The circular economy is big news – and grants are available if you know where to look. Andrew Stone reports on how some European remanufacturers are using the money they receive.
Remanufacturers are well placed to profit from the growing desire for more sustainable businesses and the emerging possibilities in remanufacturing that arise from new technologies. Novel products, processes and business models, however, cost money to develop and the problem for many - especially smaller - firms is the capital-intensive investment that new plant and R&D require. Happily, every small enterprise in the European Union is able to access (on a rolling three-year basis) up to €200,000 of funding, without falling foul of European ‘de minimis’ state aid rules. (Exceeding this maximum figure might mean the grants and any interest earned on them could be clawed back by the funding body from the firm involved).
Generous funding available
Governments in Europe are also increasingly onside, making generous grant funding available for greener businesses and processes. One promising driver of this trend is the brand new European Remanufacturing Council, which aims to increase the proportion of goods that achieve extended life through remanufacturing from the current rate of 2% to 5%. A surprisingly high number of grant schemes and funds exist to help. In the UK alone, various national and regional bodies offer more than 500 registered business grant schemes. Many exist to help businesses lower their energy consumption and carbon footprints and have the potential to help remanufacturers make processes and operations more efficient. The problem is tracking them all down. A good place to start for UK businesses is the government finance support website, which lists many. One key fund is the Carbon Trust Green Business Fund, which funds up to a third of the capital contribution towards the purchase of energy saving equipment up to £10,000 (www.carbontrust.com/client-services/programmes/green-business-fund/).
Energy efficiency grants
One company that has become adept at finding and securing grant funding is automotive remanufacturer ATP. Its commercial director Mark Bowen recommends getting wise to the possibilities these funds offer. “There is so much funding out there now,” says Bowen. “If we have a big capital expenditure purchase on new kit or machinery I then align it with all the funding streams available. There are dozens under de minimis.” Energy efficiency grants are an obvious target. ATP has used several to lower its carbon footprint by 73 tonnes of CO2 annually already, saving 171,000 kWh in energy use into the bargain. The firm is now in the process of claiming £20,000 in funding with a view to upgrading all the lighting and heating in its factory. This will help fund a £100,000 project to make its lighting and heating greener, introducing all-LED bulbs and replacing all of its storage and convector heaters for modern efficient heating systems, says Bowen. “We get £20,000 of that back and every year now we will be saving money, about £12,500.” Prior to this, ATP has also invested in new capital equipment including £200,000 in three vacuum-sealed vapour cleaning stations, for which it secured funding of £58,000. “They are energy efficient and mean we put no nasty chemicals down the drain. It saves thousands on hazchem disposal. We have also claimed £14,000 for buying a CNC machine to make our production process more efficient.”
Asking what’s available
Knowing where to go for the funding is half the battle, explains Bowen. “The secret is to work with your local chambers of commerce, your local universities and local councils. Get to know them, ask them what’s available. It is out there, make it your business to find out. We have been proactive and in over three years we have claimed the maximum €200,000 in funding.” The process does require effort though, warns Bowen. “The funding is there but it’s not easy to get. The form filling is arduous and if you don't have the resources and the time you will fall foul of it. No one is going to just give it to you.” Applicants may need to demonstrate certain qualities and objectives. “Normally getting approval means something low energy,” he says. “If you can prove it is a greener process then the funding panels are very sympathetic to that. Is it green, is it innovative and does it have a good environmental impact? If you can answer yes to those questions you are well on the way to getting funded.” Job creation is also a common qualifying factor. “In many cases, for every £10,000 of funding you should aim to be creating one job,” says Bowen. “Quality accreditations obviously go down very well too - and so does looking the part. You will be visited and audited so if your housekeeping is awful it won’t look good. It’s no good being a dirty, oily business and expect to get funding.” Your commitment to the process does not stop when the funds finally arrive either, he concludes. “You have to be prepared to keep good documentation and good audit trails. You can’t go into it half-heartedly - but once you’ve got the first grant, it becomes addictive and after the first one it also becomes much easier.”