Sustainability: Investing in the long game

Simon Taylor, the MD of Simon Taylor Furniture, explains the steps he has taken in his business to save energy, avoid sending anything to landfill and generally play his part in a more sustainable, circular economy.

I trained as a cabinetmaker and went to a college called Rycotewood, which is dedicated to cultivating students in a range of different craft principles. I always loved working with wood and, as part of my education, I also developed a great respect for this natural resource. 

When I went on to start my bespoke furniture business 35 years ago in the 1980s, the world was a different place, but we all tried to ‘do our bit’ by saving milk bottle tops and recycling aluminium cans and glass bottles. Being green in business back then meant turning the lights out and not using too much hot water. However, timber offcuts were often chucked out and when we installed new kitchens in peoples’ homes, the old ones were just thrown into a skip – this was standard practice. 

As my business grew more successful, I purchased land with a workshop and a showroom, becoming both a manufacturer and retailer, a landlord and tenant. It was only then that I really started to think strategically about energy efficiency and minimising waste – and I still do, because it makes sense to my bottom line. As specialists in making truly bespoke handmade and hand-painted furniture, we purchase our timber materials from accredited suppliers that source products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), and we always recommend eco-friendly, water-based paints. 

One of the most valuable resources that most business owners lack is time. We are all so busy that it becomes easier to sweat the small stuff and not focus on the bigger picture. However, if 35 years in business has taught me anything, it’s that it is wise to take the time to do your research and invest in the long game. 

Sustainable improvements

I have made sustainable improvements to my commercial property, Cane End Works, and have had solar panels fitted, thus saving on electricity with renewable energy, while all the lighting in our workshop has been converted to energy-saving LEDs. I also applied for, and received, a grant from Low Carbon Workspaces to have a wood burner installed (pictured) in the cabinet workshop and now all the timber offcuts are used to heat the building, saving on heating bills and the cost of skips. I now have a certificate on the wall that tells me I am saving 26.6 tonnes of CO2 a year – the equivalent of four African elephants! 

You might also like:   Elizabethan business rates a ‘busted flush’, says FSB

I am currently researching the purchase of a fleet of electric vans, which comes with certain tax advantages. I am also going to have electric chargers installed outside our building to conveniently recharge the vans, and because more customers will be driving electric cars in the future, they will be able to use them, too. 

A few years ago, we removed the kettles from the staff kitchen and the workshop and instead had boiling water taps installed. They are both energy- and time-efficient because no one has to stand waiting for the kettle to boil. We also upgraded recently to add sparkling water options, so there is no need for any plastic bottled water. 

Where we can, we avoid putting anything into landfill. Prior to the pandemic, my showroom was being refurbished, but that was put on hold and is back under way as I write. Instead of putting our old displays into the skip, we carefully uninstall them and send them to be sold by a third-party, pre-loved kitchen business. 

We are now offering to sell on clients’ old kitchens in return for a reduction on their new one or, if they wish, a donation to charity. Our installation teams uninstall them carefully so that they can be resold with appliances. The client does not have to do anything at all, and there is a feel-good factor about the overall transaction. 

Both of my children are studying geography at different universities. Listening to them discuss how global industries are depleting the world’s natural resources purely to make a profit is shocking. I am in business and I also want to make a profit, but I am trying my best to make a positive difference with how I manage to do that. 

I know I can’t save the planet, but I can play a small part in maintaining it. I also think that my clients would expect this of me, because nowadays people are far more enlightened about the subject of sustainability. 

Have something to say? Email the editor