Aiming for an emerald planet

Martin Nixon always assumed that his design business was environmentally right on, but an audit revealed that his carbon footprint was much bigger than he thought

Most of us would agree it is our duty to minimise our business’s ‘carbon footprint’, but how far do we take this? In the knowledge-based design industry, I’m sure most of us would admit to taking a less proactive approach than our colleagues in the more ‘wasteful’ industries.

It is easy to point to our lack of waste by-products and to our use of computers rather than heavy gas-guzzling machinery as reasons why our businesses are not contributing to climate change.

So when we at Nixon took part in an environmental audit, we expected the usual advice – recycle paper, buy recycled products – the simple ‘do your bit’ message that most companies already recognise. In fact, the results have opened our eyes.

We were initially approached by Cornwall Pure Business, the county’s inward investment team, to participate in the audit. The initiative was part of Cornwall Business Week, which aimed to raise awareness of environmental technology businesses in the county, and provided information on how businesses can become more environmentally efficient. As one of the most established design consultancies in the county, we were keen to be involved, to learn first hand about the benefits of going Green.

Government-funded environment business consultant Envision conducted the audit over two days at our premises in Hayle, Cornwall. We have always taken our environmental responsibilities seriously, and have had a policy in place for some time. This covered procurement of materials derived from sustainable sources, such as paper and ink, and recycling all waste where possible. Going through the audit process with Envision consolidated our efforts, and helped us take further steps to improve our existing environmental policy.

I have been interested in the possibility of generating our own energy for some time, and Envision advised us on the options. Because of the nature and location of our building, photovoltaic cells that harness the sun’s energy and convert it to electricity is the most viable option.

Our building is listed, but we have a sloping area of roof out to the rear of the property, which captures plenty of sunlight. It is our belief that covering this area with photovoltaic cells could generate up to 20 per cent of our energy. The initial outlay will be pretty expensive, but the Government-funded Low Carbon Buildings Programme may cover up to 50 per cent of the costs.

We are fully committed to becoming a more sustainable business, and generating our own power is an option we are actively considering.

Envision also gave us some useful insights into general issues that face most design businesses. Our clever lighting schemes look great, but can be hugely wasteful. Nixon currently uses halogen lighting, and by replacing the halogen bulbs with energy-saving alternatives, we will cut the energy used to light our office by 78 per cent.

We also discovered that the light given out by halogen bulbs is insufficient for general office lighting. Together, these findings mean that we can light our office using less energy, and improve conditions for our employees. Envision has calculated that the initial outlay on energy-saving bulbs will pay for itself via lower energy bills in approximately two years.

Taking part in an environmental audit has been of tremendous value to us. We pride ourselves in being forward-thinking and proactive about offering a complete service to our clients.

Businesses are becoming ever more conscious of the need to maintain a responsible environmental working policy throughout the supply chain, and becoming Greener can add competitive advantage. This audit has helped us open our minds to the less obvious steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint.

As designers, we are used to channelling our creativity into projects for our clients – it’s time we cast our critical eyes over our own businesses to examine the possibilities for change that not only improve our environmental impact, but also help our businesses to flourish.

Martin Nixon is managing director of Nixon, a Cornwall-based design consultancy


• Cornwall Pure Business is a free one-stop service for businesses looking to relocate to the county

• The service helps source business premises, grants and loans, IT and telecoms, and provides advice on recruitment, training and business support

• For more information contact Lucy Thom on 01872 322814 or info@cornwall, or visit the website at http://www.

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