Mark Smith ZLC Energy

Mark Smith

Owner/managing director

What is your background?

I’m a chartered engineer and environmentalist. Before setting up ZLC I used to manage £200m worth of construction work in the South East for the Environment Agency and local authorities.

I’m passionate about building sustainably, which came about after I was involved in a few commercial sustainable building projects. I realised that was where my passion and attention was.

The change from working for the Environment Agency and running my own business has been massive. Working for yourself can be much more challenging, even if I don’t have to manage a £200m budget.

Why did you start ZLC?

When we began over four years ago the demand for renewables and renewable energy projects was increasing. I saw a niche in the market that I knew I would be good at, I was able to put a strong team in place and I appreciate that people buy into me and what we do at ZLC.

The focus for ZLC is currently on renewable projects, such as setting up solar PV systems and ground source heat pumps, however we are so much more than that as a business. Our team is incredibly versatile and multi-skilled, so we’re not just limited to solar. We can run and carry out a whole range of environmental projects, so the aim is to expand what we offer.

You’ve had the same team since the start…

Yes, we’ve had some changes and the number of staff we have at a given moment depends on workload of course, but our core team has been with us since day one.

The thing I like most about the team I have is that it is innovative. I believe the staff stay with us because we don’t take a ‘one size fits all approach’, which enables everyone to be creative and inventive with their work.

As the managing director are you involved in the day-to-day running of the business?

Very much yes. I manage the team and focus on what direction the business is going in, as it’s important that the team reflects my personal beliefs.

A great deal of my time is spent with our commercial clients, or working with suppliers and partners.

My specialism is the larger projects so I work closely with clients such as Trewithen Dairy and St Austell Brewery.

How do you/clients decide what they need in terms of renewable energy?

We don’t start with the technical specifications, we start with the business need. I spend a great deal of time thinking about the right solutions for a business and what will work for them.

Some might want to consider the financial benefits, others will concentrate on the corporate social responsibility aspects. We consider where they are using energy, then prioritise the plan from there.

I spend a lot of time researching a client’s business. Then we look at whether they are expanding, do they need versatile systems? Are we going to be powering what they’re doing now or will that grow?

From there we come up with a list of solutions, we look at what will get the best return on their investment and they begin to choose what they want.

How early should ZLC get involved in the planning of a renewable energy project?

The earlier we get involved the better as we can give the client a prioritised list that gives them more scope to work with. If they know they want solar and it’s a simple job we can install it as quickly as within one month. Larger jobs can take up to a year, but we’re by the client’s side at every step of the process and after all, this is a long term investment that will work for decades to come.

I’ve never had a project refused as we make sure that we try to avoid proposing something that will upset people. The local authorities are there to stop poor developments and that’s not something we want either. I’ve got a great deal of experience of overcoming problems and that can be invaluable.