A short week began with a full day of meetings in London. I started at the Business Design Centre with the Creative Industries KTN who were keen to align their networking plans for the coming year with upcoming sustainability and resource efficiency activities. It has been good to see such strong connectivity from the creative and digital industries on sustainability of late.
I then joined a meeting with Steve Lee of CIWM and i2i who run the huge RWM event to discuss how we can use the event to engage the waste sector in the circular economy and a planned competition for the end of the year. I think we surfaced the difficulties in getting the sector to look differently at the opportunity in front of them. Plenty of build up will be key.
The last meeting was with Forum for the Future and The Great Recovery team on how we will understand the common barriers to moving to circular economy business models. This will inform future competitions and we are particularly interested in systemic challenges where we can help in overcoming them. It was a very productive meeting. If you are interested in this, get in touch and we will talk to you.
Tuesday brought a call from Laura Owen at APSRG on remanufacturing in the UK and what government should do. Remanufacturing is taking back a product or component to ‘as new’ complete with warranty and works well where there is high embodied value, low rate of design change and the regeneration of parts is cheaper than the original.
The next day I took calls from the writers for our co-supported issue of Green Futures that will appear in April. The theme is where Science Meets Art and our work on the circular economy through The Great Recovery is a great example of this. Creative input to making more money by selling less stuff is vital. In essence businesses are moving from cheapest standard product offering to a service approach with feedback of feedstock. Essentially you sell your knowledge and expertise with good design and materials management key to success. Given the strong sectors in materials and design strong in the UK we could be real leaders at this.
Next week will see the Resource Event and the launch of phase 2 of The Great Recovery. We will be featuring videos from our New Designs for a Circular Economy competition projects but you can see some of them here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLrMOhOrmeR6lgd5M-9gdePzZ7E4FYP200
I won’t be at Resource; I’m off for the next week and a half to get married. Next blog 14th March.
Other topics discussed this week: nice ties, sea level rises, hacking designs, renewing passports.
My week kicked off with a day of phone calls. The first was with a group of companies interested in water catchment management that I was keen to include in discussions for our water strategy refresh; a later call was with UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) about how we can work with them on this. I also talked with Anna Simpson about a special edition of Green Futures we are supporting on where science and art meet. Ensuring creative and technical worlds collaborate is particularly interesting for us and there is plenty of evidence that it benefits the economy too. I also took calls to wrap up our New Designs for a Circular Economy competition (watch my twitter feed for links to project videos in the coming weeks) and the Satellite Applications Catapult on embedding sustainability in their strategy and programmes.
Highlights of Tuesday (a day in the office) included: discussions on tagging and tracking projects, supporting competition applicants to use Horizons, and catching up with others in the Sustainability team.
Wednesday brought a Horizons session with the creative industries hosted by Julie’s Bicycle – an organisation coordinating the sector’s environmental strategy and collecting comprehensive data on impacts thanks to a forward-thinking mandate to provide it from Arts Council funding. It was a fantastic session with a lot of committed individuals. I certainly learnt that ‘creatives’ help people see and experience the world in a different way. This fits well with our aims to help business see market opportunities differently and left me wondering how we get the worlds to collide more. Even this group were honest enough to say they were too insular. I was particularly excited by the idea that the creative industries could generate positive scenarios of the future and help citizens and business experience these rather than just see a description of them. This immersive experience is apparently core to many festivals, such as Burning Man, and reaches millions.
Image: Jo Hunter
creative output at the Julie's Bicycle Horizons workshop
As I say, the workshop certainly reinforced our view that we need to mix creative people with technical people more to drive socially compelling innovation. The plus side of working with the creative industries sector is British culture is highly regarded and has a huge influence around the world. This represents an important opportunity to scale innovation. One of the coolest parts of the day was meeting one of the Rockström Planetary Boundaries team: Diana Liverman who sits on the Julie’s Bicycle board. The boundaries form a fundamental part of the Horizons tool.
The week ended with two days of desk work and multiple phone calls. I dealt with some application questions from several consortia as we reached the deadline for the Supply Chain Innovation towards a Circular Economy competition and some follow up queries from the Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition. I had discussions on how Defra can use the SBRI mechanism, how we can work better with the Welsh Government innovation team (and planned a meeting),early planning of the next Clean and Cool Mission and was interviewed about aluminium recycling.
Other topics discussed this week: fixing i-pads, Northern lights, breaking in shoes, team get-togethers.
My week started on Sunday as I heading down south in advance of an early Monday start. My route took me past the river Avon and scenes of some minor flooding and caused me to reflect on the increasing problems we are facing with water in the wrong place. It wasn’t that long ago we had winter droughts and now we have a saturated water table, spring tides and unseasonable amounts of rain causing misery for many. The images of how flooded London would be without the Thames Barrier should cause plenty of people to think.
