Not all costs are a waste of money

While some commentators are increasingly to be heard using the "R" word when discussing prospects for the UK economy, there are still very good reasons to believe that we will avoid a full blown recession - just. At the top of the list comes the fact that it is the financial services sector that is bearing, and will continue to bear, the brunt of the fallout from the credit crunch.

But as last Friday's revisions to Office for National Statistics data reveal the UK economy slowed more than previously thought during the first quarter of 2008, confidence is clearly waning. And business managers across the board will be seeking to keep the tightest possible rein on costs - a task made all the more difficult for our sector by rocketing oil and gas prices. But where should the spotlight fall?

A good question to ask - but often missed, say business advisers - has to be whether in the eyes of the customer, the "cost" in question adds value to the product or service being supplied. On those grounds, the costs required to pursue the kind of environmental impact improvements implemented at Lowaters Nursery (see p27) should be judged vital to the business rather than an inessential but "nice to have" investment that can't be justified in the current economic climate.

The ornamentals nursery's scheme has seen it become the second in its sector to achieve ISO 14000 - the international specification for environmental management systems. Lowaters Nursery sales manager James Plant says being able to put "environmentally friendly" on its labels is a unique selling point: "Garden centre customers are interested in the environmental angle, and that's when garden centres themselves become interested. It sets you apart from the competition."

In the meantime, an unexpected spin-off from following the programme, which began as a pilot with other ornamental nurseries and garden centres in a scheme that continues to be run by the HTA, has been financial savings. Almost all the improvements made by the nursery have reduced either inputs or waste. And while making savings wasn't the original aim, by reducing the amount the nursery sends to landfill by 50 per cent, it is still seeing savings as Landfill Tax goes up, reports nursery manager Charles Carr.

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