Manchester-based lubricants manufacturer Metalube has saved £24,000 a year by installing a new energy efficient steam boiler. We catch up with Robert Brown, Managing Director, who explains why environmental responsibility has always played a key role in the business.
Metalube exports a variety of industrial lubricants to over 95 countries worldwide, for applications ranging from metal wire drawing to protective greases for overhead power cables. The company has a strong corporate social responsibility ethos and has become carbon neutral by offsetting the emissions that cannot currently be avoided from its manufacturing and operations.
The business has a long, successful history of working with the Hub’s Manufacturing and Resource Efficiency services. At the end of 2019, with help of Environmental Business Advisor Alasdair Dalzel-Job and a £12,500 Energy Efficiency Grant, Metalube installed a new steam boiler that has greatly improved the efficiency of providing steam and heat for its manufacturing process. The project has delivered estimated annual energy and process savings of £24,000, as well as reducing CO2e emissions by 73 tonnes in the process.
Metalube is the largest part of the Manchester-based Bishopdale Group, which also includes historic lubricants brand, Molyslip, and oil and grease manufacturer United Oil Products. Robert Brown, Managing Director (pictured) speaks about the firm’s journey, below.
You embarked on becoming carbon neutral by 2020. Why?
On a personal level, my previous career was in agriculture and I’m still involved in farming, so the environment has always been a big part of my life. As a business, we recognised that it’s a growing concern around the world, so it was driven from a feeling of it just being the right thing to do.
Right from the beginning when we acquired the business 11 years ago, we tried to run things differently to how we might have in the past. We’ve been ISO 14001 certified since 2015, which formally acknowledges our commitment to sustainability. We’ve got a new generation waiting on the sidelines; this is what my children are interested in. Everyone in the business and all the staff really love the fact that we’re interested in environmental responsibility.
It’s also about the sectors we work in. The oil and gas sector, and chemicals industry, are right up there in terms of potential environmental pollutants, so we need to be responsible.
What sort of measures have you put in place on-site to reduce your emissions?
When we acquired the business, we moved very quickly on solar energy and put a 50kW solar panel system on the roof. We also have LED lighting and in 2020 installed our new steam boiler, with the support of Hub advisor Alasdair Dalzel-Job.
We have also switched from heating barrels with electric heat jackets to a gas-powered ‘hot box’, which is much more efficient – something Alasdair had also suggested. We’ve noticed a drop in our electricity use as a result, whereas our gas use has stayed around the same because of the lower consumption of the steam boiler.
There have been several other minor changes recently, such as changing our forklifts from gas to electric. We have grown to seven-plus forklifts, and the gas was being delivered to us once a week. It’s one of the things that was really highlighted during the lockdown – all these deliveries coming in that really weren’t necessary. Now the forklifts can just be charged overnight when we’re not using electricity, so it’s good for the grid.
What about your products?
We’re constantly looking at what is the right thing to do in terms of raw materials and developing lubricants that are safer for the environment without compromising performance. We’re doing some quite innovative things, such as soluble products that you add water to, which means less product needs to be shipped.
Wastage and waste packaging is another big one for us. We’re transitioning packaging away from plastics where possible, and we’ve also looked at using recycled barrels, which is proving difficult. But we’re continually exploring ways of trying to do it.
Have you seen an increasing interest in environmentally responsible products?
I think everyone’s environmental awareness is continuing to grow, especially with the new generation coming through who have a different balance on life. More people are noticing what’s happening to the world. It’s on the agenda more and more all the time, so I think people feel increasingly uncomfortable selling something that’s wrong for the environment.
How are you managing your carbon footprint going forward?
We have to offset our footprint annually to be carbon neutral and it’s coming around again now, so we’re currently exploring our options. I would like to focus on something we can touch and feel closer to home, but we all need to think carefully when carbon offsetting – buying up land just to plant trees (huge conifer forests) isn’t necessarily the right thing to do for the environment. I can see, from a farming point of view, the right type of native tree needs to be planted in the right location. For example, there is no point planting trees on moorland fringes where endangered birds use it for their breeding habitat.
It’s important that offsetting is being used in the right way. It should be an incentive to drop your own emissions, not something you just pay for and forget about; that’s the wrong thing to do in my opinion. It’s about getting your manufacturing right first. Looking at your raw materials and managing your stockholding efficiently. Investing in our own plant and improving our manufacturing process. Those things all have an environmental impact. It might not be as ‘sexy’, but over the years it will save carbon – and if everyone did that to their own companies, I think we’d be in a much better place.
Instead of offsetting carbon annually, one option we’re considering is investing in more solar panels, which may not have an immediate payback but over the years will reduce our carbon emissions.
What would your message be to other businesses?
What’s interesting in business is that salary is a motivator for people, but studies show it’s not the greatest motivator. People that work with you are interested in work-life balance and other aspects of the business, and I think the environment is a massive driver. For our employees, I know that everyone loves the fact that we’re environmentally responsible.
Our customers also like that we’re a responsible business; that we’re not just there for the short-term, we’re there for the long-term. It’s the same with our suppliers. So, I would say, look to the future – you can see what’s happening in the world. We’re all in it together to do something about it.
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