Sole Bay’s green soul

ROS GREEN talked to Adnams’ ex-chairman Simon Loftus

Simon Loftus, ex-chairman of Adnams, is a man of conviction. Someone who genuinely cares about his environment. Whether it’s his idyllic family home nestled along the Blyth Estuary, or his family’s legacy and commitment to the Sole Bay Brewery in Southwold.

Let’s start with the idyllic family home. A haven of wild flowers and organic vegetable beds. Not a whiff of pesticide in the air but rather, a deliciously seductive salt breeze blowing in from the estuary. My idea of paradise…

Still, a paradise that must be alarmingly vulnerable to tidal ravages and rising waters.

A fear confirmed by Simon who describes the 1953 tidal surge, the waves lapping up to the door. He then outlines recent work undertaken to bolster the coastal defences along the Blyth.

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But will it do the job? Counter the untimely advances of the capricious North Sea?

Although he’s quietly confident that the job is done, he’s prepared to take the risk. After all, it’s been his family home since early infancy. Simon isn’t going anywhere.

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We move on to Adnams. Like his grandfather and his father before him, Simon started working at the Sole Bay Brewery from an early age. Something he hadn’t planned.

“My original plan was to be an architect. But my father tragically died in a road accident when I was 17: the family had a share in Adnams that needed looking after. More importantly, my father, who was the managing director of Adnams, had a very strong sense of justice and a commitment to social values - I didn’t want them to get lost in the business.”

Simon’s family first became involved with Adnams when his grandfather joined the business. He arrived in Southwold from Ireland via a ‘study tour’ of breweries in Copenhagen and Munich, an ambitious young man packed to the gills with exciting new brewing and marketing techniques.

Given his enthusiasm and talent, he quickly rose through the company’s ranks while also managing to fulfil his political ambitions en route by being elected as the Tory MP for Lowestoft (he made his mark by introducing a new law restricting Sunday trading in favour of quality family time).

Simon clearly comes from a family with strong ethical values. This has informed many of his professional decisions over the years both as an employee and, then later, the chairman at Adnams, not least of all Adnams commitment to the environment, which has won the company numerous national accolades over the years.

“When I went into the business they stuck me in the wine section – the least important bit. The Brewery was profitable but no one had done a detailed breakdown of Adnams Wines. And so for the first and only time in my life I took a close hard look at the figures only to prove that we were losing money on every bottle of wine we sold. After that, I was told I could do whatever I wanted with the wine business as long as it didn’t lose money.”

Simon relished the opportunity, particularly in the context of expanding wine regions globally.

During his time at its helm Adnams Wines were awarded Wine Merchant of the Year three times, stopped selling South African wines, and introduced organic wines in to the mix.

One thing led to another as Simon took responsibility for other elements of the Adnams empire, including the hotels.

When he finally was elected chairman in 1995 (taking up his position on 1996) Simon was determined to make a difference. He quickly decided it was time for a major shake-up and corporate makeover: his starting-point, a new Social and Environmental Policy.

The basic gist of which was to imbue a sense of trust and accessibility into all elements of the company, while also exploring ways to reduce the environmental impact of the business on the local community and beyond.

The rest, of course, is history…

Instead of enforcing a raft of environmental policies from above, Simon invited anyone who was interested in the company to join a new Environmental Action Group that would develop a series of innovative and workable ways of making Adnams more environmentally friendly. Or, as Simon says, “a working group that would come up with a constant stream of imperatives.”

It’s paid off. In fact, it’s difficult to know where to start cataloguing Adnams’ ‘green’ successes. Obviously there’s the eco-distribution centre famed for its grass roof and the energy efficient brew house, both of which have contributed to Adnams being the most energy efficient brewery in the UK.

Then there’s the policy of replacing standard light bulbs with low energy versions within the Adnams hotels, the policy to maximise tyre usage on HGVs by swapping them over to increase usage, the internal education campaign to get everyone on board within the company, and so on.

Meanwhile, Adnams is currently building its own huge experimental bio-digestible unit on site (most of it is underground) to power the brewery, which will become operational later this year, replete with its own educational visitor centre.

Amazing stuff. And all credit to Simon and his team who have ensured that Adnams has remained ahead of the game in cleaning up their act for the environment.

Which brings me back to Simon’s garden. The family home infused with a sense of calm tranquillity and simplicity overlooking the quiet beauty of the River Blyth. A terrifying but poignant reminder of what we stand to lose if we dare to stand still and do nothing…

As Simon says: “My heart sinks at the thought of the world my two granddaughters might inherit.”

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