EA image 11/2/2014
What is frustrating for some of us working in sustainability is this is precisely what was forecast. When I first started in this area such predictions were being made including the serious implications for infrastructure such as industrial and energy generation plant (particularly as these are often near the coast). Indeed the recent destruction of the south west train line at Dawlish was forecast in a 2010 report: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jul/01/network-rail-study-climate-change
At the TSB we have been running competitions to stimulate innovation to tackle such challenges for several years; in particular our work on designing for future climate which was targeted at the built environment. At the end of last year we ran a competition called Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data which sought to bring together environmental data experts with digital experts and those with challenges in dealing with the effect of environmental externalities on their business and markets. Several of the successful projects sought to look at increasing the resilience of infrastructure and supply chains and one in particular aimed to use river gauge data to help forecast problems (and favourable conditions) for those at the mercy (or reliant on) our water courses. This project is led by Shoothill who also developed FloodAlerts using Environment Agency data. Environmental change is an increasingly important issue and a market driver that can no longer be ignored.
Monday brought an extended session on our ‘outreach and engagement’ strategy. With the imminent changes to our Knowledge Transfer Network(s), discussed by Iain Gray in his recent blog in The Engineer, we looked at how we can both work closer and productively. It was an energising day – always is when I get to spend several hours with colleagues in our Innovation Programmes team.
Tuesday was spent in Birmingham which had no floods but did hit me with rain, hail and snow! Mick and I met with International Synergies to discuss our plans in industrial symbiosis and how they can help as well as be updated on the interesting projects they are doing. They have some fascinating work helping companies track their resources better and gain efficiencies. We then headed to the impressive Birmingham Library to catch up with Ewa Bloch who has been a National Contact Point (free expert in helping understand and apply for EU funding) for a while and now with Horizon2020 will focus on resource efficiency and climate adaptation. She is becoming a closer part of our team and together with the KTN and WRAP will provide the best source of help accessing European support in this area within the UK. I finished the day with a telecon on how textile recycling can be improved. Any important technologies for fibre recovering out there we should know about?
Wednesday and Thursday was spent in London, starting with a quick trip out to Maple Cross to meet Skanska UK. Skanska UK are very proud of their status as a construction company with a strong sustainability record and we talked around their challenges is going further. A particular highlight is the Supply Chain School which they established with competitors to improve the knowledge and skills of their suppliers to help them achieve these aims. We talked about promoting it further through the KTN and the need to build in social sustainability training.
After a productive call with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and agreeing a more extensive meeting at their headquarters soon, we heading into central London to meet with PwC, courtesy of their wonderful Director of Corporate Sustainability, Bridget Jackson. We were treated to a tour of their building at Embankment Place and learnt more about how BREAM Outstanding was achieved in their new building. They want to keep going further as a leader on sustainability and the discussion we had centred on eliminating their waste streams and how The Great Recovery could help. I challenged them to consider the consumables they used now and question what they were for and whether any could be delivered by a service or a change in behaviour. This route to eliminated resource use should happen before optimising the current systems.
Thursday was CleanTech Innovate where 40 young companies come to pitch to an audience of experts and investors. I was on the judging panel this year to select the finalists and enjoyed hearing them all tell their story. There was a huge range of ideas and fascinating solutions to sustainability challenges. It was good to see Clean and Cool Mission alumni such as Alquist who have a cooling system for data centres that helps reduce power outages. They use lasers to measure temperature changes in a fibre optic cable (tech developed for oil & gas so reliable) to give a heat map across the data centre. The product is less complex, cheaper and more robust that competitors.
Other presenting companies that caught my eye included:
· Avalon who are abseiling insulation installers to avoid scaffolding costs (typically largest proportion). They have done 20,000 installations to date and are developing new insulation technology and want to go international.
· SkyRad who do solar heating/hot water but use the house walls as dynamic insulation – store warmth with solar energy and draw in heat to cool when it is hot outside. They are targeting social housing for field trials and one in Birmingham showed 80% reductions in energy use and improved comfort.
· ADFerTech have retrofitable anaerobic digestion (AD) technology that takes AD digestate liquor waste and converts it to a granular fertiliser.
· Azotic Technologies have developed a nitrogen fixation formulation using bacteria that is food grade to coat seeds as a treatment before planting, that is non-GM.
· Frigesco have solved the problem with supermarket freezer defrost cycles requiring energy to heat the coils. They use a phase change material to store waste heat and simply switch circulation direction when defrost is needed. M&S tests showed 40% reduction in energy and 1/3 time to defrost. Their solution can be retrofitted.
