SEUK in conversation with Rachel Rowley, Managing Director at Encore Environment

Encore Environment is a social enterprise specialising in waste management which is challenging traditional waste practices through innovation and intelligent ways of working. We asked their managing director, Rachel Rowley to tell us more about their work.

RachelRowleyEncore - COP 26 Social Enterprise UK

Tell us about Encore Environment in one sentence.

Encore Environment is an award-winning, ethical and legally compliant, environmental and waste management consultancy working across the UK.

People are increasingly asking questions about what happens to our waste. What’s the single biggest problem with the system as it currently stands?

If we look at the waste hierarchy, the last line of defence before landfill is to recycle and recover waste. However, this course of action still takes resources, costs, and consumes energy. There needs to be a shift in focus from recycling to waste prevention. The construction industry, which is where we predominately work, should be identifying opportunities to reuse items prior to strip out and demolition stage. These items can then be matched with charities, social enterprises or local organisations in need. Encore’s online platforms Project DIVERT and MATexch have been established specifically to facilitate this link and in turn, this provides data on the carbon outcomes based on the decisions that are made – another very important factor at the moment as the net carbon economy accelerates.

Secondly, we need the education system to really focus on environmental education starting with the early years. A national paper recently stated that the ‘national curriculum barely even mentions the climate crisis and children deserve better. Encore Environment recognised this and started a non-profit ‘Waste Wise Kids’ primary schools programme to support teachers with waste, recycling and sustainability education, not just in science, but as a life skill. Bringing together industry knowledge and teaching expertise, this provides UK primary schools with an on-site or online educational programme aimed at children aged 4-12 years, and a membership scheme for the wider community – individuals and businesses – to support it.

Waste Wise Kids Encore Environment - COP26 Social Enterprise UK

Who are your clients and what makes them want to work with Encore Environment?

We are primarily a waste management supplier to the construction industry. The day-to-day reality (especially in a downturn or pandemic) is dominated by costs savings, and waste services are often sourced on a price-driven basis which consistently drives down supplier margins. However, Encore does things differently and offers alternative, data-driven methods of waste management which deliver social, economic and environmental value as well as cost savings. We support our clients to reduce construction fit-out waste, reuse existing waste materials, minimise landfill waste and decrease their carbon footprints, which helps them meet regulatory obligations and CSR objectives. The key to Encore’s success is being disruptors and offering solutions which promote real social value and environmental benefits.

We’re living through turbulent times. How is this affecting the business?

Early in the pandemic we took the opportunity of our operations plummeting to a near standstill to undertake a radical analysis of the business and the creation of a 100-day plan. The result was a more diverse customer roster and by deploying our assets in different ways we maintained continuous operations without disruption, even if some of this was in parallel with home schooling!

Encore’s emergence from COVID-state has matched a general mood of optimism in the construction industry which, it has to be said, was able to demonstrate a resilience itself throughout the pandemic, so we are feeling positive about the way things are heading.

We had the systems in place to allow our team to work remotely so the day-to-day business was maintained. The banks were not supportive, so a CBILS loan was unavailable to us, but thankfully we didn’t need it. I was sure that having a ‘sustainable’ and ‘green’ business we were going to come through it and here we are now in a stronger position than before the pandemic. We have increased the number of services, the business is more profitable, and we are in a great place to grow.

Carpet tiles Encore Environment - COP26 Social Enterprise UK

What are your long-term ambitions? What would you like the business to achieve in the next five to ten years?

We want to challenge industry lethargy and lack of innovation, and we want to achieve sustainable growth. The old adage that you are only as good as your last job still exists in an industry defined by costs rather than service, but reassuringly there is a move towards sourcing for value rather than absolute cost.

We want to remove ‘the noise’ associated with a mundane service that causes too much angst when it goes wrong and is ignored when good. We will continue to be independent of the waste supplier network and work on behalf of our clients not the waste companies.

Even as the business grows, we want to keep our ethos and we will have a working (and sometimes personal) knowledge of our clients and suppliers. Perhaps this is time for the emergence of a new breed of service partner with a social and environmental conscience.

We intend to continue donating waste items and materials from construction projects to good causes via ProjectDIVERT. Encore have donated to 64 charities, social enterprises, construction colleges and community groups at no cost to them. Not only does this cut costs for our clients but it reduces carbon and makes sure that items that would have otherwise gone in a skip go to those in need for free. It’s the most rewarding feeling.

What do you now know that you wish you’d known when you were setting up Encore Environment?

Both Gavin and I carved our careers in the rough and tough of corporate life, so we are not shy of hard work, but to create a company from scratch in an alien environment came with its own challenges. Neither of us came from the waste industry. In a way this was one of the positives. We realised very quickly that there was a gap in the market for a business that could use intelligent data and report to key stakeholders at a senior level with full transparency. There was no technology for order processing that suited our model, there was no standard documentation across the sector, and the legal side of waste is not as tight as it should be in terms of licences and end destination transparency. All of these things took us time to understand. If all those things had been in place at the outset we would have moved forward more quickly, but we now have a sustainable business and we are able to talk with confidence about the industry.