CSG: Brand Pillar 2 – Heritage

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on October 11th 2017

http://www.csg.co.uk/blog/brand-pillar-2-heritage/

By now, you may be familiar with CSG’s recent efforts to identify the most important elements that make us what we are – which we’ve called our brand pillars. Last week, we examined our unique approach to customer service. This time, the focus falls on another area that makes CSG so special: our heritage and no examination of CSG’s heritage would be worth reading if it didn’t feature our Chairman and the eldest daughter of our founder, Heather Hart.

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Heather Hart signing a book at this year’s CSG book launch for “The Hart of Waste A History of Cleansing Service Group”.  Photo: CSG

Edgar ‘Bunny’ Hart had started his Hampshire Cleansing Service in 1934, with the purchase of a single tanker and dreams of greater success, which he was busily pursuing several years later when the time came to start a family. Heather was thus born into a household dependent upon the success of a new business in a world shrouded by the uncertainties of war. It’s likely to have been a time which offered more than a little stress to disrupt this domestic idyll but Heather recollects little about her father’s work, back then.

“I remember knowing that my father was ‘back from the office’, when he arrived home but at that age, I didn’t question what that might mean.”

One reason for that may have been that Bunny was also an active member of the Home Guard, tasked with monitoring enemy activity, principally around Britain’s southern coastal towns. The Home Guard may now be inextricable linked with the hapless efforts of ‘Dad’s Army’ but in reality, their role was one which put them in the front line of any threat to occur on British soil.

Another reason why the two Hart daughters were shielded from the family business was the fact that their mother, Margaret was keen to keep the two spheres separate. She always insisted that they would not be forced into the business, by default. It’s something of a stereotype that family businesses are apt to carry discussions readily from the boardroom to the dining room table but if that ever happened in the Hart household, it was only when the girls were absent, a situation made more likely by their attendance at boarding school.

Heather’s first memory of visiting ‘the office’ (CSG’s original site at Botley, Hampshire) came when, aged “between 12 and 14”, she and her younger sister, Hilary rode their ponies there – literally all the way into their father’s office. When one of the ponies did what comes naturally – and what can always be expected of them at such moments – all over the office floor, Heather recalls “Bill Norton from the yard dealt with it”. As unfortunate as the incident was, at least you might conclude that it was the best possible place to have such a waste removal requirement!

By her mid-teens, Heather had become more aware of the nature and culture of her family’s business. At 15, something happened that was to push her further into the world her father had created:

“One of my father’s employees, Rosemary Rogers (always known as “Ro”) decided to marry Bill Voller, one of the drivers. Unfortunately, her parents disapproved of the marriage and let it be known that they would not be attending the wedding. My father offered to attend in support of Rosemary and, as my mother was ill at the time, I was to accompany him.”

Not only did this more closely acquaint Heather with the business, it was also clear that those who worked there were regarded by Bunny as a kind of extended family. It was a formative experience.

Despite her mother’s concerns, Heather later sought to develop her interest in CSG – to Bunny’s great delight – and began to work in the office a few days a week “learning bits and pieces, shadowing Father and reading lots of Directors’ correspondence”. As her compulsion to join the business had been entirely self-generated, her mother was placated. Heather’s involvement therefore seemed to suit everyone.

Within a few years, Heather had become elevated to the Board, already widely experienced and yet, in her own words, “not knowing I was learning – but then I’ve always underestimated my own knowledge”. Around this time, Bunny’s health was beginning to falter but still, Heather had no expectations to succeed him – “it wasn’t in anyone’s mind, certainly not mine. I was in control of the cash book at that time as we did not have an accountant in those days”.

Upon Bunny’s death in 1971, Heather became thrust towards a leadership role, a mere seven years after her first day in work. Heather refers to her status over the next years as a “gap filler”, diverting her attention variously to Human Resources, Sales and gaining British Standards accreditations. As modest as this description sounds, her approach of adding or enhancing systems to produce continuous performance improvements in different areas sound more like the actions of a trouble-shooter, adding value to the business and maintaining the family interest.

