Triple bottom line: who are the UK’s leading environmental impact businesses?
27 min read
11 September 2018
From solving water and energy scarcity to ending food waste, here’s our definitive list of environmental impact businesses in the UK.
In this series, we look at some of the most ambitious positive impact businesses in the UK who are bolstering their bottom line while addressing some of the biggest social, financial and environmental challenges today, thus truly embodying the triple bottom line philosophy. Here’s our definitive list of environmental impact businesses in the UK.
As far as broad definitions go, impact businesses can address a whole range of the world’s problems, including social inclusion, financial inclusion and environmental benefit. This article looks at some of the businesses taking on environmental challenges, from sustainable energy and water scarcity to ending food waste.
Additional reporting: Annie May Byrne Noonan and Shané Schutte.
EnviroBuild: Greening the construction sector with renewables
Founders: Aidan Bell and James Brueton
The problem: 50-60% of greenhouse gas emissions sit squarely on the shoulders of the construction sector and the built environment. The sector often relies on unsustainable raw materials such as timber and plastics. What if they could be replaced with alternative, greener sources?
The solution: EnviroBuild aims to do just this, helping ‘green’ builders find alternatives to non-recycled products.
“Currently, we are the only building products distributor we’re aware of that has a strong charitable ethos, donating 10% of our profits to causes that directly support our sustainability focus,” the co-founders tell Real Business.
At least 80% of materials in EnviroBuild products, including packaging, comes from recycled sources.
“We only sell products that reduce humanity’s impact on the world compared to the products we’re replacing. We do this (by) ensuring all our products use majority recycled material and can also be recycled again at the end of their life.” – James Brueton
The impact: In three years, EnviroBuild has saved over 25,000 trees from being felled for timber, saved 1230 tonnes of plastic and 15 tonnes of rubber from landfill. Additionally, the business is profitable, turning over £7m a year.
Additionally, EnviroBuild donates 10% of its profit to charities that support green and sustainable causes. “Last year, this included donations to the Rainforest Trust saving over 40,000 acres of Rainforest, and to Ocean Cleanup, helping to trawl and clean the world’s oceans,” says Brueton.
Collect My Waste: Digitising waste collection
Founder: Andy Jacobs
The problem: How do you manage specific waste that can’t be thrown out with the rest of your rubbish or recycle bin? Existing options for waste collection require scheduling pick up via phone or email, which can take time (and a whole lot of effort). More often than not, people end up dumping their waste in the skip if they can’t find an affordable and convenient option. Is there an app for that?
The solution: Collect My Waste makes large and specific waste collection as easy as tapping and scheduling a pick up via app. Collect My Waste uses partner fleets to collect waste on demand. It doesn’t have any vested interest in the end point disposal facilities, it can instead engage with local waste collectors that are willing and able to provide a low cost, sustainable and flexible service.
The tech: The app-based business allows clients to book their waste collections at any time 24/7 and track the status of each request. Notifications are sent out on collection day so that clients are reminded to put their waste out and eliminate any unsightly waste overflow being seen by clients or ravaged by rodents and insects. This, of course, is vital for all types of commercial premises.
The app also enables clients to alter their waste collection frequency in order to avoid having to pay for half empty bins to be emptied.
Using technology not previously seen in the waste industry, Collect My Waste has taken a page out of Uber’s operating manual, using technology to provide each client with a simple, cost effective recycling-led solution.
The impact: Real-time waste analytics helps Collect My Waste prioritise efficiency and sustainability. It operates on a ‘zero landfill collections’ policy, making waste collection easy for customers while avoiding ‘quick fix’ solutions like dumping waste in landfill. Easy to use technology also means consumers are less likely to fly-tip their waste themselves. This sets a precedent for other waste collection services to follow, while the ‘easy to use’ app technology will make consumers more likely to be waste and recycling conscious when organising their collections.
Deciwatt: Off-grid lighting for communities in need
Founders: Jim Reeves and Martin Riddiford
The problem: Over 1.1 billion people do not have access to electricity. Current off-grid solutions are also either limited by the sun or the availability of disposable batteries. The methods communities in need can access are often dangerous, expensive and bad for the environment. A popular option are Kerosene lamps that often cost up to 30% of a family’s income. They are also bad for the environment and potentially toxic to humans.
