Otter was founded as a small growing nursery in East Devon in 1964. Fast forward to the present day, we now have 7 thriving garden centres and 3 growing nurseries.
Ever since we started growing our own plants we have been passionate about protecting the environment, recognising the responsibility we have to help support biodiversity and the wider environment around us. We also recognise that gardening brings happiness and positivity to so many people, and in itself helps to encourage a greener, more sustainable future.
Over the years we have put systems and policies into place helping to reduce our impact on the environment but this is an ongoing journey, and working with our suppliers, advisors and Otter team members, we know there is always more to do.
Our pledge is to continuously review and adjust our practices to ensure we improve our environmental credentials, wherever possible.
Here are just some of the ways we are currently working to help ensure a greener future:
- In 2012 we replaced our old oil and gas boilers at our Ottery St Mary site with a biomass system and now have biomass boilers at our Ottery St Mary and Lymington sites. Our entire retail area and growing nursery in Ottery St Mary are heated by three 199KW woodchip boilers, whilst a 25kW log burning biomass boiler supplies heat and hot water for the offices. To feed the log-burning biomass boiler we source the logs from a very local supply.
WE ARE SOLAR POWERED
- Approximately 10 years ago we installed solar panels at 4 of our sites, helping to keep our energy usage very low. Most of our roof areas are covered with solar panels and we check our readings on a regular basis to ensure we are maximising the use of the sun every day! As we continue to grow as a business, we continue to explore where we can site additional panels to generate even more energy!
WE CONSERVE WATER
- Growing and selling plants requires lots of water. Where possible we recycle rain water for irrigation. In our nurseries we increasingly use drip irrigation systems which use less water, and in many of our garden centre retail areas we use ‘flood bench’ irrigations systems which use less water than conventional overhead irrigation systems.
- At our Ottery St Mary based growing nursery we collect and recycle water from two of our growing tunnels.
- At our Lymington site, which comprises of a large growing nursery and retail site, we are proud to be 100% self-sufficient with the water supply through a purpose-built reservoir.
- At both our Plymouth and Wincanton sites we collect and recycle enough rain water to cover 50% of annual water usage.
- Our customer and team member toilets are also more water efficient with waterless urinals.
- We are continually looking at how we can further save on water.
BEING ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY AT OUR GROWING NURSERIES
- We care about our carbon footprint. Through our three growing nurseries we grow over two million plants each year. This means that, unlike some other plant retailers, the majority of the plants we sell are grown near to our garden centres and do not have to travel long distances. When we need to purchase plants externally, we work to minimise ‘Plant miles’.
- We are reducing the amount of peat used in our nurseries, a change we started many years ago. Following the successful reduction of peat content by 20% for our homegrown shrub and herbaceous plants, we have now implemented to a 30% reduction in peat for all our homegrown Roses. We actively continue to trial further peat reductions and peat-free trials in our growing nurseries.
- We take a ‘nature first’ approach. For over 30 years we have used biological pest control systems on our nurseries, this includes the use of parasitic wasps which help control aphids, mealy bug and scale insects in our greenhouses.
- Our first choice is to use a natural or chemical free approach with pest control and weed control. The use of chemical controls is minimal, and when required we use bee friendly biological chemicals – and only where we feel there is no alternative.
- With careful planning, we grow what we need so that we don’t waste energy and resources.
- Any plant waste from our nurseries is composted on site and then used to improve the soil on our growing land.
- We do not deter wildlife to our growing sites and have deer, rabbits, snakes, badgers and pheasants who regularly visit us (we protect our production crops with fencing!).
- We carefully consider how we deal with waste and In the last three years our growing nursery teams have recycled over thirty tonnes of plastic and ten tonnes of cardboard.
- For spraying our plants we now use electric machines, a move away from the traditional petrol machines.
- We are currently phasing out the use of black plastic plant pots which many councils cannot recycle. We now source recyclable taupe-coloured pots. Whilst making this change, we are also reviewing how we can cut down plastic waste overall.
- Traditional stick-in plastic plant labels will disappear from our nurseries in time as we move to a new paper-based option that uses just a fraction of the plastic compared to the white plastic sticks.
- Continual improvement is in place, and our team meet regularly to review environmental policies for our nurseries.
WE ENCOURAGE PLANT POT RECYCLING
- We encourage customers to recycle plastic plant trays and pots. In each of our garden centres we provide a pot recycling facility. Customers can drop off used plastic pots for recycling – they can also help themselves to pots left by other customers.
WE CARE ABOUT THE PEAT BOGS
- As a business we share the concerns of many gardeners about the impact of peat extraction. For the past few years, we have been working behind the scenes with our suppliers to cut down the use of peat, both in the compost we sell and the compost we use on our own growing nurseries.
