Green Business Awards 2008: Best SME - Winner HJ Berry & Sons

For a company with only 85 staff, furniture maker HJ Berry & Sons has developed a remarkably holistic approach to sustainability.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

The company is committed to creating a positive contribution environmentally, socially and economically. At every level, the company is turning this commitment into practical initiatives. Also striking is that, as well as short-term goals, HJ Berry has an ambitious long-term vision to become a truly sustainable green business. So impressed were the judges that they found the company to be not only 'Best SME' (companies from any sector with under 250 employees) for its all-round performance but also 'Best Industrial or Manufacturing Company' (see p9, opposite).

HJ Berry & Sons has been making wooden chairs and tables at Chipping, Lancashire since 1840. The company's stated aim is to be socially responsible in all aspects of its business. The patient but thorough way it applies this maxim puts many larger companies to shame.

Long-term thinking pervades HJ Berry's approach to sustainability; perhaps this comes easily to a firm that has been managed by five successive generations of the same family. The site it occupies carries additional powerful symbolism. Its Kirk Mills HQ was used in the industrial revolution by Sir Richard Arkwright, inventor of the cotton-spinning water-frame. HJ Berry is planning to turn the same mill into an educational centre to help inspire a new industrial green revolution.

HJ Berry aims to be a sustainable business with its people at its core. A Swat (sustainable work action team) reports to the managing director on ways the company can use its assets and influence to help sustain local life and the planet. Staff are involved in the company's green agenda, and ideas for new initiatives discussed at quarterly staff meetings. HJ Berry aims to treat employees with fairness and respect - no-one has been sacked for 60 years. It provides 15 affordable-rent houses in Chipping for staff and their families.

The company also tries to be a good neighbour. Ideas for community involvement are discussed with the parish council and local schools. HJ Berry supports community activities in local churches, as well as a local wildlife society and the Lancashire Woodlands Project.

Environmental sustainability is a core objective for the firm and is expressed in many different ways, among them green procurement. The buying department actively looks for greener materials, products and services, and polices the authenticity of supply. HJ Berry closely controls its manufacturing operations (discussed opposite).

The firm is a champion of local solutions to sustainability challenges. It sources no timber from tropical forests, not only because many are threatened, but also because it estimates that it takes six times more energy to bring in materials from Asia than to produce it locally.

All HJ Berry's wood supply carries FSC or equivalent sustainability certification, and 95% comes from Britain. Putting the spotlight even closer to home, the company has developed a Lancashire Woodlands furniture range sourced entirely within its own county. It draws wood from managed woodlands and replants with indigenous species as they are felled.

Richard Arkwright's historic mill is being turned into a Wood and Sustainability Inspiration Centre to educate visitors in the role of wood and woodlands in sustaining future communities. The project also includes the creation of a community of designers and craftsmen in Chipping working alongside HJ Berry. Like a relay runner preparing to pass on the baton, the company plans for the centre also to provide facilities to incubate new sustainable businesses.

Shortlisted - Buxton Press p24; DG3 Europe p25; Modec p26; The Green Insurance Company p27

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