At Soper of Lincoln we are channelling this commitment to a more sustainable future into our own practices. Owner Andrew Tullie and Soper’s Marketing and Customer Retention Manager Jessica Hall, speak about how we are positively transforming the way they work.
You’re in a busy competitive business with plenty on your plate already, so what inspired you to put so much effort into sustainability?
Five or six years ago and we were consuming 770,000 kWh of energy annually. When you discover what that actually means it is staggering.
Initially we changed every lightbulb to LED and energy efficient and that led to BMW asking us to pilot a Building Management System.
There were a few teething problems, but when we got it right it revealed our energy consumption and how and where we were using it.
Energy can be a runaway train. It taught us that you must get control of your building and manage it like everything else. That first move into sustainability was a catalyst to do more.
You’ve carried out a whole range of initiatives, can you tell us about some of them and how you decided which to pursue?
After the Building Management System, we were on a bit of a roll.
- We spoke to our energy consultant and had solar panels installed. It simply made sense as a way of producing our own electricity from a renewable source
- In regard to customer processes, we’re virtually paperless in sales and aftersales
- We have a digital dashboard that tracks all our savings, such as energy, paper and water
- Sustainability is built into our Corporate Strategy.
- For us it was about looking at the things that will have the biggest benefit in the long term.
For instance, we used to have a room the size of a house packed with job cards that must be kept for seven years. Now it’s all digital and we’re saving all that paper, space and admin.
And what’s been the results?
Last year our energy consumption was down to 263,000 kWh and we generated and self-consumed more than half of that. When we started, we were even using 50-60 kWh a night. Now it’s down to about nine and I’m in a sweat if it goes above 10.
Measuring things is easy. There are meters for everything. You can hook them up to a digital dashboard and you have an understanding and a trend of data that you can begin to proactively manage.
Change never comes easy, so what sort of challenges have you faced?
Everything comes at a cost. There is time and effort involved.
Often challenges begin with what you already have. If some of your equipment is older it could be less energy efficient. You need to get it under control and invest.
Going paperless was a massive job and a difficult journey for some. If you look over your shoulder and see what we’ve done it’s scary, the size of the task and the amount of people who need to be aligned.
You can’t underestimate the time and drive and input necessary to implement and maintain these systems. But when you do it right and it works, it’s worth it.
How have colleagues and customers responded?
We make sure all the lights are off because we know Andrew is watching!
But it really is more than that. It’s a way of life now and it makes you proud to be working for a company like this. We began Sustainable Sunday on social, dropping little facts about what we’re doing, what we’ve saved and what else we can do.
People see the showroom and the cars, and they don’t necessarily expect this sort of thing from you. They come in and there’s no paper which isn’t a normal experience. We’ve had a very positive reaction and it’s something different to talk to customers about.
What’s the next step in your sustainability journey?
With electric cars and more charging points, electric consumption will go up so it’s crucial we generate that from renewable sources.
- We can upweight our solar panels, but you need to ensure you’re consuming what you produce. We’re assessing that.
- We’re looking into wind turbines. We have the winds in Lincolnshire! And they are good for the winter when solar is less efficient
- I’d also like to divide the business up into grids with managers responsible for sustainability in each. It would be a pride thing
I’d also love to have a live dashboard in the showroom, demonstrating where we are with energy and bringing it to life. I want customers to come into this well-lit showroom at the perfect temperature, filled with cars but see that it’s being run in a sustainable way.