- In 2021 we doubled the number of peat-free composts available in our garden centres.
- Over recent years we have been actively working with compost suppliers to reduce the percentage of peat in peat-containing composts. As an example, one of our popular composts, Manor Farm, contained 50% less peat in 2021 than it did in 2020 – a significant reduction.
- For several years, we have been actively encouraging customers to switch to peat-free composts. For example, we have run special offer vouchers for New Horizon peat-free compost which have been very successful, and the peat-free compost product ranges have been featured in our Otter ‘Beautiful Gardens’ magazines.
- In 2021 we promoted peat-free composts with multi-buy offers where possible to ensure the price is at parity with peat containing composts.
- To help customers make an informed choice when purchasing composts, in 2021 we incorporated new signs in our compost areas clearly stating the approximate level of peat in any remaining peat-containing composts.
- We have delisted a number of peat-containing products from our garden centres.
- Our compost suppliers are currently working hard to find suitable alternatives to peat in line with government 2024 target. We recognise that this is technically and operationally a huge task for manufacturers, who also need to ensure adequate supplies of alternative materials to meet the growing demand for gardening related products.
WE RECYCLE – LOTS!
- Across our business we actively recycle plastic, cardboard, paper, glass and food waste.
- We work with specialist waste management experts to improve our recycling. At 5 of our sites, to ensure waste is not sent to landfill, we use a ‘Zero to Landfill’ service.
- Many of our suppliers pack their products in cardboard boxes, where possible we reuse these boxes by offering customers cardboard boxes to transport plants. Any excess cardboard is compacted so that it can be sent for recycling and reused in the supply chain.
- Many of our products arrive on pallets, all blue pallets are collected from us and recycled in the supply chain.
- Post envelopes are reused where possible.
- Empty print cartridges are passed back to our supplier for recycling. Even better, the supplier we use makes a 5% contribution to charity for every cartridge returned!
- Where possible we choose recyclable options, this includes using 100% recyclable, environmentally friendly materials for printing in-store signs, and our printing paper is produced from 100% managed forestry and is 100% recyclable.
- As a retailer of electrical products we operate under the WEEE scheme
WE ARE HELPING CUSTOMERS TO CUT DOWN ON TRANSPORT EMISSIONS
- In 2018 we installed EV (electric vehicle) charging points for customers at our Ottery St Mary, Plymouth, Wincanton and Lymington Garden Centres to encourage the use of electric cars.
- We also offer bike racks for customers at many of our garden centres.
- Our delivery drivers actively plan the shortest and most fuel-efficient routes
OUR TEAM MEMBERS GET INVOLVED TOO!
- We encourage all our team members to keep paper use to a minimum and point of sale is produced only where needed and reused where possible.
- Many of our team members cycle to work, taking advantage of bike racks.
WE ARE A WILDLIFE FRIENDLY BUSINESS
We are passionate about wildlife and supporting biodiversity in the garden, and we actively promote wildlife friendly products to our customers.
- We promote plants that attract pollinators and wildlife using the ‘RHS Plants for Pollinators’ logo to help customers identify these plants.
- We encourage customers to feed garden birds, and promote RSPB activities such as the Big Garden Bird Watch each January. Birds play an important role in encouraging biodiversity in a garden and can help reduce the need for pest controls as many birds will find delight in feeding on aphids or even slugs.
- In our garden centres we are happy to welcome wildlife. Many wild birds are attracted to our nurseries, and each year nests appear – sometimes in unexpected places! Our policy is to leave the nests undisturbed so the eggs can hatch and the fledglings grow until they are ready to fly the nest. It’s a two-way relationship, as the birds help with our natural pest control.
- We offer a large range of environmentally friendly products for the garden in all our garden centres, and each year this range gets bigger!
WHAT ABOUT OUR COFFEE SHOPS?
- All food waste is recycled by specialist waste management companies.
- Where possible, our coffee shop teams source locally. For example, our coffee is supplied by Devon-based Voyager Coffee and we actively promote West Country suppliers such as Otter Vale. At our Ottery St Mary Garden Centre our meat is sourced from a butcher just a few miles away. Our policy it to keep it local where we can. When sourcing locally isn’t feasible, we make considered choices about which suppliers we use.
- Single use plastic straws are no longer offered in any of our coffee shops.
- We offer soft drinks in recyclable glass bottles.
Like many businesses, our environmental practices are changing at quite a significant pace as we do all we can to help protect our beautiful planet. Whilst we may not update this statement for every change we are making internally, rest assured we will be making many changes this year and next. We look forward to sharing our progress with you.
For any enquiries regarding our Sustainability activities, please send us a message via our Contact Us page, choosing Marketing & Press Enquiries