19 Oct 2023

Sustainable Practices at Bents Garden & Home: A Case Study

Bents Garden & Home, a family-run business located in Warrington, has evolved into a thriving destination garden centre. Under the leadership of Managing Director Matthew Bent, the management team has been proactive in both staying ahead of market trends and ensuring sustainable business practices. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Bents has successfully implemented several initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint and improve efficiency. 


Green Energy Initiatives 


A key area of focus for Bents has been sustainable energy usage. Recognizing that energy costs significantly impact businesses, they made a strategic decision to invest in green energy. The garden centre now boasts 575 kW of solar panels, which have already supplied 35% of their electricity needs. The decision to adopt solar panels was influenced by the success of a recommendation from another garden retailer who had undertaken a similar project. 

Matthew Bent explains the straightforward process: "The company assessed our site, considering factors such as panel placement and energy generation. They provided a cost estimate and payback period, which initially stood at six years but was reduced to less than three years due to rising electricity prices." 

Bents is exploring further solar panel installations and battery storage, alongside other green energy options, such as wind power, geothermal technology, heat pumps, and combined heat and power units. Their objective is to maximize energy efficiency. 


Incremental Green Changes 


Bents has adopted a step-by-step approach to sustainability. For all new developments or updates, energy-efficient changes have been integrated. Simple measures, such as motion-activated lighting in offices and adjusting heating by a degree or two, have been effective in reducing energy consumption. An electrician was also enlisted to evaluate lighting and recommend switching to LEDs, with an expected payback period as short as six weeks. 

The company has introduced innovative methods of harnessing waste heat to heat water in its café. This initiative uses the heat generated by the refrigeration system to warm water, resulting in significant energy savings. 


Collaborative Research and Learning 


To make informed decisions about sustainability, Bents has collaborated with other retailers in the industry and engaged in thorough research. Visits to other garden centres, including Webb's and Barton Grange, provided valuable insights. Additionally, the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) and Garden Centre Association (GCA) have recommended resources and specialists. 

Matthew Bent emphasizes the significance of learning from others to avoid common pitfalls and mistakes. For example, the team once considered geothermal heating but abandoned the idea due to a lengthy payback period and high costs. 


Efficient Water Usage 


Efficiency extends to water usage. Bents has been proactive in responsible water use for decades, utilizing a reservoir on their site to store and recycle water runoff. They employ irrigation techniques like drip systems to reduce waste. Additionally, plans are underway to invest in electric-controlled systems and floodbed systems for targeted and efficient watering. 


Responsible Procurement 


Sustainability is not limited to energy and water; Bents has transformed its procurement strategy. The buying team now ensures that there are environmentally-friendly options in every product category, ranging from recycled materials to vegan-friendly products. A focus on local and regional products supports local businesses and reduces plant miles. 

Bents actively supports local suppliers through events like Inspiration Street, where customers can sample and purchase locally-sourced products. 


Waste Reduction and Recycling 


Bents actively recycles and reuses materials, including paper, card, glass, plastic, cardboard, and electrical items. They use shredded cardboard and plastic for packaging online deliveries. Green waste is recycled for use as soil improver or mulch. The restaurant and food hall's food waste is sent to a biomass recycling facility to generate electricity. 

The business aims to collaborate with suppliers to eliminate materials like polystyrene, which is challenging to recycle. 


Inspiring Customers 


Effective communication of sustainability efforts to customers is a priority for Bents. They highlight their "Green Footprints" online and in-store to inform customers about their green initiatives, goals, and progress. The garden centre offers compostable carrier bags and encourages customers to use recycled boxes or trays. 

Educational displays, such as one explaining the benefits of LED Christmas lighting, help customers understand the environmental impact of their choices. Bents encourages responsible purchasing without compromising on product quality or price. 

While Bents has already achieved significant sustainability milestones, there is an ongoing commitment to explore more ways to become even more environmentally responsible. The company maintains a long list of potential initiatives, evaluating each for return on investment and sustainability impact. 


In conclusion, Bents Garden & Home serves as a remarkable example of how a business can blend sustainability with growth and customer satisfaction. By making incremental changes, investing in green energy, collaborating with industry peers, and promoting responsible purchasing, Bents is charting a course toward a more sustainable and eco-friendly future. 

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