Home to over 300 businesses, the North East BIC has invested heavily into becoming more sustainable…but it hasn’t always been plain sailing, as Paul McEldon OBE, Chief Executive, explains…
When did the North East BIC first start to reduce its carbon footprint?
Even though we have a building which is nearly 30 years old, which wasn’t built with carbon reduction in mind, we had a wind turbine installed as long as 28 years ago.
We also installed solar panels around 12 years ago and we’ve had electric vehicles on site for many years. In fact, a little-known fact is that we used the first electric Segway in the North East to deliver our post!
So, we’ve been making changes for a long time, and our carbon footprint has reduced by 60% in the last 20 years and by 37% in the last decade, which is something we’re really proud of.
What’s happened recently to prompt your enhanced carbon reduction efforts?
We have been exploring how to maximise the renewable energy generated by our solar panels, which led to us invest over £300,000 into a series of on-site, battery storage units and new PV.
We haven’t been blessed with the best of weather recently, so we can’t yet say just how big of an impact they will have, but in 12 months’ time hopefully we’ll have a better idea.
We’ve worked with our tenants to reduce waste and have now achieved zero waste going to landfill. And we’ve also rewilded a lot of our grass areas and, with Climate Action North, developed a Pollinator Park.
Climate Action North, a tenant of ours, has also been working with us on the crafting of our own carbon reduction plan, which we’ve published on our website. It is a great way of us ensuring we have a set plan in place and do everything we can to meet our goals.
Three things have prompted these decisions. Firstly, we wanted to help the environment; secondly, it makes financial sense; and lastly, businesses are increasingly required to have a sustainability plan in place to bid for contracts.
What has worked and more importantly… what hasn’t?
Because of the need for businesses to decarbonise at pace, we’re all technically learning on the job.
Through our investment in PV, EV charging points, LED lighting and new boilers, we’ve made huge strides in reducing our emissions, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing.
For example, when we installed our wind turbine all of those years ago, the technology was very leading edge at the time, but it wasn’t quite as reliable or efficient as it is today. Replacement parts were hard to source and we had issues with the technology, so it’s fair to say we went too early with that one, but it was a good learning experience nevertheless.
Has there been a cost benefit to saving carbon?
A lot of the decisions we’ve made have been driven by economics as well as climate change. If you take a longer-term view, you can see the financial return, and reducing our energy usage has allowed us to keep our tenants’ service charges at the same level for a longer time.
What’s been challenging about making changes, and what’s been more straightforward?
Understanding some of the language, which can be very confusing, has been a challenge. Climate Action North has helped us get our heads around that.
What’s been very easy is getting our staff and tenants on board. Everyone’s been up for making changes and very open to the idea of investing in our green agenda.
What has the feedback been like from tenants?
On the whole, our tenants have been really supportive of our move to become a greener business, especially with it keeping running costs down!
One business in particular that has recently contacted us is Infinity Wellness Clinic, which is based at our main site in Sunderland.
Boasting cutting-edge cryotherapy chambers, wellness spas, saunas and massage beds, the company is naturally very energy intensive so has benefited greatly from our decision to embrace LED lighting and PV.
The EV charging points too, have proven a huge hit, with multiple companies on site now investing in electric cars and vans which operate from the site.
What advice would you give other businesses wanting to reduce emissions?
Increasingly, we see sustainability becoming a requirement for government contracts, for all businesses. So, even if you’re not being asked to make changes now, within three to five years you will be required to have a carbon reduction plan to bid for contracts.
Plus, if you think medium to long term, you can see the financial return. When we first put solar panels in, the return on our original capital investment was six years, but with electricity prices increasing, that’s probably reduced to three or four years now.