The solution: Inspired by this growing problem, founders Jim Reeves and Martin Riddiford came up with an alternative lighting solution that communities in need can afford, that is better for the environment, and importantly– is safer to use than kerosene.
Many other ‘clean’ lighting methods rely on weather patterns, such as sunlight to create energy. Deciwatt’s Nowlight produces instant light and power, whatever the weather with just the pull of a cord. This technology doesn’t rely on these variables. The tech is portable and energy can be produced anywhere in the world regardless of weather.
“Working closely with off- grid households, we designed Nowlight based on ongoing and rigorous user testing and feedback.”
The tech: Deciwatt’s two main lighting products include Nowlight, that gives communities light and power with the pull of a cord, and GravityLight, which is powered by a bag of rocks and uses weight-based technology. Just one minute of pulling Nowlight’s cord creates over one hour of light. It is also reportedly four times more efficient than other hand-powered devices.
The impact: The payment plan for this new technology is inclusive and considerate of the financial limitations low-income households face. It can be paid off in small instalments and can ‘pay for itself’ by the seventh month of usage. The result of this product is social as well as health based and economic, as the reliable lighting technology gives users more time to work and study. The environmental impact of this product is significant. Replacing one kerosene lamp with Nowlight eliminates 135kg of CO2e emissions per year.
“We want to help realise SDG 7 by designing products that provide clean, safe and reliable power for off-grid families. Along our journey we have realised that the need for energy alternatives is universal: from camping in Canada, emergency preparedness in Puerto Rico, refugee camps in Rwanda, to off-grid families in the Okavango Delta.”
bio-bean: Turning coffee waste into sustainable energy
Founder: Arthur Kay
The problem: The UK gets rid of 500,000 tonnes of coffee grounds every year. With coffee shops still on the rise, this number is set to increase. Most of that wasted coffee ends up in a landfill – and landfill is a costly method of waste disposal for businesses because of the UK government’s landfill tax.
There, the wasted coffee starts to emit methane. This compound is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It contributes to greenhouse gases and damages the environment.
The solution: bio-bean aims to intercept the wasted coffee before it gets close to a landfill. The company turns that coffee into biofuels and biochemicals. It seems the ground beans are calorific and contain valuable compounds, making them ideal “feedstock from which to produce clean fuel”.
This in turn helps the environment and “displaces conventional fossil fuels”. That being said, if the café truly wants to get rid of the coffee, bio-bean will help get rid of it.
The tech: bio-bean garners results through patented technology. The wasted coffee grounds pass through a complex array of machinery to remove contamination and lower moisture content.
The process includes sifting and drying the coffee, before its is hammered by a mechanical press and mixed with solvent in order to remove plant oils. This is how bio-bean creates its coffee derived biomass pellets. These are used to heat up buildings. Sustainable briquettes are made for use in stoves, fires and chiminees. It has also in the business of creating liquid biofuels for vehicles, as well as other biochemicals.
Bio-bean doesn’t get involved with the waste collection. It works with third party waste management contractors. It is point Kay has discussed in full.
“People assume bio-bean competes directly with waste management companies and they would rather maintain the contract. We are not looking to engage in a contractual basis, we are simply looking to extract that very specific waste stream.” – Arthur Kay
The impact: According to Kay, “every tonne of waste coffee grounds recycled using bio-bean’s technology saves 6.8 tonnes of CO2 emissions. It’s the equivalent of driving from London to Beijing, twice.”
It’s a good thing that the bio-bean factory can process about 50,000 tonnes of wasted coffee grounds then. And each year bio-bean already makes 10 million kg of its biomass pellets. That’s enough to power up to 15,000 British homes.
Desolenator: Making clean water universally accessible
Founders: William Janssen and Alexei Levene
The problem: The UN estimates that by 2030 around half of the global population will face a water crisis due to population growth, ageing infrastructure, contamination, salination and over-extraction of existing resources. Current methods of producing and transporting drinking water are already unsustainable. While 0.7% of the world’s water supply comes from large scale desalination, its at the cost of 0.5% of the worlds total energy supply.
