Stuart Black (00:03):
I had a fascinating conversation this week with James Patterson of Biological Preparations. We talked about the past, present, and future of biotech, how we can hit our climate change targets, and why David Attenborough is a key figure in changing hearts and minds.
Stuart Black (00:17):
From Red Fern Media, this is ReMake Manufacturing.
Stuart Black (00:30):
My guest this week is James Patterson, Managing Director of Biological Preparations. They're the UK market leader in biological and ecological cleaning solutions. They specialise in the development of products based on microbial, antimicrobial, plant extract, and enzyme technology.
Stuart Black (00:46):
So James Patterson, welcome to the show.
James Patterson (00:49):
Thanks very much. Thanks for having me.
Stuart Black (00:52):
So first off then, let's talk about your background.
Stuart Black (00:54):
You joined Kimberly-Clark from university back in the nineties. At that time, businesses weren't as concerned with environmental issues as they are right now.
Stuart Black (01:01):
So what attracted you to biology and the natural world, and how do you feel things have changed?
James Patterson (01:08):
I think I got some very good grounding at Kimberly-Clark. You know, I did four or five years there, and it was a great experience. But really, I wanted to try and do something that I could make more of a difference than I could in the FMCG world at the time, which had a very clear direction in the way it was going.
James Patterson (01:26):
And biotechnology, at that time, had quite a lot of investment in it, and it had some great opportunities as to where the technology could go.
James Patterson (01:36):
So I moved across to biotech really to try and see where that technology would go. You know, when you go back to the eighties and nineties, it was going to be the next IT from that perspective.
James Patterson (01:48):
So it had some great opportunities, and really it was about where it could go, having had a couple of false starts along the way.
James Patterson (01:56):
So that was really the aim, was to join something with more exciting technology. As you say, back then, it wasn't really about the environmental side. It was more about the exciting nature of new technology.
Stuart Black (02:07):
And the commercial prospects.
Stuart Black (02:08):
And were all the things that you hoped for lived up to, or have you found disappointments along the way? What's the reality of moving into that area?
James Patterson (02:18):
I think if I go back to the very early days, I think, to a large degree, biotechnology was mis-sold.
James Patterson (02:25):
So what happened was, it was sold as a solution to everything, and people were literally adding it to anything they could possibly think of and making all sorts of crazy claims. And I think that set the market back probably 10 to 15 years in reality.
James Patterson (02:40):
I don't know what the right expression would be, but it made people look at biotechnology and go, "Oh, well, no, I've tried before. It doesn't work." And we had to spend a lot of time, through the early 2000’s, just re-educating people and explaining how it works, why it works, and what it'll work on rather than it being a miracle cure.
Stuart Black (03:00):
Stuart Black (03:00):
And what do you think is the right way of framing it then? In terms of your company, you founded Biological Preparations in 2009. So what was your mission when you started that, and how would you reframe the idea of biotech?
James Patterson (03:13):
Yeah. So what we wanted to do was we ... You know, before that, we'd worked in biotech on a range of industries and we tried to pull together the best people that we knew of in the industry to form our own business, which we did. We started with about 10 of us.
James Patterson (03:27):
And what we were really trying to do was, you know, biology really is about living organisms that can do things that we can't do with traditional chemistry. So it's really about trying to replicate what nature does.
James Patterson (03:41):
You know, if nature didn't have biology, well, we all wouldn't exist for starters, but we'd be knee-high in faeces. You know, the whole way that nature works are something that we wanted to try and replicate.
James Patterson (03:55):
And we had some fantastic technology that people had worked on over the years, and we had some clever ideas about how we wanted to bring that to market and how we wanted to further develop it.
James Patterson (04:07):
And for me, when I looked at the sort of environmental side, that environmental biotechnology side, it had been sold in certain ways; normally at a very high price with not brilliant efficacy. So it didn't work brilliantly, it was very expensive, and nobody was explaining its environmental benefits of it.
James Patterson (04:29):
So we felt that we had clever enough technology that we could be just as efficacious as traditional technology, that our price point, because of the way that the technology works, would be very competitive, and of course, we could be more quantifiable in the way that we talked about being environmentally friendly.
James Patterson (04:49):
Because if you go through the nineties and most of the 2000’s, people just talked about being environmentally friendly. They didn't explain what that means. What does it mean, to be environmentally friendly? Nobody spoke about that.
