version was published.
I embedded the EMS across the organisation, building competency in other members of staff.
The system is split into 12 areas that link to our environmental policy and a member of staff is accountable for achieving the objectives and targets, defining roles and responsibility and ensuring legal compliance within their area.
I also integrated the EMS into other business processes across the organisation.
Environmental roles and responsibilities at Manchester Metropolitan University
What were the most helpful sources of information?
The ISO 14001:2015 consultation workshops run by Martin Baxter from IEMA were useful as they gave an early insight to the changes being proposed. Alex Hobbins from EcoCampus was also helpful; we worked together to understand the impact of the changes on our system.
What were the strengths of your existing system?
Manchester Metropolitan has been active in environmental sustainability for a number of years, so already had some excellent and challenging environmental programmes in place. The Environment Team were well resourced and staff across the university were already engaged in environmental issues via the NUS Green Impact Programme, which we had been running for a number of years. The University already had an Environmental Strategy and Policy with commitment from senior management. We reviewed and updated both documents to meet the requirements of 14001:2015. Further resources were also made available to deliver new environmental objectives and targets.
Environmental Vision, and Policy for 2020 at Manchester Metropolitan University
In early 2014, the university developed an objective to embed sustainability into the curriculum, and recruited a new member of staff to manage this work programme. This helped the University maintain our position in the People and Planet green/university league because there was greater emphasis on ‘education for sustainable development’ in the assessment criteria.
We were already delivering an excellent waste and recycling service with challenging reuse and recycling targets, but a full review of our waste streams and environmental obligations was required. We also formalised our systems and procedures to maintain compliance and increased our waste auditing activities.
What were the main changes you needed to make?
The clause/requirement we had not addressed was ‘context analysis’. To meet this requirement, I delivered a number of workshops with the eight environmental policy managers and their teams in 2015. We undertook a PESTLE analysis of internal and external issues that could affect the university achieving its environmental objectives. We then identified the associated, risks and opportunities and proposed actions to address the issues arising. It was a useful exercise as it helped us identify future challenges and our management response. I selected key risks and opportunities and our proposed actions and presented them to our Environmental Strategy Board for discussion, input and approval.
Did you find the process of identifying risks and opportunities useful, having already identified your environmental aspects?
We found it more useful than the aspects assessment exercise, especially for the travel and waste policy areas; it helped teams think about how their activities are influenced by internal and external factors. It encouraged them to think more holistically and manage our risks and opportunities.
Examples of the external issues identified included changes and developments in government policy and our continued membership of the European Union, and ongoing improvement works on the Oxford Road Corridor in Manchester creating i enhanced bus and cycle infrastructure. It was useful to discuss the actions required to address the risks and opportunities associated with them and ensure they were incorporated into our action plans.
How did you tackle the new requirements for life-cycle thinking?
We already included procurement activities in the scope of our environmental management system as we were working towards level 3 in the Government’s flexible procurement framework.
I worked with the procurement team to identify key products and services we purchased that could potentially have a high environmental or social impact. I then determined the environmental impacts associated with each lifecycle stage: Transport, Processing, Manufacture and Construction, Distribution, Use and Disposal; considered if we had control or influence at each stage; and then identified at what current actions we were working on, and future potential actions.
For example, we developed Environmental Design Principles for our building and refurbishment projects, to ensure environmental issues are considered in the design process.
Tell me more about how you worked with the University to embed sustainability into teaching and research?
Embedding environmental and social sustainability issues into the curriculum is one of our largest positive impacts, alongside offering extra-curricular activities associated with sustainability.
The University appointed an Education for Sustainable Development Coordinator who provides support and CPD opportunities to academic staff to embed sustainability into their curriculum.
For example, the Faculty of Business and Law’s mission statement includes: To develop socially and environmentally responsible ‘early career professionals’ for successful careers in management and the professions. Dr Jack Christian from Accounting, Finance and Economics has delivered ethics and sustainability lectures across the Business School for the last five years.
The University was also a pilot for the new Responsible Futures accreditation mark, an initiative driven by the National Union of Students to engage students in the sustainability agenda. The University’s involvement in the scheme helped contribute to the successful certification to ISO 14001:2015.
Did you need to make changes to your processes associated with communication with interested parties?
No, we documented current communication practices. We listed our interested parties, confirmed their needs and expectations, in terms of environmental communication and identified if it was a compliance issues.
We already published our environmental performance on an annual basis via our annual environmental sustainability report. This piece of work is led by our Sustainability Engagement Manager with input from key stakeholders across the university. Our most recent statement is available on our website.
How did the external assessment go?
Two auditors from NQA undertook the assessment, over three days.
They undertook a number of site visits and interviewed approximately 40 people. They interviewed our Director of Services, who is the Chair of the University’s Environmental Strategy Board. They spent about an hour asking about the Boards role its structure and how our environmental objectives link to University strategy, and future risks and opportunities for the University.
In large organisations, it is impossible for auditors to talk to everyone involved in the EMS, but they said they would have loved to spend more time looking at particular areas in more detail. We have therefore agreed to spend a greater amount of time on issues such as procurement, waste management and sustainability in the curriculum, in our next surveillance visit.
What were the audit findings?
We had four minor nonconformities and a number of observations. One was associated with the new requirements of ISO 14001:2015.
It was linked to our evaluation of legal compliance. We use an environmental legislation update database called ELUS to help create a register of legislation. It was recommended that we link our legal internal audits of compliance to our register of legislation. This would provide evidence of our regular evaluation of compliance.
Do you perceive that there were any benefits for your organisation or the environment from the changes to ISO 14001?
