Rick Mower, managing director of RAW Workshop. Image courtesy RAW Workshop
RAW launched in 2016 with a mission to build a market-leading social business that thrives on merit, quality and a relentless passion for helping lives to change and creating positive environmental impact.
The Oxford firm designs, makes and sells high quality products from garden furniture, restaurant/cafe tables and retail storage/merchandise units through to bespoke commissions and corporate office furniture.
In 2017 the firm launched a commercial waste wood collections and recycling business, providing a professional and cost effective service to many of the region's top house builders, site owners and construction firms. RAW also operates a retail unit, selling reclaimed wood at prices that are typically 50% less than than the usual 'warehouse' retailers.
At the heart of RAW is the fact that it trains and supports people who face prejudice and barriers to work. RAW's mantra is 'Be Exceptional, Not The Exception' and 80% of it's crew will have experienced life issues including mental health illness, addiction, criminality and a variety of other challenges.
For RAW, it's about developing a successful business model that also creates broader outcomes. With over 40 people now on the team, in the last twelve months RAW Workshop has created 9,389 hours of human social impact. Its wood recycling service has also meant a reduction of 34,476kgs of carbon emissions on local roads and over 800 tonnes of wood being re-used or recycled.
Now RAW’s founder Rick Mower is keen to develop the environmental sustainability of the business.
“Around 60% of our ranges and products already incorporate reclaimed materials. This gives us a head start when it comes to impact on the planet,” he says.
“However we are examining every aspect of our value chain, from supply, to use and re-use of materials, energy use to sales, our vehicles and distribution. We are on a mission to minimise our carbon footprint and work towards a zero or even net positive impact on the environment.”
Better Business Pack
RAW has taken a major step towards this goal by signing up for Better Business Pack, a funded scheme to give firms a simple roadmap to improve sustainability. Delivered by award-winning environmentally responsible printer Seacourt, the scheme consists of nine clear actions, each addressing a different business area. There are clear guidelines and resources, all designed to quickly generate results while enabling firms to follow a sustainability strategy at their own pace.
The first action RAW has taken is the Energy Audit from OxFutures for Oxfordshire firms. The professional audit is worth £1,600 and offers firms the further opportunity to receive grant funding for up to £10,000.
“The audit has really helped guide us and create a pathway to an improved environmental impact,” says Rick Mower. “One of our buildings is an ancient barn, but it’s pretty solid and now well insulated. We are careful about energy use when it comes to heating and lighting.
“There are still a lot of things we can do to lower our energy use and therefore costs. An obvious action from the audit is to switch our energy supply to renewables.” Switching to renewable energy supplier Green Energy is another Better Business Pack action. The supplier offers 100% green electricity and gas, specialising in supplying commercial premises with simple plans and no fixed contracts.
“A key area for us is waste management,’ says Rick Mower. “Our model lends itself to becoming a zero waste, circular economy business, so this will be an important step. We're also exploring the potential of having a biomass facility on site that could supply our neighbours with clean energy too.”
Seacourt has provided a simple framework to help firms implement a waste management plan. “We are looking at the different categories of waste, where they come from and how they are currently used or disposed of. Our wood materials are the easy part as they are almost entirely re-used or efficiently recycled. But we’re also looking at waste such as glass, food and plastics, much of which is used by the team and how we can all work together to ensure it is eradicated, re-used or recycled.”
A sophisticated waste management operation is in place at Seacourt which even includes wormeries to deal with food waste. There is also a strict policy on not allowing anything into the building which cannot be recycled.
“We'd also like to inform our staff about recycling. If we can influence behaviours in homes too then that's increasing the impact,” adds Rick. “We'd like to have experts coming in to give short talks on the environment and what difference we can make as individuals and families.”
RAW is in the process of switching its printing to Seacourt, ensuring that its brochures and direct mail items are now 100% environmentally friendly. “We are looking at all aspects of our business, with a view to ensuring all our providers and suppliers match the social values of our business. It's not just about what we do - it's about encouraging impact through our supply chain.
“When we are choosing suppliers and partners going forwards, we'll look at value and service as normal. But, we'll have second set of criteria that assess how that partner creates wider impact. If by giving them our business we can help them do more of that, it's a win-win deal."
Rick and his crew are constantly exploring innovative ways to improve the business, its operations and it's place in the community. "We do a lot of good but we've also proved that we can out-compete commercial alternatives with quality products and services at market prices,” he says. “To us, environmental sustainability and social impact are essential long term goals for any viable business operation. Undoubtedly, our credentials in these key areas also help us win business."