Q & A with Jonathan Finnerty of Green Unit Ltd

Jonathan Finnerty (left) at the Ideal Home Show

Jonathan Finnerty started Green Unit in 2012 with Philip Clayden a furniture designer.  The company manufactures beautifully designed, sustainable buildings which have a wide range of uses including homes, offices, schools, community buildings and even visitor and healthcare centres.  Currently based in the Culham area of Science Vale, the company has successfully prototyped and sold buildings to early adopters and will soon scale its production up with a move to a substantially bigger factory right next door to the Science Park.

Q: What does your company do?
A: We manufacture a range of premium modular, low carbon, sustainable buildings called the ARC.  They have a unique barrel vaulted, curved aesthetic and are a product of local collaborations and developing new technologies.  They are manufactured offsite and delivered to a client’s site virtually complete.
The buildings are predominantly designed to be single storey, although we’ve developed a two storey building which was showcased at the Ideal Home Show.

Q: What inspired you to start the company?
A: A burning passion for sustainability and community!  At its heart, Green Unit seeks low carbon solutions as well as ways to neutralise some of the harmful aspects of climate change.  We have a complete commitment to the environment BUT without compromise – so better design, lower cost of construction and lower operational running costs.

Q: How has your business benefited from working in local collaboration with others?
A: From the very beginning Green Unit has benefited from collaborations made possible from our location here in Science Vale.  We’ve worked with Oxford Brookes University on both stress testing the building’s structural envelope as well as practical thermal testing of the building’s level of airtightness and insulation.
As we have researched and developed new materials, this has been shared with Oxford Brookes for thermal modelling to ensure our Passivhaus principles were still achieved.  Comparative studies conducted by Dr Chris Kendrick at Brookes to map the ARC’s thermal performance and low carbon materials relative to traditional buildings, have been provided to demonstrate the ARC’s sustainable credentials.

Q: What innovative or pioneering projects are you currently involved in?
A: We are currently looking to raise research and development grant funding to enable us to collaborate with other technology providers to integrate renewables into the ARC to enable its use off-grid.  Recognising the harmful effects of climate change we wish to develop flood safe buildings and sustainably improve the buildings’ comfort levels for ventilation, heating, acoustics and natural light.  Some of this involves ‘Internet of Things’ technologies as well as exciting new material developments.

Q: Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
A: Manufacturing premium and affordable ranges of zero carbon buildings offsite for many different applications.  Further refinements in design will also enable our buildings to be supplied in flat pack kits for easy erection by competent self-builders.
Green Unit will have expanded overseas – probably with franchise operations in a few territories.  All research and development will be managed from our UK Science Vale base however, with a tight control over the company’s Intellectual Property (IP).
Alongside this, the Green Unit Foundation will emerge to explore possibilities for the developing world to embrace the ARC, enabling poor families to have dignity in being able to build their own comfortable, sustainable and zero carbon homes.

Q: What future technology are you most excited about?
A: Improvements in battery and renewables (principally solar) technology to enable our low carbon building to operate efficiently off-grid without any need to access the grid for its power.  How fantastic to be in the Science Vale where so much of this technology is expected to flourish…

Q: Who is the person who inspires you the most and why?
A: Presently Elon Musk. His extraordinary willingness to break new boundaries and to be undeterred as he inspires others to join him on his journey.  A visionary – an extraordinary risk taker and great leader – the ultimate entrepreneur.

Q: What’s the best bit of advice you could give to a start-up business?
A: Advice comes very much in response to our early mistakes.  Stay focused at the beginning on the core project and don’t flirt around fringe development areas.  Ensure the business is adequately funded so that it can undertake thorough, professional levels of market research and marketing so company resources are targeted properly.

Q: What is the best thing about working or living in the Science Vale region?
A: Definitely the buzz and excitement of hardcore research and development, plus the central UK location that gives us good access to most of the UK’s markets.