James Patterson (05:03):
So for us, it was about, what can we quantify? What can we actually say to people? "Do you know, when we say environmentally friendly, we're really talking about carbon footprint, we're talking about plastic pollution, we're talking about a healthier environment with less toxicity?"
James Patterson (05:16):
You know, we can be very specific and quantifiable in what we're offering, rather than just say, "But it's good for the planet." Because again, that was oversold; "It's good for the planet." Everybody said everything was good for the planet in the end, which, of course, isn't true.
Stuart Black (05:29):
Yeah. It depends how you frame it there as well, doesn't it?
Stuart Black (05:30):
Well, we'll get into those issues in a moment, but just to paint a picture of what you are doing at Biological Preparations, what was the project that you were working on that you felt was really exciting, as you said, and sort of moved things forward?
James Patterson (05:44):
So we really started in what I'd call the software ends of the market. So we work across five different market sectors, and we were focused on the more what I'd call the bioremediation side; the ability to degrade organic matter. That is the bread and butter of biotechnology if you like. That's really what it's been best known for.
James Patterson (06:08):
And then the cross side of that was the preservative and augmentation side.
James Patterson (06:15):
So really, we started off in what I'd call the grease market. So all your fat, oil and grease, it goes down your drains, it goes into the sewers, causes blockages, causes all sorts of pollution. So you want things that can degrade that.
James Patterson (06:29):
And we were doing things in agriculture. You know, you see these massive bales covered in plastic, and what you want to be able to do is not have to treat them with acid or other nasty stuff. You want to be able to do it with microbes, and not just preserve crops, but also add some sort of enhancement to it to enable a better feed for the animals.
James Patterson (06:51):
So really, those were probably the two aspects that we started on. And then we started to expand from those from that point.
Stuart Black (06:56):
Stuart Black (06:57):
And that sort of reminds me of something you said in our pre-interview. you said, "everything we do comes back to the natural world."
Stuart Black (07:04):
So can you maybe go into that a bit more deeply and tell us what that idea is all about?
James Patterson (07:08):
Yeah. So this really goes right back to what nature is doing to try and keep everything the way that it is that we see it around us. So it's about trying to find the things that nature uses to clean or to bio-remediate or to augment.
James Patterson (07:27):
And what I mean by that is, if you can find ... So most of the work that's being done in the natural world is done by biology, but there are almost an infinite number of bacteria as a strange species, et cetera. And what you are trying to do is find ones that are particularly good at working in certain ways.
James Patterson (07:45):
And that really is the challenge to biotechnology; how do you find a way of finding something particularly good at degrading X or Y?
James Patterson (07:54):
That's what our scientists were very good at, and they spent a lot of years developing that science and developing that knowledge and came up with very, very specific solutions because biotech is about specificity.
James Patterson (08:04):
So it's not like a traditional chemical, for example. I like to term it, you know, if you were trying to get into a locked room, what biotechnology does is it actually ... There are a million keys; it's finding the right key, and then you can just literally turn the lock and open the door. And you're in the room.
James Patterson (08:23):
What a traditional technology type solution will do is it will knock the door down with a sledgehammer.
Stuart Black (08:27):
James Patterson (08:27):
You still get in, but there are lots of repercussions to that way versus the other way.
Stuart Black (08:33):
Well, let's talk climate change then. It looks like we're a long way from getting to the 1.5% target that we've all been aiming for.
Stuart Black (08:40):
What do you think are the main challenges that are getting in the way of us hitting that target?
James Patterson (08:46):
I think, to a large degree, it's people understanding why we are not getting to that target.
James Patterson (08:51):
So it's about people understanding what oil is being used for. I hear a lot of people say, "Oh, we should be using less oil," and, "Why does this happen?" And I don't think people actually realise what they're buying is actually mostly oil-based.
James Patterson (09:03):
You know, if I look at the cleaning industry, which is one of the industries that we're in, 75% to 80% of what's currently being used is petroleum-based.
James Patterson (09:13):
So until people make that change, and say, "Well, actually, I'll stop buying that cleaning product," or, "I'll stop buying that commodity that I'm currently buying," then the oil producers will not need to stop.
James Patterson (09:27):
Because it's not just about fuel and energy, because we all talk a lot about fuel and energy and what we're going to do about it; it's about the stuff outside of that. Because the fuel and energy side is not the be-all and end-all. There's another 60% of the oil producers go somewhere else.
James Patterson (09:41):
So all we can try and do is understand really what that oil is being made into and then stop buying it and buy alternatives.
