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CASE STUDY: Low carbon, high growth

The UK’s eco credentials are under fire. A report leaked to The Guardian has revealed that the UK will struggle to meet the EU target of generating 20% of its energy through renewables by 2020, while the housing industry is lobbying hard to remove or replace the rules requiring new builds to reduce carbon emissions (see below). Could the UK’s green love affair be ending? Not if Tim Fenn has anything to say about it. “Nearly a third of the CO2 emissions in the UK come from domestic housing, but it’s so easy to cut this figure if we only have the will,” he says. “It’s not rocket science, but it can have a massive impact on our emissions.”

From Oakwood...

Tim Fenn took over the family firm, Oakwood Builders in 1997. It was eight people strong and almost entirely focused on the repair and refurbishment of churches and ecclesiastical buildings. Ten years later Oakwood is 35 people strong with a range of specialist building services and a collection of national awards for their staff training programmes.

In the process of developing Oakwood however, Tim found he needed another company. “We became more and more convinced that there was going to be a huge need for ecologically sustainable, low emission, new build homes across the UK, and no one seemed to be addressing that need.” Green Carbon

The answer was Green Carbon, a company specialising in sustainable new build techniques. Working with Bill Dunster, the architect behind the famous BedZed zero emissions housing scheme in Wallington, Green Carbon has developed a unique timber-framed sustainable house. Made of FSC certified timber with concrete inserts, the “RuralZed” house has a high thermal mass, is designed to be zero carbon, and should take just a month to erect. Tim estimates that the energy use of the new design will be about 10 times more efficient than conventional modern designs.

Tim explains, “The idea was that Oakwood continued to do the eco refurbishments for which we had built up a reputation, and we set up a new spinout company called Green Carbon to do the new builds, because it’s quite a different business and skill set.”

Constructing Change

Tim feels that the UK construction Industry will be forced to change to adapt to a market demanding more ecologically friendly building techniques. The so-called “Merton rule” named after the London Borough where it was first introduced in 2003, requires any new building to reduce its carbon emissions by 10% through the use of renewable energy. The House Builders Federation has reservations, but Tim thinks this is just the beginning of what could be the biggest change in the UK housing market since the Industrial Revolution, “Traditionally, the building industry has been one of the most conservative. Now it is having to turn into one of the most innovative.” The challenge was to grow Green Carbon to a stage where it was capable of taking advantage of the eco-build market as it developed, and for that Tim knew he needed help. Enter Nick Horslen from the High Growth Business Coaching Pilot.

High Growth Help

“The High Growth Coaching Programme was vital. Initially Nick Horslen (my coach) came round and we talked for about four hours. That was important because in order to help, the coach has to understand your business.”

The High Growth Business Coaching Pilot is funded by SEEDA and is being delivered in association with the Enterprise Hub Network. It is focused on companies that have got over the initial start-up stage but have yet to fully capitalise on their potential to grow. It provides impartial and focused business coaching and a framework to orchestrate and facilitate around the potential barriers to growth from business process development and innovation to workforce skilling, leadership and market knowledge/development.

There are six High Growth Business Coaches in the South East. Each one has proven coaching expertise combined with substantial business development experience. Nick Horslen is working with the Oxfordshire Enterprise Hub to support Tim and his ambitions to grow Green Carbon and Oakwood. Nick says, “I aim to be a catalyst – just a small input that enables powerful change to happen throughout the company.”

Both Green Carbon and Oakwood seem to be in the process of powerful change: since the High Growth Business Coaching pilot kicked off, Tim has handed control of Oakwood to his wife Sarah, who has become MD, and is concentrating on developing Green Carbon. “These are things we would have done eventually,” he explains, “but the High Growth Coaching Programme has given us the confidence to move much faster and further than we would have done.”

Nick says, “I think what I’ve been able to do is to be a sounding board for Tim, on good days and on bad days. Tim knows what he’s doing, and so do his team, but I’ve been helping with their transition from what was an interesting building company to a thought leader in what must be the most important emerging market in the economy right now.”


Housing industry figures make interesting reading. Government projections show the UK’s requirement for new housing growing at an average rate of an extra 223,000 homes each year till 2026, which presents something of a challenge when you consider that in 2006-07 less than 168,000 new builds were completed, on a very small proportion of which could be described as sustainable. That challenge becomes more significant when you consider that completed housing accounts for around 30 per cent of the UK’s total energy use and 27 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions – and that the UK is committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. The housing landscape is, literally and figuratively, changing.

...and Opportunities

That change is also an opportunity, of course, and it’s one that Green Carbon is determined to take advantage of. “As a company, we want to be the leader in the eco homes market, and a thought leader too,” says Tim, “but as a country, if we don’t green the building industry then we’re missing out on a massive opportunity to reduce our CO2 emissions and to take a lead on innovation in global markets. We don’t have a choice: any company that can’t or won’t adapt won’t survive.”

What’s difficult for a small business, as Nick acknowledges, is developing the mind set to take advantage of this huge opportunity, “I think the biggest issue is realising that Tim needs to think deeply and strategically but at the same time he can’t take his eye off the operational ball day to day. What I’m trying to do is help Tim and his business achieve all it can in a timescale that will allow it to take advantage of the window of opportunity that they now have.”

Tim agrees, “Nick brings us a different perspective, and a lot of experience; but perhaps the most important thing is that we’ve developed a real rapport. We trust each other, which makes everything else so much easier.”

Nick adds, “Not that easy though! We do challenge each other, and I think we’re both able to think independently about what we’re trying to achieve. For me the knowledge base that we’re developing here, in a key developing market is essential, not just for the region but for the country.”

Their close working relationship is apparent as Tim and Nick chat while wandering around Green Carbon’s test site, but Nick is quick to point out that the programme has had more tangible effects, “One of the challenges here is that Green Carbon has access to so many opportunities, not just in the sales pipeline but also in terms of the sort of support and potential R&D funding and development that’s available. We’ve been able put them in touch with the CommercialiSE Programme through Oxford Brookes University, and Enterprise Hub Director John Lee is adding further support in terms of looking at R&D grants, and providing contacts with local planning authorities and councils.”

Tim explains his vision like this, “Oakwood will carry on driving our specialist niche in eco refurbishments. With Green Carbon we’re trying to get into the gap left by the big construction companies saying ‘This can’t be done.’”

Nick agrees, “The future could see Green Carbon becoming a group of companies that will include construction, planning and purchase of land, procurement of key technologies and potentially training. There is a huge need in the construction industry for training in new technologies and construction methods. Structurally we are looking now at the mix of skills and resources we will need to achieve high level growth.”

Contact: Enterprise Hub Director - John Lee


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