Given the continually yelp-inducing world we wake up to each morning of apocalyptic economic forecasts, swingeing job cuts and institutional greed, it comes as little surprise that many of us are greeting the environmental call to arms with mutters of ’sod the environment’. An Allegra Strategies survey earlier this year suggested that business directors in the food industry were doing just that, jettisoning their glossy corporate social responsibility (CSR) brochures to keep their ships afloat; CSR dropped from third to 13th in their list of business priorities.

But becoming more carbon-efficient can ease those pangs of guilt induced by focusing on your drooping bottom line rather than combating rising sea levels. Access to The Carbon Trust’s interest-free loans has become easier of late, with sums of up to £200,000 now available, and the required carbon thresholds and admin burden reduced. Keeping your head above water by using more carbon-efficient machinery means you could both save money and rescue East Anglia from becoming a marine theme park in 2050.

Working with relics

As a baker, the oven is the very fabric of your business. And you couldn’t get a more literal interpretation of that than The Cavan Bakery, now in its 80th year. The business comprises four shops and local wholesale and bakes breads, cakes, pastries and morning goods. It has just won a prestigious two stars for its bread from the Guild of Fine Foods. Cavan was baking bread and morning goods on two antiquated gas ovens built into its walls, which required two electric water boilers for steam, and which frequently conked out. One of the relics was claimed to be the first three-deck oven in the country when it was installed... in 1944. The other oven was second-hand when it was fitted in 1961.

Patch-up jobs on the prehistoric kit were becoming ludicrously costly. When your annual maintenance fee is approaching that of a full-time salary, as it did with Cavan (a staggering £20,000), then it’s time to act. An upgrade was beyond reason. They had to be replaced.

Having taken over the family business nine years ago, owners Sarah Greenall (daughter of Tony Cavan) and husband Jeff knew massive investment was needed. "It was very apparent that we had old, inefficient ovens," says MD Jeff Greenall. "When we took over, fuel costs were manageable. As bills went higher and higher, fuel became a significant cost to the business - almost unmanageable." As if to avoid any understatement, Sarah adds: "They were absolutely enormous!"

As the business squeezed its way through traumatic times - not least the last recession and the opening of the then-biggest Sainsbury’s in the country a mile away, which saw off the greengrocer and butcher on the high street - new machinery was unaffordable. "The first thing we had to do was stabilise the business, make it profitable and secure the future of the staff," says Jeff. "It was like, ’we know what the goal is’, but before we get there we’ve got to fight a few battles and get the cash to do it. There are probably more ovens like this being used out there than you’d think. Once we’d made the decision, it wasn’t just a case of pulling the ovens out. It’s a huge expense to make it good underneath, out the back and relay the floor."

Dismantling to build up

Business building often takes a bit of business dismantling, and the bakery in Hampton Hill, Middlesex, did just that over four months of upheaval in 2008. It claimed a £31,000 Carbon Trust unsecured interest-free loan for an oven; longer-term loans were taken for other machinery at "relatively low rates" and extra cash for the refurb was part-funded by the sale of the Greenalls’ house.

Disassembling the existing ovens doubled the cost of the new oven. And the expense didn’t stop there; the new oven shone an unflattering light on the other ageing kit. The quicker and more efficient oven outpaced the old bread plant, which then needed to be replaced. If the escalating costs were daunting, the results were worth it. Reduced heat-loss and discarding the electric boilers has lopped 75% off energy consumption.

But had they known that economy was going to nose-dive, would they have made those same investments? "Yes," Jeff answers quickly. "Our gas and electricity costs are still huge, but had we not done anything, they would have been twice or even three times as much." Another benefit has been improving capacity by releasing space in the bakery, meaning they don’t need to shift production off-site.

The next progression will be more shops - its latest opened in Teddington in late 2008 - as well as reintroducing electric vans; ironically, Cavan was the first bakery to use electric vans, similar to milk floats, in the 1950s. "We’re keen to keep all the traditional elements - the huge asset of being a craft, artisan bakery - while embracing new things," says Sarah. "The world does move on and we need to appeal to that ever-moving market."


=== Ways to cut your bakery’s energy consumption ===

1. By investing in an energy-efficient steam oven, you could reduce baking times, increase the rate of production and reduce heat loss thanks to better insulation

2. Reduce your power consumption by up to 3-5% by replacing the motors on your bulk flour blowing systems with higher-efficiency ones

3. Regularly, and at least twice a year, check that your ovens are properly sealed to avoid hot air escaping. By checking and replacing your oven seals, you will avoid increasing the gas-firing rate to compensate for heat loss, providing you with considerable energy savings

4. Make sure your oven is regularly checked by a qualified gas engineer to ensure optimum combustion. Poor combustion will result in loss of efficiency, increased gas consumption and increased emissions of atmospheric pollutants

5. Motors consume nearly two-thirds of the electricity in Britain’s plant bakeries. By replacing your standard motors with high-efficiency ones you could make a 3-5% energy saving, and by making a 20% reduction in fan speed, you could make a 50% saving in power

6. The leak rate on an unmanaged compressed air systems can be as much as 40-50% of the generated output. By regularly checking air compressors and eliminating leaks, you could reduce leakage to 5% - representing a cost saving of 35%

7. Switch off plant and machinery that is not in use and provide automatic controls where appropriate (for example, ventilation systems)

8. Consider replacing any luminaries that are over 10 years old, and try to use energy-efficient light sources in all areas. Compact fluorescent bulbs use 20-25% of the energy of a tungsten bulb and can last up to 18 times longer. Regularly cleaning luminaries is also essential to maintain lighting efficiency


=== Fact file ===

The business: The Cavan Bakery, Hampton, Middlesex; established 1929; there has been a bakery behind the shop since 1870

Turnover: £900,000

Oven: A Bongard gas deck oven, supplied by Mono Equipment. (It also uses a separate new energy-saving Sveba Dahlen four-deck oven at its second bakery)

Stumbling blocks: being restricted to gas - increasing the power to the electricity sub-station would have cost £14,000+

Savings: Cavan was on good gas and electric contracts when it made the changes; gas has since increased from 1.8p per unit to 3.6p and electricity from 4.2p to 12p per unit. "As yet we haven’t made any financial savings in real terms," says MD Jeff Greenall. "Hopefully we will start to see changes when these contracts run out. However, without making the change we would be in real trouble, with old ovens and the current high utility prices"

Size of the Carbon Trust unsecured loan: £31,000 (36-month payback)

Annual energy savings: 12,000 units of gas and 6,000 units of electricity

Annual CO2 saving: 81.2 tonnes