Stuart Black (09:51):
But at the same time, we've been talking about this for so long, and if people aren't educated at this point, do you have any hope that they ever will be? Does the government need to lead the way and put those blocks in place?
James Patterson (10:04):
Yeah. Look, I've done this for a long time, and it was literally like beating your head against a stone wall. It was very, very difficult.
James Patterson (10:10):
But The Blue Planet changed a lot of that. You know, what I've noticed, and it was significant, was that when The Blue Planet came out, suddenly people started to understand what people were talking about in terms of climate change and what could happen and what they had to do to change.
James Patterson (10:29):
That's the first time that I've seen a really rapid acceleration in industry, which is, of course, one of the key things that matter, where people started to talk about getting to net-zero, making real change and trying to get to the numbers that we were looking at before.
James Patterson (10:45):
Before The Blue Planet, that appetite wasn't there. So I think things like that, things that really appeal to a mass market and are very educational and very impactful, can continue to drive our path down that. Because if enough people listen, look, and want change, then the industry will naturally follow because they'll see that competitive advantage and they'll move that way.
James Patterson (11:08):
So I've seen the change over the last two or three years.
James Patterson (11:14):
I mean, can governments do more? They can always do more, but to do more, they're going to have to introduce more taxes, which people don't necessarily want, and they're going to have to try and enforce change, which, again, people don't necessarily want.
James Patterson (11:25):
So it is normally better done from the bottom up rather than top-down if you want proper change. And that's what I'm hoping we've started to see over the last couple of years. We've certainly seen it in our own industry. We have seen real change over the last three years.
Stuart Black (11:39):
Do you want to sort of drill down into that? What are the big milestones that you've been impressed by?
James Patterson (11:44):
I think probably the willingness of really large companies, you know, half a billion, billion turnover companies, to try and get to a net-zero target. And not just that. Rather than just buy their way into it, in other words, offsetting, they're trying to find solutions that will minimise their carbon footprint and the effect that they're having.
James Patterson (12:07):
Whether it's changing their cleaning products range, whether it's using post-consumer recycled plastic, rather than virgin plastic, whether it's changing how they use their fleets or how they use their transports, we've seen a real shift over the last few years towards a much more environmental and sustainable future from very big companies.
James Patterson (12:30):
And even if I went back five years, those companies had very little interest in doing it. So it's been a rapid change over a two or three year period. And that's got to give everybody hope, because without those sorts of companies driving the change, then it is very hard to change.
Stuart Black (12:48):
So there is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.
James Patterson (12:50):
There is a little bit of light, yeah. There's a little bit of light.
Stuart Black (12:52):
Let's hope David Attenborough's got a few more series in him as well before ...
James Patterson (12:55):
I know. Absolutely. Yeah. I can't tell you the impact that had. It was incredible.
Stuart Black (12:59):
Alongside all of that, of course, the British government has a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78% before 2035.
Stuart Black (13:07):
How achievable is that goal and what can manufacturing do to contribute?
James Patterson (13:13):
I'd like to say it's very achievable, but unfortunately, I'm not in charge of the country.
James Patterson (13:16):
I think, from a manufacturing point of view, we've gone through a very tough time over the last 10, 12 years. You know, we had the financial crash, then we all started to see a load of recovery, then we've had COVID, which has had quite a significant impact on everybody. So I think people are starting to find their feet again, and I think we'd lost that focus that I'd just been talking about over COVID. I think people have been focused on survival rather than back on the environment.
James Patterson (13:48):
But I think now that we've come out of it, to a large degree, companies are much more focused on it.
James Patterson (13:56):
It goes back to the change that we talked about before. For us to get anywhere near those targets, the specific things like plastic, for example, we've got to start moving away from virgin plastics, which is a very high usage of oil; we've got to move away from traditional chemicals because traditional chemicals, again, come from non-renewable sources; and in general, we have to improve the transport in the country, particularly industrial transport, to ensure that we reduce our energy usage.
James Patterson (14:27):
But things like the energy crisis that we're going through will naturally drive environmental change because people want to use less energy because of the cost. A lot of drivers towards the environment happen because of cost changes. You know, suddenly, things are more expensive than they ever have been, and they look for alternatives, and often, those alternatives are more environmental.
Stuart Black (14:46):
And suddenly, everyone wants an electric car.
James Patterson (14:48):
Yeah, absolutely. Suddenly it becomes affordable because your traditional stuff has gone up in cost.