The top benefits are: senior management commitment helps ensure we have sufficient resources in place to manage and improve our environmental performance, and the new monitoring and measurement requirements ensure robust KPIs are in place to review performance and continually improve Undertaking a PESTEL analysis helped identify future risks and opportunities and ensured we had plans in place to address them.
What advice would you give to others on making the transition to ISO 14001:2015?
Always keep it simple; make sure that you have good leadership and commitment; embed the EMS into your organisation; and ensure that people are clear about their roles and responsibilities because you are not going to be able to do it all on your own
What is the next step for your organisation’s EMS?
We would like to improve our internal auditing system taking on board the comments from the external auditors, ensuring we document the root cause of any non-conformance raised. We would also like to expand our programme on climate change adaptation and business continuity, working with the Head of Business Continuity. We will continually review our energy, carbon and travel performance and continue to deliver on our challenging action plans to meet our targets.
Using our experience, the university has established an advisory service to support other organisations to implement ISO 14001:2015
Marek Bidwell is Director of Bidwell Management Systems, a Chartered Environmentalist and visiting lecturer in Environmental Management at Newcastle University. Marek has led the design, development and implementation of environmental management systems at a plethora of businesses across the UK. He is the author of a series of articles in ‘The Environmentalist’ on the challenges of adapting management systems to the new standard, and the author of ‘Making the transition to ISO 14001:2015’; he was the facilitator for the practitioner-led ISO 14001:2015 Road Test Group.
This is the fourth in a series of articles entitled ‘ISO 14001:2015 – Lessons from the Early Adopters’. Click here for other interviews in the series.
BMS attended the IEMA North East second regional event in 2012 which was a visit to Shotton Surface Mine to learn about environmental management of surface mine facilities. Hosted by Chris Rush, environment and sustainability co-ordinator of mine owners, The Banks Group, the event was an interesting session for attendees, and included an informative tour of the site operations. (more…)
In January 2012 BMS attended an IEMA North East Region CPD event on the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility in industry. The event opened with a talk by Michelle Campbell-Robson from the Environmental Academy with an introduction to CR, discussing the benefits and trends. She focussed on the positive feedback loops that Traidcraft have developed in tea supply chains by paying a fair price, building relationships, and ultimately improving product quality, and customer satisfaction. Michelle illustrated how the number of organisations reporting on CR has increased dramatically since the 1990s and how the content of those reports has also changed to include greater emphasis on social and sustainability issues.
The next speaker, Paul Burns from Gentoo opened memorably saying “We don’t do CR because we don’t do anything else”. He spoke about local challenges in Sunderland where students sometimes blame the lack of employment opportunities on events like the closure of the shipyards, which can’t be right as they closed long before the students were born, and how Gentoo are working to raise aspirations, create employment opportunities and improve skills in the area. On energy efficiency Gentoo have a pioneering project to retrofit 2000 homes to reduce carbon emissions, and have built houses to meet the PassivHaus standard in Houghton-le-Spring. Paul shed light on some of the challenges faced in realising carbon savings and the need to educate residents on how to operate the unfamiliar technology installed. As well as benefitting from a more efficient house, some tenants in fuel poverty will understandably choose to improve their household comfort and heat the whole house rather than one room.
Stephen Weldon from Greggs followed and underlined the local nature of the Greggs business and the emphasis that has always been placed on long-term staff relationships and giving back to local communities through schemes such as hardship funds, breakfast clubs, and the Greggs Foundation. He quoted Ian Gregg OBE “As the business grows successfully it has a disproportionate responsibility to help those who are most disadvantaged within the community”. Greggs considers food and nutrition as a fundamental of their CR strategy, having removed all artificial colours from their products, they are also gradually reducing salt levels. Greggs are covered by the Climate Change Agreement and have targets to reduce energy consumption fitting over 90% of shops with half hourly metering. Regarding suppliers and ethical sourcing Stephen said that Greggs have good long term relationships with suppliers and also aim to source locally.
The ethos within Northumbria Water is that “we are serving ourselves” as staff, and their families, live in the area and depend upon the water services provided. Louise Hunter, head of Corporate Responsibility, said that “everything we do for CR has real business benefits” such as employee wellbeing programmes, and they have achieved Platinum Plus status in the BitC CR Index. Louise illustrated how sustainability thinking can align with business benefits by explaining they have moved from the pellatisation of sewage sludge to treatment by advanced anaerobic digestion (AD) at Bran Sands, which has reduced their carbon footprint on the waste water treatment side of the business considerably. The renewable energy generated from the AD process produces 60% of the power for the treatment plant. The remaining material is turned into fertilizer. During her talk, Louise responded to an interesting question about how to communicate the water reduction message in the North East where we are fortunate to have plenty of water, by saying she converts water consumption into carbon emissions so it can be accounted for in that way and there is a tool on their website to do this. Water is heavy and movement and treatment requires a lot of energy.
The final presentation was from Kye Gbangbola from Total Eco Management Ltd who gave an introduction to the GRI reporting framework for sustainability reporting. He said that those organisations measuring and reporting sustainability issues “fly with the radar on and keep good company, but those who fly with the radar off will be increasingly challenged by stakeholders”. GRI metrics are common and comparable allowing organisations to benchmark their performance with others, and bring business benefits including a lower cost of borrowing. Kye explained how indicators could be selected from the standard GRI list appropriate to different industry sectors and outlined a typical process to assist an organisation gather and report on such data.
One of the repeat themes from this event was that the expression of Corporate Responsibility in different organisations may have a very different flavour depending upon specific issues such as business sector, location, and stakeholders. Some businesses may focus more on community and others on the environment, but all hopefully work towards the long term sustainability of both the organisation and the planet.
By Marek Bidwell