In developing countries, dirty water brings sickness and hinders school attendance. Making matters worse, women and girls spend over 200 million hours a day collecting water – equivalent to 22,800 years of wasted time and lost education.
The solution: Desolenator is a portable desalination unit that uses the power from the sun to purify water. It also acts as a mobile desalination solution to make clean water for rivers and other communal water sources for villages and communities, as well as for oceans. The latter largely served as the idea behind the device as 97% of the world’s water is salt water.
“Years of living near toxic desalination plants and witnessing the effects of water scarcity on communities prompted us to develop a more reliable and sustainable way of producing clean water.” – William Janssen
The tech: The typical solar panel is said to be only 15% efficient at turning solar irradiance into electricity. The rest of the input energy is wasted as heat. Desolenator uses this waste heat to bring water to a boil.
This produces distilled water vapour, which is condensed in an internal heat exchanger to produce clean drinking water. The latent heat is retained within the device so that there is a continuous cycle of water production throughout the day.
Whatever murky water remains, flows out of the device. More importantly, the device, removes pollutants.
“The device has a particle filter, a very simple filter which you can just shake empty, and the device is ready to deal with water which is slightly cloudy or slightly murky. It just flows through,” says Janssen.
The impact: Desolenator can produce up to 15 litres of distilled water in a day, which can sustain a family for cooking and drinking. While it may initially prove expensive, the device is said to last for 20 years.
ClimateCare: Creating development programmes for communities
Founders: Tom Morton, Mike Mason and Edward Hanrahan
The problem: Wanting to solve the world’s problems is all well and good but how do organisations and governments get started? How can you deliver the most impactful projects to tackle poverty, improve health, protect the environment and deliver value for the organisations involved?
The solution: ClimateCare employs experts in all areas of sustainability to design integrated programmes and implement them for organisations.
“We unlock new sources of finance and leveraging mainstream funding, we deliver some of the largest and most successful sustainability initiatives in the world.” – Edward Hanrahan.
According to Hanrahan, the company’s CEO, ClimateCare provides corporates and governments with integrated programme design and management to deliver on climate and social impact objectives, as well as communications support so they can engage internally and externally with stakeholders for buy-in.
The impact: To date, ClimateCare has cut over 21 million tonnes of CO2 and improved life for over 16.5 million people. ClimateCare has also been recognised as the highest performing Bcorp in the UK for creating positive social and environmental impact, for the third consecutive year.
MacRebur: Using plastic waste to improve road networks
Founder: Toby McCartney
The problem: Traditional asphalt relies on bitumen, which is a mix of hydrocarbons which are a depleting source and can seep into local water sources. At the same time, plastic waste is a growing epidemic the world over with more than 7 billion people producing over 320 million tonnes of plastic. This is set every year. This is set to double by 2034. How can waste plastic replace fossil fuel powered products?
The solution: MacRebur has found an innovative way of using waste plastics to give a cost effective, stronger and sustainable asphalt solution, which is also better for the environment. It also cuts down road maintenance due to the product’s durability. Also means that waste plastic can have a positive use instead of going to landfill.
Every tonne of asphalt produced by MacRebur contains approximately 20,000 single-use plastic bottles or around 70,000 single-use plastic bags.
The tech: MacRebur’s products replace part of the bitumen in asphalt, significantly reducing the use of fossil fuels. MacRebur’s waste plastic pellets are fully melted into the bitumen within the asphalt mix and so no microbeads are present in the mix, which also means that less bitumen leaches into rivers and streams. The pellets are specifically designed to improve the strength and durability of asphalt whilst reducing the quantity of bitumen required in the mix.
They are made from 100% waste materials and can be used in the making of hot and warm mix asphalts. The products provide a unique way of enhancing asphalt to give a cost effective and longer lasting asphalt solution, that works with existing infrastructure.