Stuart Black (14:53):
Stuart Black (14:54):
So let's talk about Biological Preparations and what you're doing to contribute to a more sustainable future. What's your activity and policies around, we can go back to climate change and reducing CO2, or perhaps reducing toxicity in the impact we're having on our seas?
James Patterson (15:11):
Yeah. I mean, we've been doing this for a long time. So as things have moved on, more and more sort of policies and sustainable development goals have come in. And we're about trying to minimise the impact that man has, if you like, on the environment. That's really what we're trying to do.
James Patterson (15:29):
That's quite broad, but bio-technology is very broad.
James Patterson (15:32):
Our mission really, if I'm going to be very specific, is around reducing plastic. So reducing plastic as a whole, but reducing the reliance on virgin plastic. And I think we're all making good steps on that.
James Patterson (15:46):
A big one for us is providing renewable technology. So in other words, technology that isn't taking carbon out of the planet and putting it into the atmosphere. So it's sustainable, it's renewable, and it massively benefits climate change.
James Patterson (16:02):
So that's a significant area that we focus on.
James Patterson (16:06):
And to do it in a commercially beneficial way. You've got to be able to do these things and ensure that people's cost base isn't going to increase. If anything, you want them to save money by moving to more environmental solutions.
James Patterson (16:20):
And then sort of the last area that we focus on is around the toxic nature of current chemicals and how they affect your waterways, your seas, and also the environments that we live in. You know, if you are a professional cleaner, or you are in an environment that's cleaned regularly, you want to be in the healthiest environment that you can be in, and utilising more natural solutions, utilising beneficial bacteria can only make that environment more healthy for you.
James Patterson (16:52):
You know, we still all don't really understand the implications on human health of a lot of the chemicals that we do over a long period. Every couple of years, new technology is banned, something that we had used for years and years. Triclosan was banned three years ago because they found all sorts of problems with it.
James Patterson (17:10):
So as we gain more understanding of how chemicals affect us, and as we're able to do things about that, I think we'll move much more towards natural solutions anyway naturally, for want of a pun. We'll move that way simply because it's the right thing to do, as well as the cost savings and everything else.
Stuart Black (17:29):
Well, let's hope so.
Stuart Black (17:29):
One more question on this area. Let's focus on the supply chain. How can manufacturing businesses reduce their carbon footprint there, since, in some ways, that's the hardest place to actually measure it?
James Patterson (17:43):
Yeah. So what we do is we measure where our suppliers are, we measure how many deliveries we get from them, and the weight of those deliveries. Therefore, we understand the CO2 impact on the transport alone will have. And as long as you are able to track these things, then you're able to reduce them.
James Patterson (18:05):
So you start to make decisions on, "How far away am I buying things, and can I buy them more locally to myself to have a lower impact?"
James Patterson (18:14):
And then once you've done that step, what you then need to be doing is going back into your suppliers and saying, "Right, what's your supply chain and how do we minimise the effect that that's having on the stuff that we buy?"
James Patterson (18:25):
So as you go through step by step by step, as long as you are tracking, you've got some sort of KPI that you want to look at, as long as you understand that you have data that you want to try and reduce, then you've got a chance of doing it.
James Patterson (18:39):
What we've found, even this year, is that a lot of people have no idea what impact it's having. They don't look at the CO2e per mile. They don't look at the supply chain further down the track.
James Patterson (18:53):
You know, if you are buying something oil-based, well, it can only come from a few places. It's certainly not coming from the UK. So although you may be saying "Made in the UK", it's only made in the UK by you. It's certainly not original.
James Patterson (19:04):
So it's about trying to minimise and make it more local and less global in reality, but it's about tracking numbers.
Stuart Black (19:11):
And that would require a big shift from the global system that we have today; products being shipped in and out of China and back round the world.
Stuart Black (19:21):
How reasonable is that suggestion?
James Patterson (19:23):
Well, I think quite reasonable. I think if you'd have asked me in 2019, I would've said less reasonable.
Stuart Black (19:30):
James Patterson (19:30):
But then COVID hit, and suddenly, everybody who was relying on a global supply chain collapsed. There was no global supply chain. You couldn't get anything from anywhere very easily. And the reliance on bringing things in from China when there was suddenly a spike in demand meant that we all ran out of stock. Everybody all over the country was running out of raw materials and packaging to be able to provide the British consumer and the British industry with their solutions.
