One of Minsteracres’ three key aims is conservation of the environment, both our own and the earth’s. It may sound a bit grand to put it that way but a quick look at our different departments shows how embedded that aspiration is here.
The biggest single investment we have made towards that aim is the installation back in 2013 of a biomass boiler to heat the main house, retreat house and church. Before the boiler was installed we were paying around £40,000 a year in oil. Now we spend £25,000 on locally sourced woodchip (not wood pellets) and have reduced our carbon emissions from a whopping 140 tonnes per year to just 16 tonnes per year today.
Of course not everything we do is so headlining but when taken together it all adds up.
When our housekeeping supervisor Maggie joined us two years ago, she set about reviewing all of our cleaning products and materials. “Quite a lot of what we were using wasn’t very environmentally friendly, so I contacted reps from local suppliers and got them to go through their eco credentials with me.”
It wasn’t quite as straightforward as it might seem. “We looked at recycled paper products like hand towels and toilet rolls. The ones that on the surface might seem the best turned out to come from Canada, which meant huge shipping miles to consider”, says Maggie. “Also, you need to balance eco friendliness with cleanliness, so some of the products we use are antibacterial.”
One simple but effective change Maggie made was to switch to refillable containers instead of pre-bottled, cutting plastic waste and saving money at the same time.
In the kitchen, catering manager Margaret, has always focused on keeping waste to a minimum in the preparation and serving of food. “We are always mindful of food safety,” she says, “but it doesn’t mean that we can’t make the best use of surplus,” something that anyone who has ever tasted their bread and butter pudding can attest!
Margaret’s latest innovation came from a chance conversation with a colleague who mentioned that her mum’s care home was sending food waste to make into biofuel. “In the past, food waste was used for pigswill but that all changed after the foot and mouth outbreaks,” explains Margaret.
“We keep peelings, tea bags and the like for compost for the Peace Garden, but plate waste had to go into the general waste collection along with non-recycables like waxed paper, plastics and other wrappings. Since Christmas though we have contracted with Newton Aycliffe company Warrens Ltd to take our plate waste.”
The kitchen team also took delivery of a washing machine to launder their own towels and serving cloths. “The volume we use was lost in the big industrial washer. Ours is fast and efficient and a big improvement in the amount of water and energy it uses.”
Operations manager Geoff is constantly on the lookout for environmental efficiency. He recently replaced all the centre’s lighting with LED bulbs. “LED bulbs and fittings use approximately 5% of the electrical consumption of standard incandescent bulbs and 20% of the electrical consumption of so-called energy saving fluorescent bulbs, so it’s a win-win. They are also much brighter, so everyone is happy!”
Geoff lists other measures Minsteracres takes to manage its environmental impact, “We put our utility contracts under regular review to ensure we get the best value for money, we put as much insulation as we could in the loft spaces, and fitted reflective material behind the radiators, we installed woodburning stoves which burn wood from our own trees and the wood chip we use is all sourced locally to reduce delivery miles.”
The Peace Garden already produces food for the table and the Walled Garden is being planted up with new fruit trees, shrubs and vegetables, adding significantly to our aim to become more self-sufficient in food production.
That many of these measures save money is welcome but the driving force remains to create as little adverse impact on our small patch of the planet as we can.