John Ferguson Sisaltech

Midlothian company, Sisaltech, has launched an innovative plant-based thermal insulation product made from the sisal plant grown in East Africa. It is 100% natural and biodegradable and expected to generate a turnover of £250,000 in its first year and create three jobs, thanks to ongoing support from organisations including Business Gateway Midlothian.

Whilst working in Malawi, training farmers on coping with climate change, social entrepreneur John Ferguson began researching ways in which sisal could be used to create innovative products. His aim was to manufacture sustainable products and plough funds back into helping small-scale farmers in Tanzania.

As part of his research with sisal producers, John, who has an MSc in Tropical Agricultural Development, began experimenting with processing sisal. The material has previously been used to make ropes and sacks, and John began to assess its viability to create everything from ‘bags for life’ and composites for kayaks to geotextiles for erosion control, embankment stabilisation and peatland restoration.

In his final stages of research, it became apparent that the fibre from the sisal plants could be used to produce a sustainable and natural insulation product, which would be safe for installers to use.

Sisal plants are grown organically and the same plants can be harvested for up to thirty years. The sisal fibre is sun-dried and no water is required in the processing, which helps farmers to cope with the impact of climate change.

Although the fibre from the plant is shipped from Africa, the end product, after being blended with recycled fibres, sustainable binders and fire retardants, still has a significantly lower carbon footprint than other insulation products in the marketplace, many of which are made from plastic.

The company is already in discussions with various suppliers, in particular, housebuilders including Robertson Homes and Carbon Dynamic and John Gilbert Architects.

The support from Business Gateway Midlothian has included one-to-one advice and support, and a Digital Boost grant to help the company develop its online presence.

John said: “Having worked with small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa I felt motivated to start an ethical business that would help them trade their way out of poverty.

“As we experimented and started prototyping I was really excited to discover that sisal can be used to make a great insulation product, particularly when blending with other recycled textile fibres. It means that my business is able to have a great environmental impact as well as a great social impact.

“I am very grateful for all the support I’ve received so far to help get the business up and running, particularly from Business Gateway Midlothian who have helped me tremendously every step of the way, particularly in areas including digital support and ongoing one-to-one advice.”

Ann Marie Macaskill, Head of Business Gateway Midlothian, said: “It has been great learning more of Sisaltech’s opportunities to provide sustainable and ethical solutions to insulation in this country and beyond.

“As we look towards becoming a low carbon economy, I am delighted Business Gateway Midlothian has been able to support this local company’s ambition and development which has global impact.”

Business Gateway Midlothian provides expert support and guidance to new and existing businesses, including free advice from experienced business advisers to help start-ups and growth businesses planning to expand or find new ways of doing business.

Related campaign: 

The UK Social Entrepreneur Index is a celebration of social entrepreneurship across the UK. 

Open to social entrepreneurs tackling a social or environmental issue at any scale, entrants will act as beacons of inspiration for others to encompass positive social impact.

For more info visit www.socialentsindex.co.uk.

Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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