James Patterson (19:59):
So for people like us, we were much less affected because we were buying locally and we had solutions that were in place, but for most of the big players, they're reliant on a global supply chain. And I think the lesson a lot of companies have taken from this disaster was, "Actually, we can't rely on this extended global supply chain, because actually, there's too many ways it can fall. We're going to have to look at much more local solutions."
James Patterson (20:24):
So again, I think some good things can come from some very horrendous things, and what can come out of this is actually around local, much more beneficial for us in terms of social and environmental.
James Patterson (20:39):
So that is a change that I have started to see happening already. People are starting to buy more locally and look at their supply chains.
Stuart Black (20:47):
So silver lining to the COVID crisis.
James Patterson (20:49):
Stuart Black (20:50):
As we go back to "normal", do you think we'll go back to the old ways, or do you think we can preserve these benefits that you're talking about?
James Patterson (21:00):
No, I think we'll preserve them. Because I think what you find is, once it's been set up, once enough companies have decided to make that change, then it becomes more affordable because it makes it more competitive. It makes it less competitive when everybody's buying from, let's say, China, but if you've got something set up in the UK or somewhere similar, the benefits of having that local supply outweigh anything that you're getting from elsewhere.
James Patterson (21:23):
And with the price pressure that we're all being put under in terms of raw materials and packaging globally, those cost differences are becoming marginalised as it is anyway. You know, it's nowhere near as cheap to import from China and places like that as it used to be because of energy prices and a variety of other aspects.
James Patterson (21:41):
But I can certainly see it continuing. I don't see us going back to how it used to be. I think it will continue to change in this way. I think there's a drive from the market to do that, and I think there's that element of risk that people aren't going to forget in a hurry. I think a lot of companies were stung heavily by that choice. So I think it will change and stick.
Stuart Black (22:02):
Well, let's hope so.
Stuart Black (22:03):
And looking forward again then, what are you excited by? What's at the cutting edge at the moment? Maybe it's stuff that you're working on or stuff that you're seeing. What's the next revolution around the corner?
James Patterson (22:15):
I'd like to say it's biotechnology. I think even if I look outside of what we do, there are some very, very clever companies out there who are looking at the challenges that we face as a global population in terms of water, in terms of food, in terms of climate change, and a lot of the solutions to that are being found in the natural world. You know, whether it's pharmaceutical; whatever it is, a lot of what's currently happening is being taken from the natural world.
James Patterson (22:46):
And I look at even stuff that we are working on, on a longer timeframe, you know, there are ways to disinfect by using microbes rather than using traditional disinfection techniques, which would be much more beneficial because it means that you're not relying on instant disinfection. You can actually have a healthy environment that stops nasty things from even taking root in the first place.
James Patterson (23:11):
You've got people who are looking at solutions to you won't need to use fluoride in your toothpaste because you'll be able to use microbes.
James Patterson (23:17):
I mean, there's all sorts of exciting future stuff that's coming around the natural world. And it's, how long is it going to take to bring to market and how efficacious and cost-effective is it going to be? As it always is when you come to the commercial world.
James Patterson (23:31):
But yeah, it's a really exciting time for biotech.
Stuart Black (23:34):
Well, with that, I think we'll move on to our final question. I'm going to end the show the same way I do every week, by asking my guest to tell me the one invention that, if it was never manufactured, your life would be unbearable.
Stuart Black (23:45):
So what could you not live without?
James Patterson (23:48):
Ah, well, I'm going to give you two answers. My wife would say my phone because it's permanently attached to me, but I think, from my perspective, I think the internet was the big thing for me. That just opened the world. And I look at what my kids now understand and what they're able to see and what they're able to do compared to what I had when I grew up, and it's just such an incredible, incredible invention. And the guy gave it away for free. It's just an incredible thing that happened to us. And it dominates almost everything that we do.
Stuart Black (24:23):
Yeah. Hard to imagine life without it now, isn't it?
James Patterson (24:25):
Stuart Black (24:26):
All it leaves me to say now is thanks to my guest, James Patterson.
James Patterson (24:31):
No, thanks very much. I enjoyed it. It was great.
Stuart Black (24:34):
Subscribe to this podcast in all the usual places; Apple Podcast, Spotify, Amazon, and Google Music.
Stuart Black (24:39):
Thanks, everyone for listening to this edition of ReMake manufacturing. I'm your host, Stuart Black. See you next time.