· B9 Shipping who have developed renewable powered cargo ships and have worked on the wider system challenges of moving to this new fleet in a sustainable way.
The week ended with several catch up meetings and an interview on UK performance towards eliminating waste as part of a European project.
Other topics discussed this week: identifying designer shoes, absorption versus adsorption, travel disruption, comfortable bike seats.
My week started by giving an interview to the Guardian on innovation opportunities in Latin America. This was mostly a discussion of our lessons from the Clean and Cool Mission to Brazil last year (see earlier blog posts). After further calls with companies seeking to understand how we can help them I worked through the videos I have so far from the projects in our New Designs for a Circular Economy competition. We will soon publish all these on the Great Recovery site and have some of the best on our Vimeo site and have them playing at the Resource event. I also joined a teleconference about changes to our wider engagement strategy and how we can better connect with our networks.
Tuesday saw me travelling to Banbury with Mick (I will get him on Twitter) to WRAP’s head office. Our Resource Efficiency strategy overlaps considerably with WRAP’s remit and strategy but we were very clear that we do different things. WRAP are experts at convening sectors to understand what is possible to move everyone forward – we then come in helping tackle the technology barriers and piloting new collaborative business models. WRAP are then very good at driving a mainstream of best practice. We worked through a range of programmes to ensure we worked in this approach and complimented each other’s plans.
The rest of the week I spent in Glasgow. I had an excellent meeting at the new offices of the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult on sustainability strategy and our Horizons tool (getting in just before a visit from our CEO Iain Gray). I met with Iain Gulland, boss of Zero Waste Scotland, to understand how we can match strategies - much as with WRAP (given they are essentially WRAP in Scotland). Their agenda is wide and covers retrofit for buildings, energy efficiency and heat networks as well as circular economy and resource efficiency. We need to meet further with them to compare delivery plans.
I also had a very productive meeting with Scottish Water. Being owned by the Scottish government means they are beholden to the country rather than shareholders. Their innovation team are setting interesting direction for the company. They have aims to be exemplary in compliance, develop revenues from wastewater and most eye-catching – develop integrated solutions for rural communities in waste, energy and water. The need for this in Scotland is highlighted by the stat that 90% of their customers are served by 10% of their infrastructure. That’s a lot of cost inefficient capital being used – essentially scaled down versions of larger plant. Crucially such solutions tested here could be sold around the world. We covered the shared aims of an improved understanding of the innovation needs for the water industry and started making plans...
A meeting with Glasgow City Council’s sustainable city team covered the issues of embedding sustainability practice across all their operations (very hard, but possibly analogous to doing so in a large corporation), the importance of understanding how citizens view issues and behave and the extensive projects in energy management and health that will interest our Independent Living, Built Environment and Energy Systems teams.
In between all these visits I had some useful calls with Defra (on our Resource Efficiency plans and how they fit with policy), colleagues from across TSB and ESRC on where we help the retail sector innovate and the Knowledge Transfer Network on the NHS Sustainable Development Unit strategy.
Other topics discussed this week: harp music, flooding, Stornoway black pudding and six-legged pigs.
The week was largely spent based in our office in Swindon. I didn’t rush down Monday, first taking a call on an upcoming Horizons workshop on energy systems before taking a civilised train journey down the Welsh borders. This was a good time to work through all the feedback from the first stage of our Supply Chain Innovation towards a Circular Economy competition to draw out common issues to relate back to applicants who have proceeded to the second stage. The main issues our assessors had were around detail in the project plan, finances and risk analysis – all easier to provide at full stage with more space for responses. We have certainly had some exciting proposals in this competition.
In the office I was able to catch up with a lot of different people on ongoing tasks and spend some time working through plans for an industrial symbiosis KTP competition and detail for our updated Resource Efficiency strategy.
Tuesday started with a webinar for those second stage applicants in the circular economy competition. After some issues with the equipment (smoke pouring from cables!) we were able to brief the second stage applicants. A catch up on plans for Resource Efficiency with Mick (lead for that area) was followed by more advanced planning of the KTP competition which we’ve now submitted for approval.
Mick and I then went to WRc to meet with Leo Carswell and talk about innovation in the water sector. Leo is doing work to understand the baseline for water innovation investment which will help inform where more action is needed. This is very timely as we update our water strategy this year. Do get in touch if you are keen to input.
On Wednesday I travelled into London from Swindon to run a Horizons workshop with Nicky Conway from Forum for the Future and experts across our innovation programmes team to look at the area of energy systems. This is concerned with the infrastructure and transportation of electricity, heat and combustible gases that make up the link between energy generation and use. We have an aging energy infrastructure in the UK (as have many other countries) and one that needs to be more adaptable to future energy mixes and responsive to changes in the way we use and manage energy. The session focussed a discussion around cards such as trust, interdependence, resilience, information and long termism.
