Sustainability Specialist: Doug Johnson

Sustainability specialist, Doug Johnson, is Founder of Mesh Energy – a smart renewable energy consultancy firm. He is the first ‘Meshling’, a chartered mechanical engineer, author and has over a decade of experience in the sustainable design and delivery of low energy buildings. Doug is also the author of ‘Right First Time’: An Architect’s Practical Guide to Planning and Delivering Low-Energy Projects.


1. What was your background prior to starting Mesh Energy?

I studied as a mechanical engineer and did a bachelors and then Masters degree at Brunel Uni in London. After having worked at a large engineering company in Havant and in parallel started a ground works contracting company on the weekends, I realized after a few years that engineering wasn’t for me. My dad had taken early retirement and he mentioned that an old colleague of his had set up a new renewable energy installation company in Norfolk. We did that together for five years and grew it to a turnover of £300K to £10M in that time. After that I did a very short stint project managing large scale solar PV farms around the UK and after having had enough of that I realized it was time to do something for me that I loved in the domestic built environment sector. Mesh was born!


2. Where did the inspiration for starting Mesh Energy come from, and what sets you apart from your competitors?

As I mentioned, I worked for a company installing renewable energy equipment back in 2008. We were selling what was profitable and what we knew. Frankly a lot of early adopter architects and clients got heavily stung and disappointed due to poor advice that wasn’t in their best interest. I set up Mesh to be holistic and independent and to help clients and design professionals to make their sustainable projects as successful as possible. Increasingly we use analytical software blended with services design (MEP) to great effect on all kinds of projects.

I know we have a massive USP besides a blended analytics and MEP offering, which is getting in early in the building design stages, before planning and helping the design team and client all the way through developed design, detailed design, construction, handover and post occupancy analysis. No other company does that, I know and the value of projects over this term is huge.


3. How did you initially obtain finance for your company?

I set aside £10k of my own money to make the business work at the start and have bootstrapped the business all the way from there. The only exception was in Jan 2020 I borrowed money for growth. Really, that was ridiculously lucky as that kept the lights on for six months as Covid hit, until our sales recovered.


4. Have you encountered any significant obstacles in your career to date? If so, how have you dealt with them?

I have officially lost count, but the “top 3” include poor management of me by managers forcing my hand in entrepreneurship and not doing enough due diligence before choosing a business partner.

The first one is easy, after continued poor management in other companies I decided I had nothing to lose. I figured a monthly salary was not worth the stress and eventually I figured that I really had no control over my destiny working for others. So, I set up my own company with what I knew! Best thing I ever did.

As for the second obstacle around partners…quite quickly after setting up Mesh I decided I ‘needed’ a business partner. I was too naive and got a partner who was easy to get on with, locally based and in the renewables industry already. He turned out be a nice guy but had no reason to work hard and he turned out to be a dead weight. It took me over two years to realise and once I dropped him the business really took off.


5. What three characteristics would you say a successful entrepreneur must have?

Absolutely the first is resilience and self-belief in what you are trying to do. Everyday is a total rollercoaster and you have to keep getting up, having had some small or large setbacks knowing that the end goal is worth it, and you will get there. Any weakness in this vision will lead to excuses, fatigue and your business failing. A great business idea can easily be trounced by lack of resilience and self-belief by the founder and likewise a mediocre idea can thrive. Persist!

I reckon the second key characteristic is the ability to start from a position of trust and build that into your team. Everyone gets the chance to prove they are not trustworthy, but starting from a position of trust is, sadly, very refreshing for most teams and they will often prove your more right than you ever thought possible. When times get tough this is key and the team will trust you!

Finally, I reckon a successful and well-balanced entrepreneur needs a distraction. Passion for your business can be all consuming and quickly turn unhealthy. Entrepreneurs have total freedom to do what they want and some kind of hobby or non-business activity you are also passionate about is key to making sure you live to see and enjoy your end goal.


6. Who do you look toward for advice and why?

I have a business coach which I have successfully used for the last five years, but I also try to keep a network of other more experienced and diverse business owners in my rolodex! I also read a lot of books and how you choose to select nuggets of information from all these sources are key to helping me form important decisions, every day.


7. Since founding the company in 2013, how have you grown your client base?

From me and a laptop and Google in 2013 we have grown on average from 2017 with a revenue of £125K (high end domestic homeowners) to this year, seeing a 100% increase in revenue growth, to £1.2M (homeowners, developers, companies and councils). We have mainly done this through education of architects and developers and following the philosophy of ‘give to receive’. It has served us well and will continue to do so well into the future.


8. What key trends do you think will impact the renewable energy consulting industry in 2023?

Net Zero carbon is becoming the new buzz word as well as some strong moves in air source heat pump technology, there is loads of juicy gossip about what large investment is going to do to the sector but let’s see. Centralised building software modelling I think will also start to be appreciated more by the sector to reach increasingly aggressive sustainability targets.

I am hoping our services will be in stronger demand than ever and that more people will realise the benefit of early-stage building performance analysis and continued support.


9. With oil and gas prices skyrocketing, do you think we will see more countries accelerating the transition to cleaner sources of energy?

No doubt. Massive divestment in oil and gas is taking place at an institutional investment level and ESG (Environmental and Sustainable Goals) are now being taken very seriously at the highest levels of business and global commerce. There is more and more data coming out that suggests decarbonization is better for economies around the globe, so smart countries will see this as a huge opportunity to grow in otherwise uncertain times.


10. Congratulations to you and the team for on your recent abseil off Spinnaker Tower! How did you find it?

I love stuff like this. I did a huge amount of rock climbing and abseiling at uni but doing it 20 years on is still really fun. It is great to do it with the team and for such an awesome local charity.


Rapid Fire:

  1. If you could gain a new skill instantly, what would you choose?The ability to separate time wasters from decent clients, sooner!
  2. What was your first job? Lawnmowing for neighbours on a ride on tractor at age 10.
  3. What dish do you cook the best? I bake a mean raisin, banana and cinnamon loaf.
  4. Are you a morning or evening person? Morning! 5am starts in the summer are simply unbeatable.
  5. Have you ever lived abroad? Yes, luckily my parents travelled a fair bit with work, so I saw the US for a couple of years as well as Switzerland in later years.