My son was born shortly after the last blog post and I’m now back from paternity leave. Having some time to focus on something else (mostly nappies and when we might sleep) has helped me reflect on an issue I have been mulling over the last month: the importance of communities to business. Watching Lord Stern’s TED Talk I was reminded that growth is something we still need to pursue but it must bring with it an improvement in living standards for society. The incredible growth in China and Latin America has lifted millions out of poverty. The challenge has been to sustain that beneficial growth while reducing the impact on the environment. Environmental change leads to societal upheaval on a grand scale so the two are intertwined.
This leaves me thinking about how much companies want to deliver benefit to society and be seen to be valued in that way. Those that do tend be more trusted and able to shift their business model towards value-added services rather than cheapest produced product. Circular economy ideas have been around a long time and something such as the sharing economy is rooted in community. Communities have always shared assets: from playgrounds to woodland. So how do companies create that sense of belonging and trust? Will digital platforms enable this as we increasingly get out sense of identity and community online? Will the trend towards localism (certainly in the UK) drive growth in local, community based, economies? I’d be interested in your thoughts.
In the few days since I’ve been back working, aside from clearing the email backlog I took part in a Guardian Sustainable Business debate on ‘How far can we go with the idea of a circular economy?’ You can see the debate here: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/sep/17/how-far-circular-economy-possible-live-chat?CMP=new_1194
While I have been being a new Dad the next Resource Efficiency call has gone live: the Recovering Valuable Materials from Waste competition. We’re giving plenty of warning for this competition as we’re keen to see waste companies engage – a sector that historically is underrepresented in our projects. To help connect up companies wanting to submit projects the KTN has set up a brokerage site on _connect: https://connect.innovateuk.org/web/increasing-value-from-waste-competition/overview
Stat of the week: Google has made $1.5bn investments in renewables in 2014
This week’s travel carbon footprint: 0 kg CO2 – still no travel!
I finished last week by taking a Nissan Leaf for a 24 hour test drive. It is worth recounting my experience here. Firstly I must say it was great fun to drive and is a wonderful car. On hand over the dealership pointed out the system learns your driving style and puts out a forecast on mileage based on this. Fully charged it was telling us we had 95 miles whereas from new it would say 120 miles. I drove it as economically as I would my diesel Audi (I regularly get over 60 mpg) and chose to test it on a route my wife drives a couple of times a week. If we could comfortably complete this journey it would be the deciding factor, as she could do it more often and still save money. The drive is about 60 miles round trip and we got to the far end with only a third of the charge leaving us very happy. However the return in the dark and rain and maybe a little faster (but not at the speed limit) on the motorway nearly drained the battery. Despite suggesting there was insufficient charge remaining I was able to get it back to the dealership the next day. Just. It would seem that 80 miles is fairly normal in terms of range (Leaf owner and colleague Tim Just has confirmed this), which is just under the distance we’d need to feel comfortable for that run given a diversion or a side errand could easily stretch it. We will however start measuring all our journeys...
The dealership was clear that a Leaf is where they can provide seriously good offers right now. Since we live in the countryside and have slightly longer average journey distances (and fewer charge points) we needed a little more convincing, but not much. Getting a charge point fitted at home right now is pretty cheap (compared with payback time) as British Gas will do one for ~£115 or ~£214 if you want the fast charge version. Some dealership offers include even this subsidised fee. If you haven’t tried an electric car yet I’d certainly encourage it despite not committing just yet myself.
This week I haven’t travelled as my first child is due very soon. It has been a great opportunity to catch up on admin and personal development as well as receive a lot of phone calls!
Monday I covered off end of month admin and continued to process of transferring our upcoming Urban Data competition to my new colleague James Taplin. Tuesday I joined a call with colleagues to discuss our input to the House of Commons Science Select Committee on use of biometric data. I then heard feedback on our planned circular economy call from Forum for the Future companies via their systems team who have been helping us shape and frame the competition. I also took the chance to plan my diary post paternity leave and book in travel.
