Commercial was set up in 1989 by Simone Mann (a former Commonwealth gold-medal swimmer), her brother Arthur and university friend Alastair Adams.
The trio started out in a one-room, one-phone office at the back of a sausage factory. “The smell was terrible!” says Mann. “During the first year, I’d visit all the industrial estates in the area with a pile of comp slips, chatting to receptionists – who inevitably didn’t want to talk to me – to find out who and where these companies were buying their office supplies from, and offering them better deals.”
Today, Commercial has clients ranging from the RSPCA to Eurostar. The business makes £6.5m on sales of £21m and employs more than 130 staff.
In 2006, Mann was invited along to a speech by Al Gore, who was promoting his film An Inconvenient Truth. “It was a real jolt,” she says. “Up until that point, our environmental strategy had been about box ticking. That speech made me realise we needed to do far more.”
Mann immediately appointed the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management to measure the company’s carbon footprint. “We put a plan in place to reduce our carbon emissions by 25 per cent in six months; by 50 per cent in two years; and by 75 per cent in three years,” she says. “We also held a CSR day for our employees and our clients where we showed An Inconvenient Truth and explained what we were doing.”
The programme involved switching electricity to a renewable provider, using plastic tumblers instead of polystyrene cups, and transferring Commercial’s entire van fleet to bio-diesel. “We’ve also introduced a Dynamic Routing System (DRS) for our vehicles, which analyses delivery times and waits, route networks and possible delays,” explains Mann. “That allowed us to take two vans off the roads altogether.”
The company smashed its two-year target with a 57 per cent reduction in emissions – although Mann is sceptical the company will hit its three-year target because of its recent growth. Commercial has won £6m in new business since launching its green project and saw a 46 per cent increase in net profit for its financial year ending 2008 – the greatest growth the company has seen since it was established.
“We’ve become ‘green angels’, passing on our environmental knowledge to other businesses,” adds Mann.