Hot on the heels of bagging the inaugural BikeBiz Rising Star Award...

BikeBiz Award Winner Interview: Green Oil

…Green Oil has won praise from the press, consumers and trade for its eco-friendly products. Company founder Simon Nash tells Jonathon Harker about the challenges of going green……

How do you feel about winning a BikeBiz Award?
Really happy. It’s been hard work over the last few years and it’s now paying off, with Green Oil in shops nationwide and abroad.

Things have really grown quickly with Upgrade distributing Green Oil. Industry recognition is important, and I feel well deserved with all the work put in and the success of Green Oil through Upgrade recently.

Did the firm really start in a garden shed?
It actually started in a bedroom, with some garage space used. Green Oil UK had its multi-million pound expansion into the garden shed, or ‘Eco Cabin’ once the garage and bedroom-cum-office got too crowded.

We hired a Luton van and picked up the second-hand building which took half a day to take down. I planned good solid foundations of cement, and to make things green decided to replace a proportion of the sand in the mix with glass. However, collecting an entire road’s worth of glass on recycling day (before the bin men arrived) produced about two bags worth of sand after an hour of smashing it down. Worth a try though.

I initially filled every bottle myself through a recycled beer tap and basic machinery. The labels were hand applied and made from recycled paper. When an order came in, it would be a case of working in the EcoCabin until 1am and hand packing everything myself.
Production increased with the purchase of a bottling machine, and now with a factory, capacity is no longer an issue, and I get to bed a bit earlier.

Can you explain the ‘green’ aspect of the brand?

The original Green Oil formula is biodegradable, along with the rest of the range, and we also list honest recycling information. This is important, especially as anything put on your bike will end up in the environment – be it your local woods, a river you ride through or your garden. Green Oil basically came out of a frustration with other brands on the shelf at the time. ‘Contains PTFE’ and ‘Dangerous for the environment’ with the accompanying dead fish and tree logo were things I found unacceptable for products for my bike – especially riding through rivers and in rain. Moreover, none had recycling information on the label. As a typical green-minded cyclist this status quo needed fixing.

Teflon/PTFE is a particular problem – it’s not biodegradable and creates a ‘likely carcinogen’ in its production, according to he US Environmental Protection Agency.

The great thing about running a company and having a strong sense of morality and knowledge of environmental issues is that you can implement things other companies would not. For example, the use of 100 per cent recycled plastic.

No one else is doing it, most customers probably don’t notice, but it’s simply the right thing to do. Most companies would see a cost increase and dismiss using recycled plastic, and are only willing to go a bit green on the basis of it being ‘good marketing’.

This is based possibly on the mentality that business is just about making money, possibly providing jobs and nothing else. The modern company should have a ‘triple bottom line’ – financial, social and environmental. By this mantra, spending company money to make things greener is seen as good for part of this bottom line. Its something taken seriously by Green Oil UK.

How has the range expanded?
The Green Oil range started with the UK’s first biodegradable chain lube, Green Oil. Following that we developed Ecogrease, Green Clean and our award winning degreaser gel, Clean Chain which launched in late 2008.

This year we launched the world’s first fair trade bike product, the EcoSponge. This helps farmers in the Philippines – the concept of fair trade applies less to factories or countries that have a welfare state, and more at agricultural producers, so they benefit from stable prices and extra cash for lean years.

Out of the frustration of using a plastic claw brush that had spikes in the handle that dug into one’s fingers, and various plastic brushes used before, we developed the Green Oil Bicycle Brush, the world’s first FSC certified bike product. The Bicycle Brush, now available through Upgrade, has a burly handle and has many uses and is at the luxury end of the market. Importantly, it feels nice to use. The Bicycle Brush is designed with longevity in mind, unlike many things in today’s increasingly disposable society.

And turnover has doubled for the company recently?
Turnover has doubled in the last year and is increasing consistently. Upgrade, our new UK distributor, has enabled us to reach a greater number of shops, and a greater focus on export has bagged Green Oil distributors in the lucrative Netherlands and Benelux areas recently. Our next goal is for expansion in Ireland. Investment in research and development for new products within the Green Oil range has also helped increase revenue too.

Green Oil has recently opened a factory in Wales. How important to the firm is it to manufacture in the UK?
I heard a figure from one company that if you make a bike in Taiwan, you only have to ride it 50 miles (displacing 50 miles worth of car driving) to cover the carbon footprint of manufacture and getting the bike to the UK. Therefore I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty for manufacturing outside the UK, as it has its place.

However, manufacturing Green Oil in the UK is practical, and greener than producing abroad. We have expertise here in the chemical and packaging sector, and it works well for us. We could reduce the cost slightly manufacturing abroad, but it would increase the carbon footprint, and risk quality.

Creating employment in a former coal mining area in Wales is an important part of UK manufacturing for us too, alongside the sense of tradition. Brookes, Brompton and other UK manufactured brands do have a certain quality, edge and sense of tradition over and above imported ones.

Whilst international trade does have its place in creating peace through interdependence and providing work, you do hear horror stories. For example, potatoes grown in France, driven by lorry to Poland to be washed, driven by lorry to Calais and packaged in the UK, then flown to a French supermarket down the road from the original farm – this is clearly unsustainable, so it’s good to manufacture locally if possible.

Do you get involved in local cycle events?
We do. At a local college we help out once a year, and events like the Big Bike Bash and Brighton Big Dog that we sponsor here in the South. At the former we sponsor the Green Oil Lake Jump – our lube won’t pollute the water when people back flip their bikes into the lake. BikeRadar Live will be missed from our local patch of Brands Hatch however.

The Camden Green Fair and Cycle Fest is a great event we support that not many bike companies took advantage of this year. It’s a great event to back with lots of riders attending.

How long have you been working with Upgrade?
Since July 2010. I have personally used DMR products for years, so it’s great to work with them. We have high hopes as they take the brand to the next level. Rather than just letting go of the marketing, we’ve been working hard on the publicity side for Upgrade – from an additional Green Oil stand at the Cycle Show to the nationwide BBC TV coverage. Upgrade are selling Green Oil extremely well because of this. It has been great to learn from their experience and see their success with Green Oil.

Are you looking for more dealers? What are your targets?
For every 100ml bottle we sell, that’s 100ml of petrochemical, PTFE stuff not going into the environment, or on your mechanic’s hands. We aim to get into 80 per cent of the UK’s 2,000 plus bike shops by the end of the year, and take Green Oil worldwide.
We would love more dealers to come on board. After all, it’s probably a good thing to stock a product that’s been featured on national TV and to make the most of an increasingly green consumer – especially as cyclists are generally ecologically minded. Shops like yours can now easily add a batch of Green Oil to their next Upgrade order.

And what’s next for Green Oil? More products?

We plan on expanding the Green Oil range and making further use of recycled materials. Lots more publicity for current and future stockists is on its way too.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If you don’t yet stock Green Oil you should take the opportunity. It’s easy to get Green Oil through Upgrade. It’s better for your health, and the environment. Cyclists care, so at lest give them the Green Oil, UK-made option.

How should interested dealers get in contact?
Green Oil is distributed in the UK by Upgrade.
01403 711 611

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