Within months, she and CSG would find themselves at the centre of an emergency making national headlines that many observers, Heather included, believed would shape the very future of the whole waste industry.

It was February 1972 and police were called to a site near a children’s playground in Nuneaton to find 36 drums of highly toxic sodium cyanide ash dumped on open ground. The incident made front-page news and resulted in an emergency debate in the House of Commons the next day. Sweetways, a CSG subsidiary had been engaged by the authorities to move the material to our Botley site, where it was safely treated.

MPs were calling for reform of an industry that had failed to prevent an incident that could potentially have resulted in a major tragedy but many in the industry seemed resistant, aware that stronger regulation threatened to disrupt their livelihoods. CSG had to decide if it was better to position itself as a more responsible operator, with the expectation that tougher legislation would gain more business in the longer term, or add its voice to those keen to maintain the status quo. Unanimously, the Board chose the former option, embracing the brave new world of regulation and greater professionalism.

From today’s perspective, it seems as if it was an obvious choice but ours is a perspective shaped, in part, by that decision. It must have taken a great deal of courage to see through the uncertainties and dissenting voices to choose to reject the comfortable certainties of the past and invite a huge level of change, based on little more than a belief that that’s where opportunity lay.

Today, 45 years on, Heather is sanguine about the seismic shift that she and her fellow Board members saw coming.

“I think we all knew there was a need for the industry to be more responsible. The issues we faced were how to achieve that: via what processes and over what timescale? Many of the changes required increased costs or risked turning away business. Of course, we had to make these changes but we also had to remain in the market long enough to see them through.”

History now shows that this single issue heralded many of the changes the waste industry has since undergone: professionalism, consolidation, specialisation, while not alien concepts beforehand, have all become commonplace in the years since 1972.

One thing that hasn’t changed much in all that time is the strong culture within CSG; where employees are still able to think of themselves as part of the ‘extended family’. As in the rest of society, the style has become less deferential, although here too, Heather can claim to have driven this progression.

“My father was always ‘Mr Hart’ and even the Board used to refer to each other in this way. When I started, it was natural to everyone that I’d be greeted ‘Miss Heather’. I was never comfortable with that and preferred just ‘Heather’, so we began to adopt a first-name culture, which still exists today.”

It’s a culture that’s often remarked upon by new starters and it’s one that’s made more evident by the number of people who’ve been on the payroll for twenty, thirty, even fifty years. To Heather, this is more than just a statistic; it’s part of the very essence of CSG.

“The importance of having a mix of different people, with different experiences and backgrounds, each learning from the other, is hugely underestimated.”

Today, CSG has revenues of over £60m and profits of over £4.5m. In such rarefied business circles, the term ‘family business’ is often derided, as shorthand for parochialism or lack of professional impetus. Is CSG really still a family business?

“We’ve always needed professional management at the highest levels – and we’ve backed them – but the involvement of the family adds focus”, Heather insists.

Perhaps the most prominent evidence of CSG’s unique heritage is the Margaret Hart Trust, set up in 1975 by Bunny’s wife, (Heather and Hilary’s mother) as a lasting tribute to CSG’s Founder. The trust was established to provide later-life assistance to any retired CSG employee with over 10 years’ service as well as any current employee who might be long term sick.

“It assists with gardening, stair-lifts, holidays amongst many other things – and we have a lovely party for all those it helps every year, which is great fun. I think its greatest achievement is that it has consistently enabled people to keep living in their own homes for longer. My sister Hilary chairs the Trust and we are both very proud of it.”

CSG has always tried to combine the best of both worlds: the achievement and capability of a dynamic corporation with the lighter touch and firmer identity of a family concern. It’s a rare combination and one that’s a testimony to the vision, not just of the man who started it all, but to his descendants who have worked to retain the essence of that family business, established 83 years ago.

CSG: Treatment and Recovery

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on September 26th 2017

http://www.csg.co.uk/blog/treatment-and-recovery/

If you’ve spent any time involved with the Waste industry, it’s a fairly safe bet that you’ll be familiar with the Waste Hierarchy.  As long ago (or as relatively recently, depending upon your viewpoint) as the 1970s, the time came for waste to cease to be thought of as something you could just ‘throw away’ – which usually meant simply burying it or burning it (and burying what was left).  Disposal as a default method had finally become seen as unsustainable.

