Sustaining success in business: Environmentally sound companies helping save the planet

Sean O’Sullivan of Badly Made Books, Friar Street, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Helen O’Callaghan talks to three Cork business owners who are thriving with used goods.

Business in a bind

In 2015, NCAD graduate Sean O’Sullivan created an illustrated story with no words called Other Seas. “I put it together myself with no book-making experience. I did it quite badly the first time so I decided I’d make a better version of the same thing.”

This was the beginning of Badly Made Books, which O’Sullivan describes as “a bit of curiosity that turned into something worth competing in the market”. He thinks of his endeavour as a paper-works or book factory, like similar enterprises existing 100 years ago.

The name stems from his initial uncertainty about the “longevity of our experimental binding” – products “made with great paper but held together with homemade glue”. Now, with some of the oldest prototypes having survived over two years, the business title is more reflective of his ironic sense of humour.

I built my own experience.

Looking to recycled papers, handmade art and analog technologies for inspiration, Badly Made Books makes books for “readers, writers, doodlers and scribblers”. The notebooks (“first thing I learned in art college was to carry a notebook – an essential product for creative people who keep track of ideas”), art books and picture-based storybooks are stocked in 30 shops around Ireland.

2019 sees the release of titles including Melanie Jean Whelan’s The Mountain that Moved, as well as re-release of O’Sullivan’s original Other Seas, the first 100% post-consumer waste Badly Made Book.

O’Sullivan’s design background made him look at what a book is, how it’s made, how it works.

“I developed a recipe for making books and I looked to find better ingredients, e.g. a higher percentage of recycled content in the paper. I wanted to see if there was a way to make books locally with recycled papers.

Studying Design, he’d paid attention to the overall impact of industrial production. “I didn’t like what I saw. It didn’t seem the most attractive way of working, knowing the damage caused to the environment.”

The furniture and machinery he uses – creasers, guillotines – are pre-used. He uses Risograph printing. “It’s a Japanese style and is heat-free. The inks are a by-product of rice manufacture. These are small ways to build the company in an environmentally-sensitive way.”

O’Sullivan collaborates a lot with artist and writers – the aim is also to tell stories addressing issues of climate change and sustainability.


Insulation inspiration

A small vanload of paper has just arrived at the Ecocel factory in Marina Commercial Park off Cork’s Centre Park Road. For the local business offloading its used paper here, it’s a win-win – they don’t have to pay someone to shred it and they know it’s going to be used to save energy.

For almost 10 years Ecocel has been making cellulose fibre insulation from recycled newspapers and paper – insulation for use in attics, timber frame walls, sloping ceilings and party floors/walls. According to Ecocel CEO John Egan, cellulose has five clear advantages over imported mineral wools, which is what’s generally used to insulate these areas.

First off, cellulose has a good fire safety profile.

[Mineral wools make a house more dangerous to fire than if there’s no insulation – it becomes the fuel. Cellulose is safer in a fire. It doesn’t burn – it’s treated with safe fire retardants.” Cellulose is also healthier.

Imported mineral wools can only absorb moisture – they can’t release it.

"So there’s more chance of mould in the house, which is a health issue, whereas cellulose, a natural fibre, can take in and release moisture, thereby improving air quality in the house.”

Egan says cellulose lasts the lifespan of the building, whereas because imported mineral wools are synthetic and can’t release moisture, they’ll need replacing. A big plus is that cellulose has a “fairly low, even almost neutral” carbon footprint.

“With Ecocel cellulose, we’re doing no harm,” says Egan. “The biggest carbon footprint in most building products is the transport. We collect all our paper locally. Some companies in Ireland import cellulose from the Czech Republic.”

John Egan , CEO of Ecocel at Marina commercial park, Cork. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
John Egan , CEO of Ecocel at Marina commercial park, Cork. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Imported mineral wools, he says, come mostly from France and England and some even from China. “Mineral wools have a very high carbon footprint, also because of the way they’re made – with lots of heat. There’s no heat involved in making cellulose.”

It has much better heat retention ability. “With 300mm of cellulose in the attic, we achieve a U-value of 0.11. The SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland) looks for U-value of 0.16 – we’re way below that. Imported mineral wools would only achieve 0.16,” says Egan, adding that consumers shouldn’t choose price as point of comparison between different insulation materials – rather they should look at euro cost to U-value.

From that perspective, “cellulose is no more costly than imported mineral wools”. Egan included, Ecocel employs three people and is, he says, a very good example of the circular economy – where one organisation’s waste becomes another’s valuable resource.

“Ecocel cellulose not only reuses the material – it makes an insulation product that performs better than the imported high carbon insulation product which it can replace.”


Spring clean

Since Boomerang Enterprises started in 2014, it has recycled almost 35,000 mattresses and diverted over 1,000 tonnes away from landfill. A social enterprise project owned and managed by Cork Environmental Forum, the idea came from a Global Action Green Living programme delivered in Farranree – participants said they wanted a project with a recycle/reuse focus that would give employment. It generally costs €12 to recycle a mattress, with an additional €2 charge for collection.

“We were aware of mattresses being dumped and going to landfill and that a lot of the materials would take a long time to break down. It was an environmental hazard,” says Bernadette Connolly, coordinator with Cork Environmental Forum.

Bernadette Connolly, Cork Environmental Forum and Paul Kelly, project manager, Boomerang Enterprises standing among the recycled mattresses to by recycled at Boomerant Enterprises, Ballyvolane, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Bernadette Connolly, Cork Environmental Forum and Paul Kelly, project manager, Boomerang Enterprises standing among the recycled mattresses to by recycled at Boomerant Enterprises, Ballyvolane, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

A visit to a similar Dublin-based project convinced the steering group this could be replicated in Cork. Mindful that by 2022, mattresses won’t be allowed into landfill, an early partnership was formed with local authority civic amenity sites and 50% of mattresses come from this source. They also come from local retailers, who offer customers take-back on old mattresses (“bringing more responsibility into the supply chain”), and from hotels and student accommodation providers, as well as from individuals who have “an old mattress stuck in a spare room”.

Based at Northside for Business campus in Ballyvolane, Boomerang Enterprises takes in about 350 mattresses weekly. Connolly believes some hotels don’t know about the service.

By supporting social enterprise, they contribute to the circular economy, which is all about shifting perspective on how we see waste – as resource rather than waste.

The project employs 13-15 people on placement through job activation schemes like Tús, Community Employment (CE), Community Support Scheme and most recently Deaf Enterprises. Work involves manually deconstructing mattresses/beds – separating the different component elements, e.g. steel, wood, polyester, flock and coir.

The steel’s sold to metal recyclers and the wood chopped into kindling. The textiles currently go to ‘waste to energy’, which Connolly says isn’t environmentally ideal. However, research has been done with DIT on properties of some of the textiles and they’ve been tested by a private company for use as noise barriers.

“They’ve also been proven to have very good insulation properties. We’d rather they be used as noise barriers or for insulation. That’s going to be our big focus – textile reuse. That way we’d be preparing some materials for reprocessing, which could create more jobs,” says Connolly, who loves that Boomerang Enterprises is changing the way we see waste and taking mattresses out of landfill, as well as providing job satisfaction and training to people who need it.

“It’s really contributing to the circular economy,” she says, adding better design needs to be built into products so materials aren’t environmentally harmful and can be easily taken apart, reprocessed and reused.


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