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4th November 2021

Land Energy, Green Stories, and Shared Goals

Girvan-based biomass fuel company Land Energy has hosted staff and members of Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere’s Partnership Board to talk sustainable partnerships and local hopes for COP26.

Glasgow’s climate conference was making headlines worldwide long before it began, and as critical inter-governmental discussions are gradually ticked off the schedule new strategies are being defined for achieving net zero goals. Here in the GSA Biosphere South Ayrshire aligned with national targets when it set out plans to achieve a 75% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2045.

The Biosphere team were joined by Councillor Alec Clark, who champions businesses that bring social benefit and stability to South Ayrshire’s economy. Land Energy’s Associate Director Hugh Montgomery led the visitors in a tour of operations at Grangestone Industrial Estate, where leftover timber and ‘brash’ (branch wood) from Galloway Forest Park is processed into biomass fuel – wood pellets for the commercial and domestic heating markets. Awarded the Biosphere Certification Mark for sustainability in April 2019, Land Energy remains robust in its commitment to their shared ethos and enthusiastic about demonstrating what can be achieved by creating and testing eco-friendly solutions to challenges that are specific to commercial forestry and to Scotland’s energy sector.

As part of the certification process applicants for the Biosphere’s scheme are asked how they demonstrate their support for communities, including education, training, and employment. Land Energy’s Girvan location was selected with a view to accessing a uniquely skilled demographic, and the experience of Ayrshire communities in forestry, engineering and related industries has enabled them to invest in local people and procurement: the company currently spends around £50,000 per month within one kilometre of the site, and £1 million each month within 50km. In terms of its own energy use the Girvan plant is virtually self-sufficient: now generating almost all its power and heat on-site it is thus ‘decoupled’ from fossil fuels. The timber that will be turned into biomass fuel comes from Galloway plantations, where planting increases year-on-year and there are always more trees growing than being felled; Land Energy and its partners are responsible for planting 6 million trees a year. With this sustainable supply at its very door, haulage distance averages less than fifty miles.

Land Energy is the largest enterprise in south-west Scotland to have been awarded the Biosphere Certification Mark and hearing operations described in numbers brings this home. The company processes 200,000 tonnes of wood each year (fascinatingly, half of this weight is water, which needs to be removed). In Scotland, 220,000 tonnes of wood pellets are produced each year, using up wood which doesn’t make the grade at sawmills and taking brash from forest floors that would otherwise be left in situ where it would release carbon dioxide and methane as it decomposed. Before Land Energy began removing this from Galloway Forest around 30% of felled wood would remain on the forest floor. At the other end of the process, carbon emissions from burning wood pellets are 95% lower than from burning oil.

‘Becoming an active part of the GSA Biosphere makes sense to us on all levels.

As a business we realise that our employees, supply chain, and support infrastructure is almost entirely sourced from the biosphere and immediate surrounding areas. We are part of the ecosystem that benefits from –  and contributes to – the human, natural and cultural capital of the area. 

The Biosphere Certification mark reminds us, on a daily basis, that we are part of something bigger, not just a business functioning in isolation. This helps us tell a story to our customers – and employees – which gives us all a sense of place. 

With COP26 happening on our door step, we are able to convey the practical action we are already contributing to the vision of renewable low carbon energy in a truly local and sustainable biosphere. As a result, we are playing an active role in the UK’s transition to NetZero.

Hugh Montgomery, Associate Director, Land Energy

The Biosphere’s factory tour allowed for greater insight into Land Energy’s day-to-day operations and was an opportunity to discuss long term sustainability goals, not only for this Biosphere business but for Scotland’s energy sector as a whole. Our Business and Marketing teams are especially keen to share the ‘green stories’ behind regional enterprise – the facts and figures they’re handling, sectorial pressures, and what motivates owners and managers to begin their journeys towards sustainability. This is not only to engage customers but to help them get to grips with those SDGs and climate change issues which seem either difficult, distant or dense. Energy can fall into any one of these categories as the public is asked to process an overwhelming amount of news and views, often with conflicting information on need, supply and cost. Similarly, while the main arguments of fossil fuels vs renewables may be easy enough to understand, there remains a gulf between national policy and how we deal with local challenges in real time. Who wants to read a two-hundred page government strategy document unless we really have to – and even if we do, where do we go from there? What are the alternatives to oil, coal and natural gas? Is it possible to switch and if it is, can we afford to?

Our Biosphere team believe we have a role to play in offering energy guidance: condensing information, facilitating discussion, and supporting individuals and communities to prepare not only for climate change impacts but for potential changes in Scotland’s energy policy that will affect the availability and cost of fuel. In many branches of our work building resiliency is where a UNESCO Biosphere can be of most use, and our working partnerships with businesses such as Land Energy can help articulate and amplify the messages about sustainability that it is most critical to convey.

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