The financial crisis in 2008 brought about a surprising change in promotional merchandise company Booth Brothers: it went green. Charles Booth talks to Images about how other companies can cut their energy usage

When the financial crisis hit in 2008, it’s unlikely many companies thought the best way to cope would be to head off down the path to carbon neutrality, but at Booth Brothers that’s exactly what they did.

“We started to look carefully at ways of reducing our power and heating costs as part of an overall cost reduction programme that we implemented in response to the dramatic fall in demand for promotional merchandise,” explains director Charles Booth. “We began by improving insulation, installing low energy lighting and other infrastructure and then we turned to renewable energy generation. The process has now become an integral part of our business model.”

The company installed smart controls and intelligent lighting throughout the site, along with three 11 kW wind turbines, 650 solar panels and two geothermal heat pumps. A biomass boiler using sustainably-sourced wood pellets has also been put into use: biomass heating is a carbon neutral process.

The biomass boiler

Look at your insulation

It hasn’t been an easy journey: finding reliable renewable energy partners has been difficult, explains Charles, adding that many operators are poorly funded and unprofessional. “We have always delayed projects until we were very comfortable with the technology and installer.”

Charles suggests that companies looking to make the biggest difference to their energy consumption should first consider insulation. Booth Brothers is gradually replacing the original cladding on its workshops and warehouses with composite insulation, and this move has reduced Booth Brothers’ carbon footprint substantially. “This is the simplest and lower cost way to reduce heat demand,” Charles advises.

The company has invested a lot of time and money into its carbon neutral programme, but the results are starting to pay off with its overall electricity and heat demand having fallen by around 60%. As to whether Booth Brothers can expect to entirely recoup the money it’s invested into becoming carbon neutral, Charles is blunt: “Some projects are more cost effective than others, but overall we expect to make a payback over about ten years. In view of the amount of time, risk and effort that we have invested in our carbon neutral programme then we would not recommend this from a purely financial perspective. However, if you believe that this is the right thing to do then it is not complete financial madness.”

Unexpectedly, saving energy has not been the only benefit: “Our customers find our approach interesting and they welcome our initiatives. Our strategy of carbon neutral was never intended to be a marketing tool, however most of our customers are aware of our approach and it is increasingly becoming an important factor in the promotional merchandise market.”

To those in the industry who are interested in moving towards a carbon neutral future, Charles has this message: “Come and talk to us as we will be delighted to show you what we do and put you in touch with reliable partners.”

He also recommends talking to other companies that have been through this type of change, adding: “We have found that they are the type of open-minded organisations who will be happy to offer guidance and advice.”

There are 650 solar panels at Booth Brothers

Charles expects the company to become completely carbon neutral by 2017. Remarkably, it will have taken them less than a decade to achieve their goal. Moreover, the attitude of always seeking to reduce their carbon footprint has thoroughly infiltrated all aspects of their lives. “The approach becomes part of your life and this is how we now seek to both live and work,” says Charles. “Low carbon drives every decision that we make.”