Thursday started with resolving project spend issues on portfolios we co-fund with Research Councils. For them, essentially, academics are paid upfront following a fairly predictable profile. We however pay agreed eligible costs for businesses once they have been incurred and defrayed which means our forecasts are at the mercy of the projects, which naturally are subject to real world change. We spent a bit of time making sure we could both follow our financial business model without impacting the other.
This was (ironically) followed by meeting project leads from a joint competition with the Natural Environment Research Council - Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition – at a New Projects Workshop. This is something every new project goes through where they learn about how to report and meet their Monitoring Officer. With 33 projects in the portfolio I had a lot of people to meet! It is a fun part of the job. I could then finally head home clearing email backlogs on the way.
On Friday I spent the morning working on forward plans for the Resource Efficiency strategy before taking a full afternoon of scheduled phone calls from applicants to the Supply Chain Innovation competition to help clarify the feedback they received from the expression of interest stage.
Other topics discussed this week: grading and selecting tangerines, sleep patterns and the effect of alcohol, how animals navigate.
Before a week working out of London I had a Monday at home to catch up on paperwork and planning. The highlight was wrapping up much of the Brazil Clean and Cool Mission admin and beginning to discuss the next with The Long Run Venture.
Tuesday morning I headed to London with a larger bag than usual and started with a resource efficiency focussed day. First was a catch up with Sophie Thomas on The Great Recovery plans for the coming year, in particular briefing Mick, our new Resource Efficiency Lead Technologist. Mick and I then headed to Defra for two meetings. One was understanding the new MRF legislation and how that might be a driver for a new competition we are scoping on value from waste. The other was how we could use the SBRI mechanism to overcome technical hurdles to resource efficiency in sectors Defra and WRAP are working with.
In the evening I caught up with Gillian Harrison of Whitefox Technologies who was a VIP on our Brazil Clean and Cool Mission. We talked about what worked on the Mission, the importance of Brazil and I learned about their trials on farms to be self-sufficient in fertiliser and energy from on-farm waste streams. The potential increase in profits was startling!
On Wednesday, with Forum for the Future, we ran a Horizons workshop with several cities from the Sustainable Cities Network. We were keen to better understand their common challenges from a environmental and social perspective and in particular which of these they couldn’t get a good handle on because either data or understanding was lacking. We got some excellent ideas that can shape competitions and feed into the Future Cities Catapult programme. It was also clear that projects to develop solutions for city needs must develop a business case that councils can buy into to be able to get to market. This business case needs to address how the solution saves money in or helps address the critical challenges of cities such as income inequality, health, energy security and skills/education.
Thursday saw more time with Forum for the Future as we sat and scoped out the forward plans for Horizons over the next year or so and similar for the Great Recovery project. For Horizons we want to complete the beta phase of the tool and ensure it is intuitive and addresses the needs of users – in particular those applying to Technology Strategy Board competitions. On the Great Recovery we were planning with RSA how the project will interface with Forum for the Future to investigate the common challenges in moving to circular economy business models at a system/sector level. In the longer run we’d like to run a competition to overcome these and have some projects looking step-wise change in business models. Many companies are keen to understand how they do this but need to be able to work right across the supply chain. The challenge still seems to be getting everyone together in the same room and talking the same language to even be able to see what is possible.
New business models that are driving more sustainable practice tend to also provide better consumer propositions as well. That certainly seems to be the takeaway from this report I read Friday morning: http://www.thecrowd.me/sites/default/files/NewBusinessModels.pdf. I would certainly like to be able to pay for a service to use whatever vehicle suits my needs at the time rather than having to own a fleet or worry about maintenance. I’d love to be able to fully manage many of my services, particularly financial, online or by phone but crucially, with far better customer service than I get now. And expensive things I will need for only a short time would be much better under a lease model than having to buy then not knowing what to do with it afterwards.
The week finished with a reunion for the Clean and Cool Missions – and getting the recent Brazil and Colorado groups together for the first time to swap experiences. It was great to see the energy in the room and frank discussion of what we had learnt. The video summaries of the Missions brought back great memories. These Missions are part of our series of entrepreneur missions designed to help high-growth potential SMEs break into overseas markets faster. In many cases they have an offering that is better matched in that market and Brazil was a good example of this. You can learn more starting at this earlier blog post and at the Mission websitehttp://cleanandcoolmission.com/brazil/. Sadly, I had to leave before John Elkington did a turn as guest speaker. All in all an excellent way to wrap things up.
Other topics discussed this week: harmonicas in rock songs, getting arrested for littering, tenancy law, Hot Steve.