I started the week catching up on emails I missed while having a short break in Berlin over the weekend. I also took a few calls on potential applications for the Supply Chain Innovation towards a Circular Economy call and one on an event I will speak at next Monday. By lunchtime I was on a train to London so I could attend a Forum for the Future event featuring Jonathan Porritt (a founder of Forum) and Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever.
Polman was there to discuss how he has placed sustainability at the heart of Unilever’s strategy. He started by saying the world is seeing wealth more concentrated but power more decentralised as we get better connected. In this background he asserted business leaders need to be system thinkers, have purpose and think long-term. The solutions come through partnership with others. Porritt suggested the system change we really need is in capital markets to mitigate the negative effect they have on business and society. Polman seemed to agree stating that the average FTSE company has its value traded every 8 months! Unilever has used its reach (it is in 7 of 10 households globally) and brand power to try and be more socially relevant. Polman is certainly a champion for the Millennium Development Goals.
And that was where I started the next day. We have begun a piece of work to investigate whether the MDGs can provide a strong market for UK innovation. I met with my colleague who is leading this work and we discussed the role of big and small business in delivering such solutions, the aims DfiD has for overseas aid and how crisis can be a crucible for innovation (see last week’s blog).
We could have talked for much longer but I had the Resource Efficiency programme Steering Group meeting to manage. We have a wonderful group of Resource Efficiency experts who sanity check and advise our programme. The meetings are always good fun and this time we covered forward plans, how we track Resource Efficiency projects across the entire TSB portfolio and the role Defra is playing in communicating and supporting the benefits of resource efficiency.
After the meeting I heading back home and enjoyed a chance encounter on the train with David Townson of 100%Open. The rest of the week was mainly spent processing the projects for the Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition to which we had a fantastic response; the complication of money for the projects coming from four pots meant a bit more work than normal in analysis of what we can fund. The endless spreadsheet work was occasionally interrupted taking calls on proposals for the Supply Chain competition on scope.
I took Friday off to finally catch up on Christmas shopping!
Other topics discussed this week: Russell Brand and UK politics, whether brands can lead social movements, HS2 power lines and work IT equipment.
Monday saw me catching up on admin and continuing to work through applications to our Environmental Data call. A lot of time has been needed to work through the finances of each proposal as funding comes from several different pots and had rules about what types of projects it can be used on. We are delighted that for a new and difficult topic that will see lots of new collaborations we have seen high numbers of good projects.
Tuesday started at a time with a ‘5’ at the beginning and was a long day. I travelled into to Swindon (preparing presentations en route) for a 10 am training session with SharpCloud. They have a very cool piece of software that helps organise and present complex piles of information that complement spreadsheets and roadmaps. We had a play using it to organise our portfolios and better integrate the data we already hold on them.
I then went to the TSB office to learn more about KTPs and how we might create a themed one next year in the Resource Efficiency area. It was interesting to learn that given we have a responsive, always open call for KTPs we need to add benefits to a themed call to encourage timely applications. Connecting it with a wider programme or building a cohort of KTP associates are the kinds of approaches that work.
After catching up with our finance team on various things I then travelled on to Exeter. The next morning I had appointments at the University – somewhere I hadn’t been for 13 years since I handed in my final bound PhD thesis. It was interesting to see how much (and how little) the city had changed. I was in Exeter to meet with Professors Richard Owen and John Bessant. The former had developed the Responsible Innovation Framework for EPSRC and helped us apply it to our competitions. I was keen to see how it can be integrated into our Horizons sustainability tool. The latter and I have had many interesting chats around sustainability-led innovation and I wanted to see what tools are there to help companies build on discussions Horizons generates.
The Responsible Innovation Framework considers two high level questions: 1) why are you innovating – who benefits? And 2) how will we deal with the uncertainties as we proceed? Horizons is very important in setting the first of these and should inform what needs to be handled within a project under the second challenge. For uncertainties being able to measure or quantify externalities such as environmental impact should be included in projects. Dealing with social aspects through partnerships and stakeholder engagement should also be considered. Unusual partners can often add a completely different angle on a problem and open up new opportunities for innovation.
We also had a fascinating discussion on how need drives innovation and how radical innovation emerges from crisis conditions. International aid situations are crucibles for novel solutions and many interesting innovations are being developed in ‘developing’ economies that could seriously disrupt the ‘developed’ economies that aren’t being picked up on.
I then headed back to Swindon to prepare for an assessment panel for the Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition. In the panels we use a selection of assessors from those that worked through the full set of applications to double check those proposals that are around the funding cut-off line and of sufficient quality to be funded. We trialled a new process that ensures rescoring is anonymous and the panel don’t know the original ranking.
I’ve been delighted with the competition response which had a considerable build up to help bring the right communities together. We saw proposals right across the areas we had identified and many feature new applicants and new collaborations. It was not a lost irony that so many look to help business and society be more resilient to environmental change and extremes on a day hurricane winds battered the UK and disrupted so much. I headed out to face a tough journey home myself after the panel and crossed my fingers the morning would bring calmer weather for a flight and a long weekend in Berlin.
