The Pádraig Hoare interview: 'LED-ing the way for 'greener' business'

Verde LED chief executive John Keohane

Climate change and energy efficiency were not a priority for many businesses when Cork firm Verde LED began in 2010.

However, there is a marked change now, according to chief executive John Keohane.

Verde helps clients reduce their energy consumption by 60% to 70% on average, by installing energy efficient LED lighting. The payback on installing these solutions is typically less than three years, according to Mr Keohane.

What began as a typical startup in 2010 is now a company with offices in Ireland, the UK and France, and a global distribution network with approximately 40% of the company's turnover generated through exports. Clients include Abbvie, Honeywell, Intel, Delphi Automotive, Maynooth University, and the HSE.

"It’s been a really enjoyable journey with different opportunities and challenges arising at different stages of our growth. In the beginning, we were educating the market for almost two years before there was a general acceptance that LED was the light source of the future," according to Mr Keohane.

"Now, almost a decade on, LED lighting is the default light source globally for almost all applications and our focus is ensuring that we are constantly staying ahead of the curve in terms of advances in our product range to ensure our clients are getting the best possible solutions on the market," he said.

There is now a huge opportunity for the business to grow in the medium-to-long-term, according to Mr Keohane -- with local politics showing the appetite for societal change.

To be honest, climate change and energy efficiency was not a top priority for many companies and organisations in the past, with many viewing it a luxury that somebody else would tackle.

"This is now starting to change, with most businesses realising that they have to play their part and that, actually, this is an opportunity for them to reduce their costs and become more sustainable, rather than the misperception that there would be this huge financial burden if they were to choose to become a 'green' business.

"This now represents a huge opportunity for our growth in the medium-to-long term due to the shift in mindset and attitude of people. We have already seen the benefit of this in Ireland -- there has been a marked increase in appetite for clients wanting to do more and be proactive. The recent local elections, where the Greens performed so well, confirmed that climate action is now a top priority for our nation," he said.

Verde LED has launched a €5m fund for customers to finance their energy efficient lighting requirements interest-free.

"We have witnessed a massive change in the last year which is extremely encouraging not only from a business perspective, but on a personal level, where I now believe people are thinking about sustainability on a day-to-day basis," said Mr Keohane.

"Whether that’s reducing use of plastic, changing to electric or hybrid vehicles and responsibly sourcing food and products. It has taken a long time to get to this point but I’m excited about the journey ahead and the changes we can contribute to in some small part," he said.

Cork has been a key component in the firm’s success, according to Mr Keohane.

"We operate nationwide, but - of course - due to the concentration of population in the cities, which would include Cork, these have contributed massively to our growth. Cork is very business friendly with great infrastructure, in terms of having a port for imports and exports, along with an airport that is growing its numbers, and routes which give greater access for business travellers to explore new markets.

"It is testament to the business environment in Cork that there are so many of the world’s top companies located here such as Apple, Dell, and Pfizer," he said.

Innovation is critical in a business like Verde LED, he said.

Innovation is absolutely critical otherwise companies run the risk of becoming a "me too" business with no unique selling proposition.

"No matter what industry you are involved in, there is a constant need to innovate to stay ahead and continuously provide clients with top class products and services."

Verde LED has been able to mitigate the effects of Brexit so far, as well as the headwinds caused by trade wars, he said.

"We believe domestic business will be largely unaffected by Brexit and are exporting to 23 countries currently, which reduces our exposure to a potential recession in the UK and any punitive tariffs."

An increase in carbon tax will incentivise business even more to invest in greener practices, according to Mr Keohane.

The single biggest incentive for businesses to increase activity in energy efficiency would be to increase the carbon tax levy so that the cost of energy increases, he said.

"Even without any grants or supports, this would have a massive impact and speed up the rate of adaption to renewables and energy-efficient technologies. If it hurts people’s pockets they will be quick to act,” he said.

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