Wednesday Catherine Joce called to plan events later in the year supporting two Resource Efficiency competitions and I talked with Sophie Thomas about The Great Recovery project. I spent much of the day uploading new case studies to the Horizons tool. Thursday I did more Horizons uploads, talked social enterprises and communities with our new Urban Living Lead Technologist and all-round sustainability expert Niraj Saraf and finished the day getting competition scope feedback from Nitesh Magdani at BAM Construct UK who has some string project ideas for the circular economy in construction.
By Friday I was in danger of catching up with my inbox and ‘to do’ lists as I tied up lose things that had been waiting days and weeks to be completed. A bit of a luxury!
Other topics discussed this week: part re-usable nappies, getting some sleep, ball bearings.
Stat of the week: it takes almost 500,000 litres of water to extract just 1 kg of gold
This week’s travel carbon footprint: 0 kg CO2 – no travel!
A bank holiday shortened week started with a call from AlpSynergy (environmental consultant for business) about how we view sustainability. I explained that we thing social and environmental trends are as important drivers of future markets as technology and economic trends. We have an aim of economic growth but are always thinking about how that fits within a sustainable economy – that is one operating within safe environmental limits and delivering social value and quality of life. We know these are hard things to consider (hence our development of the Horizons tool) but for those that get it right innovation will scale quicker and farther.
I spent the rest of the day working through competition paperwork (I seem to be doing a lot of that right now) and checking through progress of projects across the portfolio. Projects from our Supply Chain Innovation for Resource Efficiency competition are finishing this year and we have some great results.
Wednesday I travelled into the office in Swindon to try and tie up a few urgent activities before I stop travelling until my son is born. It was a lot easier to chase up activities by talking with the people helping me than via email or trying to reach them by phone. The accidental conversations that arise by being in the office are also invaluable. I spent the journey home thinking about the role of social innovation and building communities and a sense of belonging in enabling wider innovation. These ideas keep appearing across our strategy and increasingly from businesses with brands to maintain. It is an area I know our Digital team are working hard on and I intend to discuss further.
Thursday I was in London and started with a meeting discussing a planned textile sector competition with Carol Rose from WRAP. The call will seek new ideas to increase the durability of clothing and is being supported by Defra. We talked about how we and the KTN could support the competition. I then met with a new KTN person who will lead on sustainability within their health and bioscience teams and took her through how we think about sustainability and how we use the Horizons tool to do so. KTN staff are key to helping our applicants using Horizons to think about the environmental and social drivers of their projects and business.
I then headed to BIS to meet with a delegation from FINEP who are an Innovate UK equivalent in Brazil. We spent two hours explaining how we work and discussing the differences in approach. Given FINEP did the same for me when I went to Rio before the last Clean and Cool Mission I was happy to reciprocate. We will soon sign a joint funding agreement with them as we seek to strengthen our ties with Brazil.
Friday I caught up with my boss then spent most of the day transferring the Urban Data competition to my new colleague James Taplin. He has a lot ahead! Whereas I won’t be travelling now until October. Serious baby waiting starts now, so if there is no blog next week you’ll know what happened!
Other topics discussed this week: locking wheel nuts, email accounts, tax.
Stat of the week: The average commuter in the UK spends 29 working days each year travelling to work
This week’s travel carbon footprint: 70 kg CO2
On Monday we changed our name. The Technology Strategy Board is now known as Innovate UK – a name that better encapsulates what it is we do. Particularly when you’re running programmes on resource efficiency and encouraging business to consider social and environmental trends driving their future markets (as I do) a name that suggests a focus on technology isn’t helpful. The name isn’t a huge change as we already used the ‘brand’ for our annual conference and our website address. We hope you like it as it is part of a process to simplify how we help business and clear out jargon.
The name change has meant a change in email address which came in over the weekend. Inevitably this led to updates and changes to the email system and having to go through all registrations changing the email address from @tsb.gov.uk to @innovateuk.gov.uk – as we are now. While doing this I had calls with our recent Urban Living programme recruit Niraj Saraf and Zoë Le Grand from Forum for the Future on future joint work. More competition and ongoing project paperwork followed.
