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How do you grow an environmentally responsible business while working with low margins?

By Michelle Nicol

03 March 2020

With individuals like Greta Thunberg, Stephen Emmott, and David Attenborough drawing attention to the damaging effects that we, as human beings, can have on our planet, businesses are also paying more attention to their environmental impact. We look at how Australian company Acacia Environmental Management continues to be an industry leader in this field by running a lean business and staying true to its environmental values.

How do you grow an environmentally responsible business while working with low margins?

Acacia Environmental Management is a family-owned specialist land management and environmental consulting company that’s been providing services to clients in Melbourne, Greater Melbourne and Victoria for the past 15 years.

As businesses and organisations better understand the necessity of managing their local environment in a sensitive and responsible way, Acacia’s workload has increased. However, a greater workload comes with its own challenges as CEO Sophie Jones-Kelly explains: “It’s not really a luxury industry. There’s not a lot of margin in our line of work, so we have to have very efficient systems otherwise we don’t stay viable. We’ve had to learn over the last 15 years to run things very lean in terms of management and TidyEnterprise has helped us to do that.”

Keeping costs down

In the past, environmental management practices haven’t always been conservation-centric; with some industry organisations adopting cheaper, more destructive approaches to services such as weed management. In contrast, Acacia’s values have always been firmly based on conservation. Projects such as tree planting and water monitoring means they are engaged in a mixture of regular maintenance and large, one-off projects.

“It’s about having our workforce in the right place at the right time with the right tools and equipment” Explains Sophie. “Because we are always working outside, we have not only the weather conditions to deal with, but we also have really big peaks and troughs of work determined by seasonal factors.”

Over the last five years Acacia has grown its business by focusing on its environmental management credentials and keeping administration costs down.

“Since we’ve implemented TidyEnterprise, we’ve doubled the number of staff in the company, but haven’t increased our project management overheads.” - Sophie Jones-Kelly

Managing a diverse, seasonal workforce in the field

Acacia use TidyEnterprise to manage employees’ time. Sophie says that linking this with Xero payroll made it quick for their employees to adopt. “As an environmental company, we always wanted to have a paperless business. Now, everyone has the ability to enter their time using their own phones. Before we had TidyEnterprise, we found we were always chasing staff to put their time entries in. Linking payroll to project management meant that we knew for certain every single week everyone’s time had been added. Linking those two systems was a real benefit to ensure we still have the accountability that we need to manage tight project budgets.”

Working with a passionate group of like-minded environmental staff whose focus is on trying to improve habitat and biodiversity, Sophie is keen to empower project managers in the field to make decisions on site. “One of the really important parts of TidyEnterprise was for project managers to be able to get the full picture all the time without having to call back to the office to talk to the admin team.”

“In our industry we’re only paid for direct hours, so if work is relying on someone else sitting in the office and recording things like herbicides, materials and approving time, then that’s time that can never be charged on to a client; whereas having a mobile device with our project managers doing everything in the field, that doesn’t become a lost cost.”

 

Measuring environmental impact

Herbicides can remain active in the environment for long periods of time, potentially causing soil and water contamination, so Acacia have a legal requirement to track how much they use. TidyEnterprise allows Sophie to report on herbicide use for audit purposes, but, as she also explains, they also use this measure to demonstrate their strong conservation values.

“One of our KPIs is that the use of herbicide per client does not increase. We use the materials section in TidyEnterprise so we can generate real data on the amount of herbicide that’s being used. We see that as an environmental measure for our company, so TidyEnterprise is helping us stay accountable.”

Environment is about the future

By championing core values based on conservation and positive environmental impact, Acacia Environmental Management has continued to grow, despite being a low margin business. Sophie is passionate about continuing in the same manner. “We’re exploring other areas while still relying on environmentally minded and trained staff. We also do consultancy which is not such a seasonal business, so we’re looking to grow areas of the business that are not so much the rollercoaster ride of summer to winter.”

As people and businesses appreciate that environmental management isn’t just a necessity, but something that adds real value to our planet, Sophie feels confident that Acacia is one family business that can continue to lead the way. “It feels like the rest of the world is catching up in that the work that we do is valued. We’re becoming leaders and experts in our field and people are gradually wanting to spend more money in their environment.”

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Author

Michelle Nicol

Michelle is a copywriter, trainer and brand storyteller who helps businesses tell their story through words that attract attention. A former BBC journalist, she loves nosing out
a great story and sharing her writing expertise through training and workshops.