Six business owners give us their take-home messages on environmental building upgrades

There’s more than one pathway to running a sustainable business. For some owners, it’s built into their missions, the driving force behind why they do what they do. For others, it’s discovered in a more roundabout way; that by switching to renewable energy and mitigating their impact on the planet, they stand to make big savings on power bills and attract loyal consumers.

Below, you’ll hear from six business owners about their journeys with Upgrade Finance, and how investing in environmental upgrades has helped them make bold strides.


It’s worth rethinking your energy consumption…

The Yarra Valley Estate is a proudly sustainable corporate and wedding venue. With its warm, inviting atmosphere, and boasting the only edible forest in Victoria, it’s the leading conference and event venue in the Yarra Valley.

Co-owners John and Louise Ward are committed to running as sustainable a business as they can. Most of their waste products are recycled – either fed to their worm farm and chickens, turned into compost or taken to external processing sites. It means they were recently able to downgrade their rubbish dumpster to a teensy two square metre bin, which only needs to be emptied once every two or three months.

They’ve also turned their attentions to the Estate’s electricity usage, creating a culture where guests take what they need, and nothing more. Louise said it’s important that guests don’t leave the lights or heating on when they’re not in use, just because someone else is footing the bill.

“At the end of the day, we’re all paying the price of where the electricity comes from. In this venue, we’re able to change people’s ideas and ways of thinking about their actions.”

But the Wards still felt that something was missing; a set of solar panels would be the cherry on top for their woodland getaway. Partnering with Mount Evelyn-based solar installers, iEnergytech, and with funding enabled by Yarra Ranges Council, their loan was used to install a 39.78kW solar system on the roof of the Estate’s conference centre. It’s projected to save 1,493 tonnes of CO2 over the life of the project – the same as culling 180 homes worth of annual energy usage.

Louise said they can now use the solar panels to prove that their business is doing everything it possibly can to function sustainably.


…And feeding those savings back into the business

ATUNE Health Centres like to do things differently; ditching the cold atmosphere and sterile scent of traditional medical centres, their branch in Cardiff, New South Wales allows for natural light and plenty of air flow.

It’s a building that feels connected to the natural world. So, it’s no surprise that ATUNE’s Founder and CEO, Simon Ashley, was interested in making his business more sustainable.

“Protecting the environment and having a place that is environmentally friendly is all part of our ethos,” he said. “People recognise that when they walk into our building; it doesn’t feel like a medical centre, the atmosphere and culture are different.”

He said the other significant factor that drew him to renewable energy was the exorbitant costs associated with running the centre; their electricity bills were projected to be between $85,000 and $90,000 a year – funds that could instead be used to benefit the centre’s clients.

Enabled by Lake Macquarie City Council, Simon was able to access the funds he needed to install a 73.80 kW solar system, designed by HCB Solar. It’s projected to save the centre $27,000 in electricity costs every year, and dramatically reduce their carbon emissions by 84.5 tonnes of CO2 per year – the equivalent of taking 18 cars off the road.

Simon was excited to see the cost of the centre’s electricity bills go down.

“Most electricity is used by businesses, so if I can reduce our footprint, that’s certainly a big tick. There’s also the benefit that my outgoings for the building are, over time, going to be reduced, and that money can go towards helping our clients who need it, or anything that helps the business run better.”


Environmental Upgrades can help bring older buildings back to life

When Georgina Imberger purchased the building at 34 Breese Street, it had already had many different lives. Built around the 1960s, it had been a clothing factory, a fruit and vegetable grocer, a wine distributor, the Brunswick Tool Library, artists’ studios, and most recently, used to host raves and parties.

Georgina’s vision was to turn downstairs into a live classical music venue, and her brother, Duncan, to create a co-working space upstairs. When the building was purchased and Georgina was ready to go, the two realised they were going to need extra funds to install the sustainable upgrades they wanted.

“There aren’t many buildings of this vintage in this little pocket of Brunswick that have survived, as there’s so much development going on here,” Duncan said. “But this funding has really enabled us to give this place another life and another chapter.”

Their loan covered a 14.4 kW solar system, a new roof, asbestos removal, new insulation, double glazed windows, the creation of airlocks, LED lighting and an electrical hot water system, all of which minimise running costs and reduces emissions.

These days, Tempo Rubato downstairs consists of a performance space, a bar, and a plant nursery. On the next level up is Rubato Upstairs, a co-working space filled with natural light.

Georgina’s vision for sustainability means she’s continually finding ways to move towards better sustainability outcomes for the business.

“Tempo Rubato downstairs is now carbon neutral,” says Georgina. “We also aim for no landfill waste in our bar, with wine on tap, using TAP. wines who recycle all the components, and beer in cans, which are recycled as scrap metal.”


Today’s consumers value sustainability

For Bass & Flinders Distillery, minimising their environmental footprint and becoming more sustainable have long underpinned their work. From using locally foraged botanicals in their products to evoke the taste of the Mornington Peninsula, to reducing waste from their excess ingredients, switching to solar was their next logical step.

Enabled by Mornington Peninsula Shire Council, Bass & Flinders enlisted Dunton Group Solar and Electrical to design and install a 39.84 kW solar system. It’s set to reduce their carbon emissions by a whopping 13,000 tonnes over the life of the project – the equivalent of taking 280 cars off the road for a year.

Director Holly Klintworth said the solar panels have quickly worked their way into the brand’s personality, with the fact that Bass & Flinders gin is now ‘powered by the sun’ being actively marketed to gin lovers and connoisseurs alike.

“We have a TV screen set up at our distillery door where there’s a beautiful graph and you can see, in real time, what’s being powered by the sun or regular electricity,” she said.

“When people walk into our bar it’s one of the first things they see, and it shows that we’re serious about sustainability and that we care about reducing our footprint. There’s a really educated consumer marketplace out there now, and they like to support businesses that make an effort to be more sustainable.”


Reap the rewards of a building upgrade from day one

Each of these projects could have been financed through a traditional bank. But for many small businesses – especially in the wake of Covid-19 – it’s important to stay cashflow positive and have the flexibility to pay off any loans over a longer period.

That’s where we come in. Since our inception in 2002, we’ve used Environmental Upgrade Finance to provide over $40 million in sustainable building upgrades. Our flexible loan structure, ability to finance a broad range of environmental upgrades and collaborations with local councils mean businesses can become more sustainable sooner – and without costing the earth. Our clients own their new assets from day one, and with electricity savings consistently covering the cost of loan repayments, businesses can stay cashflow positive and immediately reap the rewards of their upgrades.


Looking to make your business more sustainable? Apply for Environmental Upgrade Finance now.

The Sustainable Australia Fund is committed to helping local businesses become more sustainable. Its mission is to enable these businesses to fund key projects and unlock savings using Environmental Upgrade Finance.

Better Building Finance is a service provider for Councils and Lenders who offer Environmental Upgrade Finance. By providing access to better finance, they make it easy to upgrade buildings to be better for staff, the community, and for the environment.


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