Sustainability in Horticulture: A Q&A with Hillier Garden Centres

As lovers of outdoor spaces, Hillier is dedicated to the protection of its local, and our global, environment. We interviewed the company to learn more about its environmental journey.

George Catchpole
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An industry leader on a mission to pioneer good sustainable practices, Hillier is dedicated to the protection of its local, and global environment.

It’s network of 19 garden centres across the South of England provide the UK with around 1 million plants and 40,000 new trees each year. We recently had the opportunity to catch-up with George Hillier, Director of Property to talk about the company’s environmental policy and Planet Mark Certification.

Why did Hillier decide to adopt the Planet Mark certification?

As a company we recognised, within all levels of management that sustainability and our environmental policy was something we had to proactively address. What we do at Hillier, and in the horticultural industry is fundamentally positive for the environment. But at the same time in a long established business, you have antiquated ways of doing things. It’s important to reframe these processes and habits to make sure you are finding the most environmentally friendly solutions.

We had been accredited in our nursery with ISO14001. But we didn’t have one overriding policy for the whole company to adhere to, so we went out to the marketplace. Having had discussions about it both in forums and at board level. We collectively decided that the best starting point was to reach out to a third-party, who specialise in carbon footprint reporting, to come in and review what we do and how we do it. And look at the consequences of that in terms of carbon emissions.

In the process, we spoke to loads of prospective partners. The reason we partnered with Planet Mark was predominantly because of the flexibility offered. A lot of what we saw was providers offering tick box programmes. But they weren’t particularly adaptable or dynamic. We needed a programme that was going to be flexible in its approach. Helping us draw a line in the sand for our carbon emissions. This is our baseline and represents a benchmark for us to drive reductions year on year.

Can you share a bit about the Certification process itself?

Year one was the most difficult, without a doubt. Because it involves asking people to change routines or do additional things to pull information together in a way that is readable and usable for our carbon footprint. It’s one thing having access to utility bills, but we needed to display the data in a different way, on a different system. Year two was better, and year three, comparatively easy. Working with organisations in the Planet Mark community has really helped us streamline that process.

How did you involve Hillier’s employees in this process during and after the Certification?

We are lucky, in that people in our industry are generally very passionate about environmental responsibility and addressing the climate crisis we find ourselves in. It was a question of coordinating and channeling that energy and enthusiasm, to maximise its output.

Since our first year of Certification, we have done a few things. The Sustainability Energiser Workshop, put on by Planet Mark, saw 40 staff come together, including representation of all our colleagues to talk about our carbon emissions and areas of impact. Those sessions have been critical in identifying new ways of reducing our emissions. One of the things we did after the first Energiser was to identify an individual in each satellite centre that was motivated and enthusiastic about sustainability. If we get the buy in from all levels, we will have the right actions being taken at the local sites.

We also have setup our Learning and Development Hub, a platform for interaction between all our staff at, every level of the business. Employees can watch previous workshops and engagement sessions and view our carbon footprint reports.

What do you think is your biggest challenge in your sustainability journey?

I think the biggest challenge will be the same for everyone – communication. Especially if you are a diverse business, as we are. Our sites are geographically diverse and communicating learnings across each satellite centre has become an integral part of the process. That’s where something like the Learning and Development Hub is so important. We also use our website to communicate progress and challenges – our environmental policy is on our website and is updated constantly.

Could you share with us how Hillier has collaborated with other Planet Mark members on the journey?

The building I am standing in as I speak to you is our garden centre retail space down in Three Legged Cross. In collaboration with Clarke Controls, a Planet Mark member, we are redeveloping the site. We have stripped-out all the gas fired heating, replacing it with reverse-cycle air conditioning units, which are electric run. With the support of Clarke Controls, we have also installed a 100mm thick insulated roof across the entire structure, upon which we are installing a solar farm. This will generate half of the electricity demands across this site.

We are also replacing the fluorescent lights, throughout the entire site with energy efficient LEDs, and providing electric vehicle charging stations in the carpark.  We have now put 100% of our electric supply through REGO certified renewables, courtesy of Planet Mark certified, Open Energy Market. This is not a secret, and we want to share what we think is best practice with others. We need to take action as an industry and as a planet, so anything we can do to help, we will.

Bramblecrest are also one of our key furniture suppliers and I was really excited to see that they have joined the Planet Mark and are making some great strides to reduce their emissions.

What are the business benefits you have experienced through adopting Planet Mark Certification?

Certification adds gravitas. We are not environmental specialists, so we needed the support of an expert to come and review our operations because they are so diverse. We wanted every nut and bolt of our carbon footprint to be measured. The partnership we have with Planet Mark gave us the credibility to share our carbon footprint and more importantly the steps we will take to mitigate it.

We recognise we are at the beginning, we are three years into our journey and there is much more we can do. We are targeting carbon neutrality as soon as possible, 2050 is not soon enough. We are targeting 2030. Which is why we need a full picture of our impacts as an organisation.

What would you suggest businesses in the sector do as a first step to reduce their emissions? 

Finding the right partner for any organisation is a crucial first step. Different businesses will have different needs and wants. We felt, and still feel that Planet Mark is the right partner for us. Because of their dynamic approach and adaptability. My recommendation for any business that is serious about its environmental responsibility is to identify your impacts as a business, and to do that you need a carbon footprint report.

What are the plans for the future at Hillier?

We are really excited about the changes here and the pace of change. Understanding supply chain emissions and Scope 3 is the next level and something we are targeting. We are engaging with our suppliers and trying to find collaborative ways to address emissions up and down the supply chain.

We have a real vested interest in our environmental policy and feel a responsibility to safeguard the world we are going to leave behind for our children and our grandchildren. We know there is much more to be done. 

Mastering Supply Chain Engagement

Tuesday 9 July 2024, 12:00-1:00 PM

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