In the second of a series of features following a visit to upholstery manufacturer, Westbridge Furniture, Cabinet Maker speaks to Anthony Pydiah, senior quality and technical manager, about the company’s ongoing commitment to sustainability.

Energy efficiency has come very much back into the public consciousness (if, of course it ever went away) in the months following the triggering of Article 50, as speculation has been rife as to whether there will be any change to the regulations which prompted the UK’s success in reducing carbon emissions and lowering fuel bills once we leave the EU proper.

According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), since the introduction of the Climate Change Act in 2008, the UK has seen demand for electricity down by 17% (despite an uptick in the use of gadgets). Similarly, gas demand is 23% lower, thanks to better insulation and UK rules on improved boilers.

The facility was one of the first model factories for Marks & Spencer

This is a great achievement from the domestic market, but one has to wonder how on earth manufacturing operations are able to fare in comparison whist also remaining productive. So it was great, during an extensive tour of the Westbridge Furniture facility in Holywell, to meet senior quality and technical manager Anthony Pydiah, who has been leading the business’s award winning eco programme since 2007.

“I have been at the company from back when it was Deeside Furniture some 29 years ago,” he told me. “We launched our eco programme in 2007, having looked seriously at doing so in 2006. At the time Marks & Spencer was set to launch Plan A.”

Westbridge reached its zero to landfill target in 2012

Plan A is the retailer’s five-year, 100-commitment sustainable business programme, designed to address the key environmental, social and ethical challenges across its entire supply chain.

As such, M&S was looking for model factories with which to work from suppliers, and Westbridge began looking at how it could improve its factories and take its steps toward becoming carbon neutral.

“We started to look at the issue with the help of the Carbon Trust, which helped us address the top 10 issues that needed to be tackled, ” explained Anthony. “With the Carbon Neutral Company we planned out a baseline, and we asked employees what they thought via the Green Attitude Survey, the response to which was very positive, with a feeling that people were happy that we were doing more.

“M&S wanted to support us and we were able to gain guidance from the engineering team and store development manager after they had just finished a green store in Glasgow. They spent time with us helping us to address the 10 issues we had identified with the Carbon Trust.”

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Having put in the research ground work, the next step was measurement, and the newly installed power monitors pointed to the largest area of power consumption for the facility. “The biggest power consumption was lighting,” said Anthony, “so we installed 16 sun tubes in order to harvest natural daylight, and put movement sensors in to ensure that the lights were only used when needed. In addition, we also installed light sensors for when there is more natural light in the building, so the artificial light is dimmed. The average payback is about three years and it has really made a difference.”

Another saving made in energy use came from investment in an automatic mini compressor in the company’s 24-hour test laboratory “Our test lab runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week” said Anthony, “and the main compressor was excessive for evening and weekend use. The mini compressor runs our test room overnight, cost us £4,200 and saves £6071 and 27 tonnes of CO2 per year, giving us a nine month payback.”

16 sun tubes were also installed

And on the topic of water, bathrooms now have adjustable taps with aerator nozzles fitted, mixing air with water, that not only make it ‘softer’ for staff, but ensure less wastage.

Similarly, the investment in solar thermal has ensured that boilers do not need to work as hard and in fact, the timing of our visit had fallen on such a sunny day that Anthony told me cold water had to be mixed into the hot. What’s more, the 32 space heaters situated around the facility, have had controls added, to prevent unnecessary heat escape when shutter doors are open, saving an estimated 190 CO2e tonnes.

What this editor found particularly impressive in an operation of such scale, was that Westbridge has been a zero to landfill operation since 2012. “We set our own target of zero to landfill back in 2008,” Anthony explained. “We reached this in 2012 and have maintained it.” The business has managed this with a number of different project and innovations, as Anthony continued: “ The FR coating on fabrics means that it isn’t desirable in terms of recycling, so we embarked on a project with a local company shredding it for a horse exercise surface, which seems to be going well.”

As are some of the other projects, with partners such as JEM Recycling Group, which include fabric waste transformed into beanbags; ex-offender schemes and furniture re-purposed by charities for those who need it. So well are these schemes going in fact, that Anthony joked that at some point the business needs to find a line where it remembers it makes furniture first and foremost!

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Other manufacturing waste was negated with the simple yet effective idea of investing in re-usable folding plastic crates, allowing Westbridge to displace 13 tonnes per year of cardboard.

These measures alone have saved the equivalent of some 128 UK houses per year when it comes to CO2, and as one might expect from a company such as Westbridge, despite its obvious sustainability success, there has been no laurel resting.

The most recent development, Anthony revealed, was the completion of Phase 2 of its lighting enhancements, with the installation of low energy LEDs in the Westbridge 2 wood mill and frame assembly departments. “It’s better light to work in as well as being good for the environment,” enthused Anthony.

So, what’s next for the business when it comes to green credentials? “We’re making plans to roll out more projects across all sites over the next five years,” revealed Anthony. “More of the same really so that we eventually have the same at all of our sites.”

With dedication to the environment at this level, it’s good to know the future is in safe hands.