Ecoserv is transforming from a cleaning specialist to a facilities management group with a focus on achieving net zero. Fiona Perrin talked with the management team.
Ask Jean Henri Beukes, Ecoserv Group’s CEO, whether the initials of the company’s new brand intentionally spell out ESG for Environmental Social Governance and he’ll respond with a chuckle. The business was known as Ecocleen until August last year and the rebrand is designed to reflect not just its expanded service offering but also reinforce its focus on sustainability as part of its DNA.
“It was a happy output on what was a consensus process,” says Beukes (left). “When we asked our customers about our brand equity we realised just how important the ‘eco’ element was to them. But we also wanted to show our commitment to service. We involved our colleagues in the rebranding and it was an exciting moment when we shared it for the first time, and everyone bought in.”
It was just one event in a busy year. In April 2021 the business announced the acquisition of JPM Group, a 1000-strong cleaning services business in the southeast of England. Aside from adding scale, this provided access to new customers and sectors — notably the growing UK film and content industries. Then in September, Ecoserv established an in-house dedicated sustainability team whose job it is to implement the plan to achieve its own ambitious goals and support customers with their programmes. In October came the move into hard services and a broader offer with the acquisition of Slough-based Cooltech Environmental Engineering for £3.5m. In November, Ecoserv partnered with environmental consultants RSK to bring measurement, science and goals to its sustainability programme. In December, it bolstered its executive team with the addition of finance director Kevin Dippenaar and chief sales officer Dees Maharaj. And in February this year the group said that all that activity had paid off with a 56% increase in turnover year on year, taking sales to £27.5m and its workforce to 2,500.
Beukes sits with members of his leadership team: COO Francois Oosthuizen, who joined in early 2021 after 22 years climbing the ranks at Servest Africa and has therefore seen a few acquisitions in his time; Maharaj, who also spent time at Servest before nearly four years at Bidvest Prestige; and Sally-Ann van Blerk (right), group sustainability and brand director, who is challenged with developing and delivering the sustainability element of Ecoserv’s declared ambition to be the largest sustainable FM provider in the UK by 2030.
No greenwashing here
The Ecocleen business Beukes and his father bought out in 2017 was a traditional contract cleaning franchise business with a strong heritage of environmental good practice. Leap forward a few years and the franchise model is being replaced by a group organisation headquartered at Wallingford in Oxfordshire with a commitment to becoming net zero by 2030 and a passion for helping its customers to minimise emissions. The focus is front and centre on its website, brand and all its communications.
Working with consultants RSK, van Blerk’s team has now published the group’s first sustainability report which includes measurement of its current emissions and commitments around specific activities to take it to net zero by 2030. Its first targets should take Ecoserv to a 50% reduction in scope 1, 2 and assessed scope 3 emissions. These include a switch to electric vehicles, mileage reduction through better delivery management and cutting energy use in offices, as well as programmes around recycled uniforms and working on innovations with suppliers. All the targets are science-based and achievable, says van Blerk, and pragmatically, the company is prioritising its efforts on achieving the 2030 goal on scopes 1 and 2, while working with its supply chain to lower scope 3 hotspots.
Sustainability consultancy may well one day be an additional revenue stream, but now the company’s focus is driving a different type of conversation with its target customer. These, says Beukes, are clients where the procurement department has “a clear mandate from their leadership to really look at the sustainability and viability of their business partners and we very much play to that message”.
Sustainability here also means understanding the link between margin and sustainability — so not price gouging but instead sensibly understanding the need for profitable partners who are around for the long-term. And it means paying the real Living Wage and ensuring that customers understand the hidden costs of absenteeism and recruitment. Beukes says that Ecoserv has invested heavily in back-office teams that continually work on recruitment and retention and that client understanding of these costs and their impact is increasing. “We’ve had real traction with our customers about converting to the Living Wage Foundation. It’s a wonderful project and we’re going to keep on having those conversations,” he adds.
Growth in the right way
It is easy to see the reality of Ecoserv as a sustainable FM business, but will it be the largest in the UK by 2030? Maintaining the run rate in turnover growth will be one key.
Ecoserv has a strong presence in education, healthcare, car showrooms and the commercial sector and, through the acquisition of JPM, a strong foothold in film and content production.
It is also focused on the health and wellbeing sectors, manufacturing and distribution. Dees Maharaj (left), newly in charge of the top line, says that while Ecoserv is seeking national contracts which will drive growth, its target customers are mid corporate sector customers who share the company values.
“Between the people around the table, we have experience in multiple sectors in the market, and we could sell to multiple sectors of the market, but we want to specialise,” Maharaj explains. “We have case studies of success and that gives confidence that we can deliver. We also run the company around KPIs and provide them to customers, which changes the discussion as we deliver the proof of our service. We’ll keep pushing that.” He wants the brand to be perceived as a market disruptor and create new market norms, and measuring and sharing performance against agreed measures through smart use of data is key to that differentiation.’
Bolting on like-minded businesses
Growth in Ecoserv will also come, says Beukes, from growing its maintenance proposition to become a significant part of the business.
“When we went and visited the top customers of Cooltech, every single customer said ‘you know what? They’re amazing. Service delivery is just excellent’.
With the injection of our investment, I can see a big opportunity to grow straight away and quickly. The staff are skilled technicians, and we are excited to grow the reactive side of the business.”
Is having sustainability at the heart of the customer proposition enough to create the differential for this fast-growing player, enabling it to take market share? Being able to assist customers with meeting their own ESG goals and being so clearly recognised for setting its stall out around achieving net zero changes the nature of the conversations Ecoserv is having with its customers, says this team. Beukes adds that he is confident his immediate competitors are not talking at the same level and while he admires some of the bigger players — “Mitie, really impressive” — there is still room for “players who are closer to the ground”.
While the team around him clearly share his vision, he has said that “the climate crisis is personal. It is about our children and their future and unless we make radical change, they will miss out on what we have taken for granted”.
It might be just a coincidence that the rebrand helps sell the ESG message, but if it also helps to deliver this company’s vision, it’s a happy coincidence.
Author’s Last Name, Author’s First Name. “Title of Post.” Blog Name, Publisher (only include this information if it is different than the name of the blog site), date blog post was published, URL. Column or section name (if applicable).
Perrin, Fiona. “Sustainability: its’s in our business DNA”, i-FM.net, 7th June 2022, https://www.i-fm.net/features/sustainability-it-s-in-our-business-dna.