Tuesday started with a call from the University of Exeter on a new data centre with the MetOffice. Most of the day was spent uploading new case studies to Horizons – examples of businesses responding to social and environmental trends. To see when these updates go up, follow the Horizons Twitter account.
Wednesday I met up with Long Run Venture in London to do further planning for the Clean and Cool Mission. We largely focussed on communications and how we can make use of our considerable alumni network. We’re very keen for these amazing cleantech entrepreneurs to show more of their hero side and develop the intangibles that make a good pitch great. A good pitch is much like a superhero story (we reasoned): you need to sell the villain (market problem) fully first and have a tangible sense of jeopardy (risk) to get excited about whether the hero (entrepreneur) can overcome the odds with their superpowers (unique selling position/technology) and save the day. Good superheroes are flawed investors do tend to like those who have tried and learnt by overcoming set-backs. We even see the mentor role in superhero movies as relevant to most good entrepreneur journeys. We’ll be using these ideas to build the Clean and Cool network and have them support and promote their peers. Such things happen with a mission group but we want to see it happen between missions in the UK. Let me know if you are interested.
To help build this community and give it a sense of location we’re working with Mapify. This start up has been working to map out the social fabric of communities and I was very interested more generally as to how they can help other businesses and even whole urban areas get a handle on this. One to watch!
Thursday I was back in London and caught up with ex-colleague David Altabev who is now at Nesta. We talked about his work with cities and the perils of European projects. I then crossed town to meet with Saul Jamieson at Telefonica and talk about how we help them connect with interesting companies to tackle interesting problems. Telefonica have a CEO committed to sustainability and social benefit enabling in particular. Their question: how can they help communities with their needs and ensure O2 customers get priority benefits? For this they exploring all sorts of spaces and we talked about how we best help.
I had taken colleagues from the Digital team: Jonny Voon and new recruit, Agata Samojlowicz. We followed the meeting with a coffee to talk over where digital and sustainability meet and thanks to the power of the internet (and 4square/Swarm) David Bott joined us and as ever made the complex landscape we are trying to help seem very simple. He reminded us that our budget is too small to leverage economic growth on any scale through funding alone. We are an innovation agency (not simple a funding agency) and can use good stories from the support we have delivered in connecting people in powerful ways – they act as a ‘goad and blueprint’. This echoed what Saul had told us about how much easier it was for Telefonica to work with new people through one of our challenges and that the funding wasn’t important to them (if anything a hindrance) but it did help the SMEs they wanted to work with.
On the journey home I bumped into my boss and we had a long chat about what we were plotting next. Bit early to say much but my role is going to evolve. He left me with some thinking to do Friday. The rest of the day was spent chasing things up as many colleagues are on holiday next week and fatherhood is imminent for me now!
Other topics discussed this week: Nissan Leafs, Game of Life, ice buckets.
Stat of the week: Ocean acidification is happening 100 times faster than over last 55 million years. See: goo.gl/BZIojL
This week’s travel carbon footprint: 78 kg CO2
Monday I immersed myself in working on our refresh of the Resource Efficiency strategy. Working through the document took most of the day but I did manage to also complete a near final draft of our Value from Waste competition and have a discussion about doing circular economy in a big company (or not) with Cisco. The day ended with a call to try and help a project reshape to be able to start. Sadly too many things were against it and the excellent ideas will have to go forward in a different way.
Tuesday I read up on challenges in the waste sector (see stat of the week) and worked some more on plans for the next circular economy competition. I finished the day being interviewed by Forum for the Future on sustainability trends affecting business.
Wednesday I travelled into London starting with a meeting over coffee with Susanne Baker from EEF. We discussed their recent Innovation Monitor and Materials for Manufacturing reports. Insight from EEF members is extremely useful for us on business innovation challenges and EEF can help us reach more companies.
