IN this week's SME Focus we learn how a Scottish expert on the contribution of buildings to global warming has used a partnership with a technology giant and office openings overseas to build a business with a global footprint.

Name: Don McLean.

Age: 56.

What is your company called?

Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES).

Where is it based?

Our headquarters are in Glasgow but we also have offices in Ireland, the US, Canada, India and Australia.

What services does it offer?

Software technology and consulting solutions which help our customers deliver low-energy-consuming buildings and communities. We believe our impact in reducing carbon emissions worldwide is substantial as our technology is used extensively by the building industry, a sector which accounts for more than 40% of global emissions.

Who does it sell to?

In the past our core audience has been mostly architects, engineers and owners of large property portfolios. Over the last couple of years, though, we have partnered with an increasing number of other organisations such as building rating systems providers, energy service companies, manufacturers and software companies. Our technology helps these companies get their products into their chosen markets.

What is the turnover?

In excess of £5 million. We have a number of important products due to be made available in 2012 which will have a major impact.

Consequently, we are aiming to double our revenue over the next two years.

How many employees?

We recently celebrated the appointment of our 100th member of staff.

When was it formed? 1994.

Why did you take the plunge?

The roots of IES go back to 1979. I had just finished my Environmental Engineering degree. The 1973 energy crisis, the three-day week, power cuts and predictions that oil would run out by 2000 were all high in the public consciousness and I was concerned about the consequences for future generations of not having enough energy. I considered how I could make a difference and so started my PhD in detailed computer simulation of renewable energy devices.

This work, along with subsequent research and commercial activities, consolidated three fundamental observations on which IES is based.

Fossil fuels are finite and as buildings are major consumers of energy they had to be made more efficient to preserve fossil fuels for future generations.

It had been proven that the use of performance-based building simulation systems could provide much better-performing buildings consuming significantly less energy. Building performance tools had once been too complex to use and remained in the hands of academics, making very little impact on improving the building design process.

There was a significant commercial opportunity for an organisation that could assist the construction industry in using performance-based building simulation tools.

What were you doing before you took the plunge? 

I worked at Balfour Kilpatrick for the two years prior to doing an Environmental Engineering degree at Strathclyde University. I then worked for 10 years in the Abacus unit, at the Department of Architecture in Strathclyde, undertaking a PhD and then Post-Doctoral research.

During this time Abacus was recognised worldwide as one of the leaders in the application of computers for the building design process.

I was also involved in a university spin-out company. We set this up to try to exploit commercially the technical and scientific expertise that had been developed at Abacus. This spin-out company was the link between Abacus and IES.

How did you raise start-up funding?

I raised start-up funding through meeting investors at the Glasgow Development Agency's Business Ventures operation. I had a very clear idea for IES and I was able successfully to get people interested in investing.

What was your biggest break?

This was probably when we formed our partnership with Google. They have a division called SketchUp that has software used by architects all over the world.

We were interested in this too and it made sense to seek a connection between them and us. IES formalised its partnership with Google SketchUp in June 2010 based on the success of the IESVE (building performance analysis) tool that can be plugged-in to SketchUp and the associated free VE-Ware software which is used by tens of thousands across 130 countries. It was based on an existing two-year relationship formed during joint technology development on the link.

Today, the partnership delivers joint promotions to customers and linked marketing/sales campaigns, though they do not currently sell our products. We are currently investigating where we can partner further on the technology front and are excited by the future.

The relationship has significantly raised our profile worldwide – for example whenever we're mentioned on their blog we get a 30%-40% surge in traffic to our website. We also get around 2000 leads every month from their website.

What was your worst moment?

I hated having to let 12 people go during the recession. The construction industry was one of the worst hit, which in turn had a huge impact on us. We have now fully recovered though, and our staff numbers have risen again.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

We have an exceptional number of young high achievers at IES where this is their first or second job and it's been a real pleasure to watch them grow with the company. Our marketing director, Susan Falconer, for instance, joined the company on a graduate placement scheme in 1996 and by 2005 she was made a director.

Running IES is as much of a hobby to me as it is a job. As a team everyone has worked really hard to make IES the company that it is today – market leaders and great innovators based in Scotland.

What do you least enjoy?

To be honest, I'm very fortunate in doing something that I love, in Scotland and in which I believe passionately and so there is nothing of significance that gets me down about running this business.

What are your ambitions for the business?

I'd like to dominate our market worldwide.

What are your top priorities?

To grow the company revenue as quickly as possible, which will involve us diversifying geographically to generate income and establish our brand. Obviously the recession has held us back. However, we have successfully maintained a high research and development commitment – over 30% of our turnover. In 2012 we will have a number of new products coming to the market which will augment our current offering and help us be more recession proof.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish Government do that would help?

It is clear that Scottish SMEs are not getting a fair crack at government contracts because of our country's European procurement regulations. Surely a way can be found to help Scottish firms on to public-sector frameworks without falling foul of European Union regulations.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

The importance of keeping staff engaged. At IES we work hard on our corporate culture.

We base the company on simple rules such as treating others as we would want to be treated and treating intelligent people intelligently.

How do you relax?

The work here can become all-consuming and so I seek as much time as possible to be with my family. I love family visits to the cinema and I'm an avid follower of many sports – it can be extremely useful to be able to talk to Americans about baseball and Australians about Aussie rules.