In 1975, the EU – or the EEC as it was, back then – announced a directive, which sought to rank the options available to minimise the creation and impact of waste.  Like most directives, its guideline status meant that it could easily be ignored and, by and large, it was.  Fourteen years later, the idea was revisited and drawn up into a hierarchy of management actions, to encourage its more widespread use.

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At the dawn of the 1990s, the concept of recycling began to gain some favour – where conditions allowed – with notable successes in campaigns to use recycled aluminium drinks cans or literature printed on recycled paper but these were examples of ‘soft’ social pressure rather than ‘hard’ legislation taking effect on areas that were, technically speaking, arguably ‘easy wins’.

Only by the turn of the millennium were the principles espoused by the hierarchy finally drafted into UK law, a quarter of a century after the concept was first proposed.  To put that into perspective, when in 1998, ‘Bob the Builder’ was first broadcast, encouraging children to “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle”, the mantra was still officially nothing more than an idealistic guideline.

Of course, in the years since then, legal expectations and waste practices have changed almost beyond recognition; the industry has had to re-invent itself from one that largely just ‘got rid of’ waste to one that was willing to go to ever-greater lengths to find a way to reclaim it in one way or another.  The relative inertia of the 25 years beforehand has been well and truly washed away with a growing tide of ever-more stringent waste regulations in the 17 years of the 21st century.

Jen Cartmell, our Operations Manager, based at our Cadishead facility explains further:

“Higher landfill taxes not only had the effect of calming the demand for simple disposal but they also encouraged operators to develop alternative solutions and created the conditions for them to invest in those alternatives.  That, combined with the higher standards expected of those who make money from waste has led to a far more professional industry today.”

Following on from those ‘easy wins’ of the 1990s, the move to expand the scope of treatment and recovery has led to ever-more intricate processes to extract reclaimed materials in one way or another.  Inevitably, the ubiquity and the residual value of oil has led to oil recovery being one of the most lucrative areas in this burgeoning sector, a logical development reflected in CSG’s strategy by our acquisition of Willacy Oil Services in 2015.

With the industry’s successes in extracting waste oil for re-refinery, together with the growing capability for separating precious metals from waste streams to create a ‘circular economy’, it’s tempting to think of waste treatment and recovery as a modern-day form of alchemy, the mythical ancient art of turning base metals into gold.  For centuries, many cultures have tried in vain to find a process to do just that. Are we, figuratively speaking, now at that point with a large proportion of our waste?

A qualified chemist, Jen is quick to point out the limitations. Treatment processes are vital to recovering the material but they’re only one part of the equation – and very often, the easiest part.

“In order to have a truly viable treatment and recovery capability, you need three things. First, a guaranteed supply of a particular waste stream, in which there is little variability of supply or composition; second a reliable, process which efficiently allows the material to be recovered in a re-usable state; and third a market for that recovered material.  Even if you’ve mastered the recovery process itself, if you can’t guarantee a steady stream to apply it to, you can’t make the investments needed to operate it and, obviously, if it’s too difficult to sell what you’ve recovered, it’s clearly not an economically viable proposition.”

Simply put, even if you’ve worked out the ‘how’ to treat and recover, you always have to be able to prove the ‘why’, the commercial incentive to actually do it.  Such pragmatism can seem rather negative but only because it flies in the face of the conventional view that re-cycling is akin to a magic process, capable of solving the world’s consumption needs.  As consumers, we’re invited to buy into that rather simplistic viewpoint because it increases the effectiveness of those ‘easy win’ examples like aluminium and paper.  If you look at these two cases objectively, they’re both perfect examples of the three-stage rule Jen explained – offering a steady supply of waste and a strong demand for the reclaimed matter.  Particularly in the case of paper, if a more digital world significantly reduced the need to buy as much of it, there would be far less incentive for anyone to recycle it.