Impact: According to McCartney, MacRebur makes roads 60% stronger and last up to three times longer than traditional roads. MacRebur has provided plastic pellets for roads in the UK, a number of countries in the GCC, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Lightfoot: ‘Fitbit for cars’
Founder: Mark Roberts
The problem: Poor and dangerous driving habits heighten risks of collision, fuel costs, poor environmental impact, and the cost of car repairs. If drivers could be aware of how they drive, and how to improve it, the roads would be safer, the environment less impacted, and fleet management more cost efficient.
The solution: Lightfoot uses connected car technology and Formula 1 analytics to help drivers drive the best– and safest they can. The way to achieve this is to include an rewards platform that makes their better driving ‘pay’.
The tech: The technology behind Lightfoot has won 22 innovation and engineering awards, and was recently received a £1m loan from Innovate UK to continue its R&D efforts. Lightfoot’s dashboard connects to the vehicle’s engine via its on-board diagnostics port, constantly monitoring engine stress, driver input and mechanical input using Formula 1-style analytics.
It then provides drivers with feedback based on driver performance, which is visible on the mobile app.
“Our technology has been described as the ‘Fitbit for cars’. It rewards and incentives truly better driving – the kind that helps drivers reduce fuel costs and insurance premiums, not just tick boxes. It also significantly reduces the environmental impact of cars and makes our roads safer.” – Mark Roberts
The impact: The company works with the likes of Virgin Media, Boots, Alliance Healthcare, Dyno Rod and HSS Hire to cut average savings on their fuel bills by 15-20%. It has also seen up to a 60% reduction in accident rates.
Before Lightfoot, fleet drivers had black boxes fitted in their vehicles that would track and report on their every move.
“We disrupted this model by putting the driver in control of their own performance and rewarding them for self-improving,” says Roberts. “We are excited to be rolling out our consumer product in late 2018, bringing the benefits of Lightfoot to private drivers up and down the UK.”
isoenergy: Making heat pumps and solar panels mainstream
Founder: Justin Broadbent
The problem: The UK’s energy mix is diverse, but fossil fuel powered options still reign supreme. Coal, oil and gas are still the largest sources of energy domestically, even with a greater emphasis on greener, renewable alternatives.
According to isoenergy chairman, Justin Broadbent, renewable energy sources are facing an uphill battle. “In the past we have relied on our systems being subsidised by the goverment. As they have now been dramatically cut, we have to make sure your systems are cost effective without them,” he says. The easy way out is also the least sustainable for people, planet and profit.
“We envision renewable energy systems being widespread across the UK and have very practical methods and processes for achieving this – watch this space!” – Justin Broadbent
The solution: Switching from oil or LPG to renewable technologies such as ground source heat pumps or biomass boilers can reduce fuel costs by 40% or 60% at today’s prices. Government incentives can contribute to a return on investment in excess of 10% annually.
“Isoenergy is addressing the unsustainable use of fossil fuels in this country and increasing uptake of sustainable energy systems like heat pumps and solar panels,” Broadbent tells Real Business. “Our expertise makes renewables work for people financially. The payback is a better option for those burning oil to heat their homes and businesses.”
The impact: In 2017 alone, isoenergy installed 64 heat pumps, 10 solar photovoltaic systems, three electric vehicle charging systems, two battery systems, and one biomass system. This means 537 tonnes of CO2 was saved by these installations – the weight equivalent to a jumbo jet. “We installed enough solar panels to cover four tennis courts. As well as employing 34 more people,” he adds. Isoenergy is now one of the few renewable energy installers in England that has never made a loss.
Further reading: People, planet, profit: What’s the real impact of impact businesses?
Beyond environmental impact
In this series, we’ll highlight some of the biggest names in impact enterprise based on the problems they are trying to solve, their challenges, and growth ambitions.
This is in the lead-up to a mainstay event in the UK’s entrepreneurial calendar, the Amazon Growing Business Awards, which recognises the talent, potential and ambition of the nation’s growth businesses. A brand-new category has been added to the awards line-up for 2018: the Bridges Positive Impact Award. Proudly sponsored by Bridges Fund Management, a specialist sustainable and impact investor, this award is tailored to celebrate growth businesses that are driving positive change for people and planet through their business model.
To nominate your business, visit gba.realbusiness.co.uk.