Focus on Green Leicestershire – Green Shoots4 April 2022
In this interview, Peter Squires of Green Shoots, an emission-free courier service, shares his journey to provide a green service to local businesses across Leicestershire and beyond.
When did you start your business and why?
We started the business in late September 2020 after my wife, Karen, and I saw a gap in the market. During one of the lockdowns, we noticed that people were emptying their attics and garages via eBay and we saw lots of delivery vans on the road. We had a look to see how many emission-free options there were and the only ones we could see were around the cities. There were none for the rural areas where we lived. My background was in travel, which had suffered quite a bit during lockdown, so I thought it was time for a change.
How did you get set up?
We leased the first electric van as we had some savings and got some help from family. More recently, we’ve bought a second van with the help of the Harborough District Council Go Green grant. That was amazing as it allowed us to develop the business.
The first fifteen months were hard going, trying to convince people that they should choose emission-free deliveries rather than the normal option. Finding the route to market took some time and with only one van we had limited appeal for the bigger companies. We took a leap of faith in getting the second van and we now have four part-time drivers as well as myself which gives us the flexibility and opportunity to work with larger organisations. Our drivers are mainly semi-retired, great with people and focused on customer service as well as being reliable and efficient. Working for us gives them a bit of variety, some satisfaction in the knowledge they are helping the environment and allows them to explore some of the beautiful countryside that surrounds us.
What’s your area of operation?
There aren’t really any areas that we don’t cover. We’ve got quite a diverse range of clients. Our first client was Waterloo Cottage Farm in Great Oxendon (https://waterloocottagefarm.co.uk/). Working with a group of local food producers who follow organic principles, they created edible16 (https://store.edible16.org.uk/) and have been delivering around the LE16 area to customers who are interested in sustainability and like the idea that they’re buying from local producers. By using our fully electric van, the food is incredibly fresh, and the food miles are negligible! Another client is called Rural Trading (https://www.ruraltrading.co.uk/) who produce toilet roll and kitchen roll made out of recycled paper and with zero plastic packaging. Our deliveries for them go as far as Tiptree in Essex and our record is 83 boxes in one van.
Our biggest contract is with the retailer Joules whose head office is in Market Harborough. They’re very committed to sustainability and ethical trading, so they jumped at the chance to use us. Tuesdays to Fridays our two emission-free vans travel from their distribution centre in Corby to stores as far north as Peterborough and as far south as Milton Keynes.
Have you found any limitations in terms of range?
We’ve had some interesting challenges on a few occasions but we view these as opportunities to learn. Both vans start the day fully charged, with a range of around 150 miles. However, using rapid chargers, they can add a further 100 miles range in around 40 minutes – just long enough for the driver to have a relaxed coffee break. Each van typically covers an average distance of 200 miles per day, so we have developed a great knowledge of where the rapid charge facilities are located in our area and we work appropriate stops into our itineraries. Our biggest challenge is the lack of infrastructure on the motorways where there are still very few charging points. It’s been useful being a driver myself as I now fully understand the challenges and the work arounds. We’ve developed our own personalised version of Google Maps with the rapid charging points across the country to help us with our route planning and this also helps us keep our customers up to date with delivery times.
What about costs compared with other couriers?
We can’t compete with the big boys but we’re not trying to. We use a bespoke pricing structure that suits the client so it could be based on miles or the volume of parcels as well as the frequency of orders. With the rise in conventional fuel prices of course, we’ve become more competitive because fossil-fuelled carriers are obliged to keep on adding a fuel surcharge.
How much carbon is saved typically for your customers?
Using Joules as an example, we’ve worked with them since October last year and have so far saved them 2.5 tonnes of CO2. We track our mileage and use the conversion rate of 20kg of CO2 saved per 100 miles (based on the diesel equivalent of our Nissan van).
What is your longer-term vision for the business?
Right now, we’re trying to involve more local businesses in using us to reduce their carbon footprint, particularly in a 10 to 15 mile radius. Medium to long-term our plan is to franchise across the country. We’ve built up a model and learned the pros and cons of operating electric vans commercially, so if we can replicate this in other areas, we would be able to help even more businesses nationally to become ‘greener’ in a quick and easy manner. Our emission-free courier service is pretty rare right now, so there’s lots of potential for growth – particularly in rural areas – and that’s what we’re building on.