Other topics discussed this week: city resilience, environmental crime, African phone networks, the UK high street.
Topics from this week include: hangover cures, laptop proficiency, harp music and vegetarian sandwiches.
This week started with a two day trip to London. First was an overdue catch up with Forum for the Future with whom we work on a range of projects to help embed sustainability thinking in our strategy and help business realise opportunities from environmental and social drivers. We had a packed agenda but still largely managed to cover: further development of our Horizons (sustainability) tool, in particular helping applicants to our competitions benefit from it; planning for workshops with the Sustainable Cities Network and to shape our planned Energy Systems Catapult; involvement in The Great Recovery; and forward plans and communications.
Next was a wrap up meeting with Long Run Venture on the Clean and Cool Mission which can be very nicely summarised in this video: http://vimeo.com/80260212. The Mission was a real success but tracking the benefits for the companies over time will be a challenge. I squeezed in a meeting with Sophie Thomas on The Great Recovery before a more considered catch up with Jamie Burdett on big sustainability driven innovation ideas (and life in general) along with fellow big thinkers Scott Cain and Guy Pattison. I collapsed into my bed in the funky trial rooms at Premier Inn that have a lot of embedded technology (see picture).
Tuesday started with some phone calls and a meeting at Bloomberg in their swish offices at Finsbury Circus. They have an interest in supporting clean energy SMEs and are of course keen on our Clean and Cool Missions. They were also keen to see more UK entries to their New Energy Pioneers programme. I then met with Liz Goodwin, the CEO of WRAP to plan how we could work closer and more efficiently together before joining a team meeting teleconference and heading back home.
Wednesday brought a day of telephone calls, including a useful chat with Rio Negócios (supporting business investment in Rio de Janerio) on follow on support for our Clean and Cool Mission companies. Other calls covered water innovation, future cities sustainability metrics and forward plans for our Resource Efficiency strategy. I then headed to Swindon to be ready for an early start Thursday using the travel time to catalogue projects and prepare presentations.
Thursday had me attending a New Projects Workshop. This is where key personnel from proposals we have newly supported get to hear how they will be monitored and what they need to do to get started. I went to meet the projects from our recent Design Challenges for a Circular Economy call. It was a real pleasure to meet the organisations all raring to go and answer any questions they had. Thanks to older networks I moved in I knew a fair few of the exciting project teams from our Formulated Products call as well!
I had to cut short this meeting to return to the office and go through the assessed applications from our Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition. We had a lot to do to work through the ranking and being clear where a boundary might lie in the funding threshold and preparing to moderate around that zone at an assessor panel next week. Friday was thus spent reading a lot of those applications and understanding any issues.
I also finished the week with several phone calls, including discussions with potential applicants on scope, an interview with ENDS Report on the Clean and Cool Mission and a teleconference with several industry advisors on how we support innovation in industrial symbiosis.
Well it has been quite a week, and one worth recording to highlight the variety of my job. Topics discussed this week have included music festivals, David Bowie cross-dressing inspiring sustainability, the laboratory of the future, recycled trainers and how art can influence science.
The week started with a meeting with the Chartered Institute of Waste Management on how we can help the waste sector to innovate more quickly. They have big challenges in getting higher value outputs from waste streams and there are two main options – better sorting at source (free labour?) or better use of technology. With various legislation changes on the way it is a good time to be thinking this way.
A gear switch then to talk about sustainability in the Creative Industries with Julie’s Bicycle and the Creative Industries KTN. I was amazed how much data they have collected on impact in the creative industries, thanks largely to the vision of the Arts Council in making use of their eco-tool mandatory. Some exciting things could be done with that data in our Digital programme. We started some very interesting discussions on wider social and environmental challenges and how the circular economy could apply to the music sector.
Tuesday saw me playing with SharpCloud to help visualise the growing Resource Efficiency portfolio and planning what comes next while fielding phone calls on our latest circular economy competition. Wednesday brought updates to our Horizons tool and the fun of inspiring the next generation of scientists. I had agreed to talk to students at the University of Liverpool on my loopy career that started out in chemistry to help inspire them and ease their worries on finding the right job. I often use the great piece of advice I was given when leaving my first job felt a real wrench: jobs are like relationships. I went on the torture the analogy (too many and people worry, interviews are like first dates, more than one at once creates problems, etc...) but the broad point that your first is probably a long way from your ideal and you learn as you go is worth making.
Thursday saw an early start to arrive in time for the Sustainability Leaders Forum. I’ve been the last two years and amongst some less exciting, incremental plans (usually from large companies) you usually see three or four talks from genuinely inspiring business that are using sustainability as a driver for innovation and business change. I was very taken with the long term thinking and social innovation of Sky and the open conversation Rapanui were having with their customers. Syngenta’s new plans to improve agricultural productivity also had a balanced and ambitious approach. A common theme for the conference was that authenticity matters when engaging on sustainability.