There are some great examples of advances being made to broaden the principle in other areas – fly ash into bricks and desulphurisation gypsum from power stations into plasterboard.  Here at CSG, we’ve been able to develop commercially-viable methods to treat and recover tanalised timber and recover nickel from aqueous wastes, painstaking methods of recovery to sell to a market that was previously less well-supplied.  Even so, in both cases, the reclaimed products currently struggle to match the success of our subsidiary J&G Environmental which takes large volumes of rejected egg boxes and merely shreds them in order to make them a valuable animal bedding product.  Once again, it proves the process of recovery isn’t everything.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the growth of treatment and recovery is the fact that it’s still in its infancy.  As an industry, we’re only a couple of decades into even entertaining the idea that waste materials can be reclaimed and re-sold – and you could argue that so much has already been achieved.  Future development will not be without its difficulties – Jen is concerned that the suspension of the Environment Agency’s Definition of Waste panel is currently a disincentive for many companies to invest heavily in treatment and recovery research – but history teaches us that commercial imperative is not to be resisted for long.  There are some intriguing areas of opportunity, should the will be there to exploit them, with phosphorous suggested by experts as a particularly lucrative example.  Similarly, a means of more finely treating the waste water system to harness microscopic traces of gold that wash from our jewellery could represent a big enough prize for someone to attempt it.

To take advantage of such imaginative thinking, you have to decide what could be achievable if anything was possible.  Having identified what’s achievable, you then have to decide how you make the technique possible.  Whether in the name of science, discovery or commerce, such ‘blue-sky’ thinking has always been a potent driving force.  It’s a sign of how far the waste industry has come in a relatively short time: two generations ago, it was little more than a dirty job for hardened souls, in two generations’ time, it really could be the preserve of alchemists.

CSG: The Hart Of Waste

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on July 12th 2017

http://www.csg.co.uk/blog/the-hart-of-waste/

The great and the good of CSG gathered in a Hampshire hotel recently to celebrate another landmark occasion in the company’s long and illustrious history.

The cause for celebration was the launch of CSG’s second book, ‘The Hart of Waste’, an updated history of the company founded by Edgar ‘Bunny’ Hart in 1934. As with the previous book on CSG, ‘Waste Matters’, published in 2002, the new book was written by Nigel Watson, an accomplished writer and corporate historian.

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The guests gathered at the Solent Hotel, close to CSG’s Fareham head office at the end of the day.  The fact that our AGM had been held that afternoon meant that many important stakeholders could be present.  One such luminary was CSG’s former Managing Director, Ken Pee, who’d flown in from his home in Cyprus for the occasion.

After a convivial drinks reception, we were invited into the function room and entered a room dressed with CSG branding, a projector and screen and, of course, a table groaning under the weight of numerous copies of the new book.  Many guests filtered into the theatre seating area while others chose to stand towards the back of the room while they waited for proceedings to start.

First to speak was Heather Hart, CSG’s Chair and Bunny’s daughter, who welcomed the assembled throng and explained how it was that this second book came to be commissioned – a conversation over a glass of wine, on holiday with her sister, Hilary.

In historical terms, it may seem that fifteen years is a barely significant interlude but such is the pace of change in all areas of life, a mere decade and a half seems like half a lifetime away, particularly in some aspects of life. For example, a quick Google search uncovers an article in which 2002 was predicted to be “the year of Broadband Britain” – which means most people were still accessing the internet by dial-up modems. In fact, Google itself was only four years old, back then and as likely to be the search engine of choice for most people as Yahoo, Excite or Alta Vista – remember them? Facebook didn’t even exist (Mark Zuckerburg enrolled at Harvard in 2002 on his way to creating thefacebook, as it was once known) so social networking and social media were little more than concepts. It really was a very different world.

In the world of waste, the pace of change has been just as bewildering. A veritable slew of legislation in the last fifteen years has led to innumerable disposal practices that were commonplace in 2002 becoming outlawed – each requiring a more professional, more regulated technique of treatment. It may be ‘only fifteen years’ but in truth, it’s easily enough to warrant an entire re-telling of the official story of CSG.