I then headed to our KTN offices to meet with Rob Holdway of Giraffe Innovation and Ben Griffin our design lead to talk about how design can help innovation. We agreed the common view of design is wrong and that most technical innovators don’t see the value in using a designer for insight. An excellent discussion and great war stories that I had to cut short to get over the Hub Westminster for my next meeting.
At the Hub we were bringing our communications team and The Long Run Venture together to continue planning the next Clean and Cool Mission. We are about to enter purdah (for the Scottish referendum) which means we can’t announce new things. We have long planned to open the Mission competition on 1st September (in the middle of purdah) so were clarifying how that would work. We also worked through the timetable and aims and how we would capture the great stories and successes the missions generate.
Thursday I went to the Swindon office suffering awful train journeys there and back. Only and hour late getting in but not home until 10.30pm! The core of my day was a series of meetings with the Communications team about different aspects of the sustainability programme. There was also a meeting to organise our project portfolios across the strategy. As ever being in the office meant a lot of quick conversations with people as I saw them on things that need progressing and are much easy with a chat than an email. I didn’t have enough of them though so will have to go back in a week or so.
Friday mainly saw me sending in a final draft of a competition brief and working through the process of transferring our email system over to a new email address, but more on that next week.
Other topics discussed this week: whale foreskins in design, Roman concrete, train conductor stamps.
Stat of the week: just one fluorescent lamp contains enough mercury to pollute 30,000 litres of water – 100m are sold every year in the UK
This week’s travel carbon footprint: 62 kg CO2
I started the week catching up on project admin. Tracking the progress and (rough) spend profile of each portfolio of projects is important in managing budgets as well as seeing where we have delivered value to business. I also spent time dealing with issues in projects in the start up phase. With around 70 live projects from 5 different competitions it takes a while! I did get time to complete a submission to the NHS Sustainable Development Unit’s current consultation on its strategy.
On Tuesday I travelled to Runcorn to meet with the Resource Efficiency and Sustainability team at the KTN to plan as one team. The KTN support for upcoming competitions was the main discussion but we also covered support for applicants in using Horizons to consider environmental and social drivers for their market. We have a very busy autumn/winter ahead of us!
Wednesday saw more financial admin, this time tracking spend for external work. I also worked some more on details for this financial year’s competitions. I also picked the boss’s brains for a bit - as usual largely on what we can and can’t do within the various rules of spending public money.
Thursday was London and started with a catch up with Tom Fiddian from our Digital team on user-centred design and user experience-led innovation. We are very interested about where it impacts on the circular economy. I recounted some interesting points from an article I’d read on marketing a circular economy that were important user aspects. The first was future approaches could see supermarkets delivering your food and taking away the waste – packaging and leftover food. This would enable them to use your food waste as a further dataset to inform what they sell you (potentially reducing waste if you keep throwing out uneaten foodstuffs). How will customers feel about this and where do digital platforms fit in? The second was the cultural switch from wanting to own a product that makes you feel part of a social group to feeling part of that group in other ways so using that product without owning it. Social media and digital lifestyles are surely a part of this shift? We promised to consider the challenge here further.
I then joined the Digital team meeting for a bit to learn what they were up to and see how other team meetings work. I then walked to the KTN London base at the Business Design Centre. There I joined the KTN Directors’ meeting to help present the Horizons tool and help them understand how it works. We will roll out some basic training across KTN staff this year so they are able to help businesses, and in particular, applicants to our competitions use the tool to think about factors driving their future market.
Friday had me working some more of the document for autumn competitions and included good news on EPSRC joining us for one of them. I also had a long call with The Long Run Venture about plans for the Clean and Cool Missions. We’re really keen to find the cleantech heroes out there and have some great plans to encourage them and grow the community around our 60 strong alumni network. Keep an eye on http://cleanandcoolmission.com/
Other topics discussed this week: driverless vehicles, meconium, Lego.
Stat of the week: UK recycling rates were up just 0.2 per cent between 2012 and 2013
This week’s travel carbon footprint: 45 kg CO2