I popped out during lunch to meet with Sigma-Aldrich and talk to them about plans they have to provide more services to their customers, largely science research centres. I suggested data driven approaches will dominate in the future and talking to data scientists and developers would be productive. A current trend is to turn the ‘art’ and know-how parts of scientific development and make them more of a predictive science. Advances in ICT, data and sensing are making this more and more feasible. Sigma-Aldrich will also be very interested in our proposed Catapult on Diagnostics for Stratified Medicine.
The conference moved in to the evening Sustainability Leaders Awards event at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London and I dusted down my DJ to be a guest on the table from International Synergies, the world leaders on industrial symbiosis and the company behind the National Industrial Symbiosis Project (NISP). Champagne broke out when Peter Laybourn (the CEO) won the coveted Sustainable Leader of the Year prize. The event was great for networking and along with discussions on how we support industrial symbiosis I also had the chance to talk about a Green Futures special edition with the editor Anna Simpson and explore reuse of building components with Skansa (who also won an award).
The week finished with an energising meeting at the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Nike on circular economy approaches to shoes and apparel and how design in central to it all. Nike is experiencing increasing volatility in their raw material base echoing issues we hear from all manufacturers through our Resource Efficiency programme. They have exciting visions on how to tackle that and want to take their customers with them on the journey.
The 2013 Clean and Cool Mission to Brazil is over. We’re back in the UK to very different weather reflecting on what we have learnt. On our last morning we had the pleasure of visiting the largest private energy company in Brazil in the city of Camphinas: CPFL Energia. There we also heard from Silver Spring Networks, a Californian start-up specialising in smart grids who have forged a successful partnership with CPFL. This meeting reinforced many of the aspects of doing business in Brazil that we’d heard with one very clear message coming through – the hurdles to doing business in Brazil are vastly outweighed by the opportunity.
The hurdles largely result from Brazil’s protectionist approach to the economy; understandable when you consider their desire to create more value from their considerable natural resources. To address this we’ve heard about the need to build relationships and use a local team who are empowered. The potential comes from a country that is growing fast, is energy and food secure and is investing to raise the quality of life (and thus spending power) of its people (24 million new middles class and 27 million new upper class created over the last six years). Despite this Brazil is very modest about its prospects.
We have been delighted by the openness to doing business and all the Mission companies have progressed during the last eight days. We’ll be hearing more and more over the coming months as these first connections blossom but we already feel the Mission has been a great success.
I’ll leave you with a few links that help summarise the week...
Business Reporter - David Baxter’s blog: http://business-reporter.co.uk/tag/baxterinbrazil/
Several companies posted blogs in our Mission Outpost: http://cleanandcoolmission.com/brazil/links/blog/
Day 6 (5th November)
We began with another early start to ensure we didn’t miss a moment of the FIMAI conference (www.fimai.com.br), the largest environmental technology conference in Latin America. The opening talk was from Professor Haroldo Mattos de Lemos (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04YBqxYd6nQ) and he told me beforehand that companies had overtaken governments in their ambition and vision on sustainability strategy. He is President of the Institute of Brazil PNUMA (www.brasilpnuma.org.br - who work on environmental standards with UNEP) among many other important positions. He said we are reacting to three global megachallenges:
1. Maintaining the future of natural resources
2. Limiting pollution to levels the environment can process
3. Eliminating poverty
This was difficult because human development was directly linked to environmental over-exploitation with Brazil now one of the few countries that still had a net positive balance in ecosystem services – i.e. it uses less ecologically than it produces. Haroldo went on to discuss the WBCSD report called Vision 2050 (http://www.wbcsd.org/vision2050.aspx) which was produced by business and included a recommendation to shift the $1 trillion in subsidies the world economies provide that accelerate environmental damage onto industries that will provide a sustainable future. He was highly entertaining and provided an excellent quote: “if you have a problem in your company you don’t want solving create a committee and give it to them”.
The conference had a vast exhibition area and the companies swarmed across it aided by our wonderful Mission VIPs Stef Kreiger (CleanTech Group) and Gillian Harrison (Whitefox) who are both fluent in both Portuguese and English. Many more meetings went on today with several companies getting into closing deals already. It really has been very exciting to spend the week with them and many fantastic announcements will follow – keep checking http://cleanandcoolmission.com/brazil/links/blog/ for more!
My day finished with three hours of interviews with the Brazilian media who have been fascinated by the companies and the concept of the Mission and what Brazil can learn. Tomorrow the Mission ends with a visit to Campinhas, the 3rd largest city in Sao Paulo state, and the 10th richest city in Brazil. It generates 30% of the industrial productivity in Sao Paulo. The highlight will be a session with Silver Spring Networks (an smart grid SME) on the ‘warts and all’ challenges of a joint venture with the largest non-state owned energy utility: CPFL.
It will be sad to leave this vibrant and welcoming country and the companies clearly feel the same – they are already thinking about when they might come back...