Having given some insight into the creation of the book and with all the right people thanked for their participation and assistance, Heather passed the microphone to Neil Richards, CSG’s ebullient Managing Director. Neil paid particular tribute to the unique way that CSG is run, a reliance on self-sufficiency and a faith in old-fashioned values that encourages a sense of belonging and shared purpose amongst all who join the business.

Neil referred to the very distinct culture at CSG, a careful mix of the familiarity of family businesses with the professionalism of large corporations. It’s certainly no accident that the new book carefully inter-weaves pages of every element of the current CSG team all the way along the company’s timeline of events throughout its 170-odd pages and it perfectly reflects Neil’s words.

The evening was rounded off by a sneak preview of CSG’s new company video (more on that, later this year) before the books on display were given to each of those present. Many even took the opportunity to ask Heather to sign their copy – which she was delighted to do.

As the conversations carried on around the room and into the night, there was a clear sense that the launch of a book charting a company’s history was, far from being merely a documentary of the past, more a starting point to the next chapter in the remarkable story of success that all started with one man’s dream.

CSG: Exhibiting Our Knowledge

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on March 29th 2017

http://www.csg.co.uk/blog/exhibiting-our-knowledge/

CSG were out and about recently, when we exhibited at Southern Manufacturing & Electronics, one of the biggest events of its kind in the UK. We were one of around 800 exhibitors promoting goods and services to thousands of visitors from dozens of industries from 21st to 23rd March.

The event took place in a purpose-built 18,000 sq m venue at Farnborough, Hampshire – also the home of the world-famous Farnborough International Airshow – and only 40 miles from our Head Office in Fareham.

“We found it was a great opportunity for us to make contact with so many companies from all over the South, to inform them of our services, explain how we’re here to help them tackle their growing waste obligations and suggest ways for them to increase the amount of recycling and recovery options we can provide” said Louise Holgate, Marketing Manager, once the show had finished.

A large number of the CSG team were on hand across the three days to offer their combined expertise to a wide variety of companies, some of whom are fully aware of their waste responsibilities and others who are new to the many issues involved with processing waste effectively and legally. Whatever the circumstances, we were happy to offer our help and advice.

After three days of standing and talking (which never sounds like it’s a particularly difficult task until you come to do it), we packed up the stand and got back into our normal routine. We came away with sore feet, hoarse voices and a long list of people to contact to see in the coming weeks, to put our words into more meaningful actions and, of course, add another satisfied CSG customer to those we already have!

CSG turns 83!

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on January 13th 2017

http://www.csg.co.uk/blog/csg-turns-83/

On 12th January, we celebrated our 83rd birthday – the anniversary of the date when our founder Edgar ‘Bunny’ Hart started trading as the Hampshire Cleansing Service.

As a company, that makes us eight days older than Fujifilm, who were ‘only’ formed on January 20th that year, in Japan.

Needless to say, in all that time, a lot has changed in the world – including our approach to waste management – and we’ve grown steadily over the years to become one of the country’s most respected waste companies.

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Then: The vehicle that started it all: the 800-gallon Dennis tanker that Bunny bought in December 1933

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Now: One of our fleet of over a hundred tankers in its CSG livery

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Then: 1934 Admin. A page from the Hampshire Cleansing Service account book.

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Now: 2017 Admin. Some of our many office-based staff, aided by a huge infrastructure of data and computing power.

It’s a fitting testament to the vision of Bunny Hart and his family who still run CSG today that a company started all those years ago has not only survived but is primed and ready for the challenges of the next 83 years!

Other events that happened in January 1934:

  • Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman died of pneumonia (6th)
  • The Flash Gordon comic strip was first published in the United States (7th)
  • Actor Richard Briers (The Good Life) was born in Surrey (14th)
  • Illustrator Raymond Briggs (The Snowman) was born in Surrey (18th)
  • Actor Tom Baker (Doctor Who) was born in Liverpool (20th)
  • Actor Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk) was born in California (22nd)
  • Samuel Goldwyn purchased the film rights to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for $40,000 (26th)
  • Salvador Dali married his muse Gala in Paris (30th)