Working from a Clean Slate

By Jeff Bowman

As I travelled through Scotland, it became very obvious that the Scots were experts at making the most out of the least. It is a business lesson worthy of note.

I often speak about the importance of looking for opportunities for your product or service outside the usual suspects.  An example would be a wood mill producing wood for building.  For years the shavings were discarded, and now there is a strong demand for the shavings to produce chip boards, wood pellets for burning and even animal bedding.  It is maximizing the sales and usage opportunity of your goods.

Long have I heard the stories about the Scots being “frugal”.I have a different slant on it.  They are intelligent users of their resources, and have been way ahead of the “reduce and reuse” curve that we are just getting a handle on now.

I asked a local business person in Glasgow why the roads were barely wide enough for two cars on the outskirts of the city. His response was simple and to the point, “ land is precious and roads cost money, if cars can pass what else do they need”. He is absolutely correct.

As I looked around, it was all around me. All the taxis were the same make, more compact to make travelling on the tight roads easier and safer, and repairs were simplified due to them having the same parts.  Many of the buildings looked centuries old even in newer sections of town.  They build them like that because they have an abundance of granite, and want continuity with the older buildings in the city. The older buildings, some hundreds of years old were obviously built to last.

One product really caught my attention.  The vast majority of roofs were slate tiled.  Where we use metal, asphalt shingle or cedar shakes, they use a much heavier natural material taken directly from quarries all over Scotland. In some cases these roofs last hundreds of years. In cases where repairs are required, slate is recycled from other buildings that have been removed or disassembled with the stones being saved for other new projects.  Not only were the slate tiles on buildings, but the exact same slate tiles appeared in many different places throughout my trip. They were placemats in one of the older hotels.  I ate off slate tiles in a popular Scottish pub. Souvenir shops had slate tile calendars.  Some of the public washrooms used them on the counters, and I can’t tell you how many places used the same slate tiles for floor tiles.

If there was another use for these rectangular tiles, I couldn’t think of it.  Not only have they maximized the usage of a particular manufactured product that they mine the raw materials for themselves, they have methods of reusing it as well. Even the chips from the cutting process are used in garden beds for decorative purposes.

Call the Scots frugal if you must, I prefer to think of them as people make the most of what they have and look for ways to gather value out of everything they do. Buildings that last hundreds of years, roofs that don’t need replacing every 20 years, and a myriad of uses for a single product from a single manufacturing process.  That’s just plain smart.

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Filed under Environmental, Invention, Jeff Bowman, Manufacturing, Sustainability

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