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Poor planning saw a week with meetings in different places as a repeating theme. Monday saw a morning meeting with Forum for the Future catching up on our plans on the circular economy and how we can help companies take a systems approach to new value networks to keep key resources flowing back to them. I then dashed across London to catch a train to Swindon for a Sustainability team meeting. This one was special as we had our new Director of Technology and Innovation, Kevin Baughan joining us as well as two new starters in the team. It is always good to hear about the breadth of our combined team which covers Urban Living (opportunities in making cities work better), Low Impact Building (opportunities in how we make more energy and resource efficient buildings), Resource Efficiency (how business makes more money selling less stuff) and Sustainability (understanding how social and environmental drivers create market opportunities). Our colleague Ewa Bloch also joined the meeting; she covers support for EU programmes on climate, environment and resource efficiency and outlined how well that aligned with our portfolios.

After the meeting I met with Peter Dirken about missions and how we need to a) capture the process for planning them better, and; b) what we want from our partnership with UKTI on entrepreneur missions. The latter is very much planned support for companies post-mission as well as in country connections made in advance of the mission.

Tuesday morning was given over to work on the total project portfolio and current budgets. This included a quick meeting with colleagues at NERC to make sure their co-funding of certain competitions was coming to us at the right time for them and us. I then tried to dash back home for a late term scan of my son who is 8 weeks from birth. Sadly the train system had other ideas and I was caught at Newport (again) having watched the connection I wanted pull out as the first train pulled in; horrible feeling. The extended journey home gave me chance to further update our project spreadsheets and understand coming cash flow.

Wednesday was a day of phone calls starting with one on building circular economy into the scope of an upcoming Built Environment call. The use of Building Information Modelling tools is a key theme in the programme and it seems they could enable the use of circular economy products ranging from reusable building frames to service provided contents such as lighting. In fact these ideas were the subject of a later call with Construction Manager. Nice to link up topics in a day!

I also had a call from Nicky Conway (Forum for the Future) as she tries to keep me on track with our joint work while she is on a six week sabbatical, and GreenWise who were keen to connect with cleantech SMEs who need help with marketing. I worked on the outline of our next circular economy competition and the day ended with a call from Toine Roozen at the KTN about using Horizons in upcoming events.

While travelling the next morning (to Swindon initially) I worked on Horizons tool presentation material for the KTN before joining a meeting on the process for our entrepreneur missions with TSB and UKTI colleagues. After that I raced to London for a joint meeting with our Digital team colleagues to discuss areas of overall. There are a lot of these and we’ll work to connect businesses across them. With the sweltering temperatures we did pause the meeting for ice lollies when an ice cream van pulled up outside!

After the meeting we shepherded an unaware Richard Miller to a surprise party for his birthday (I won’t reveal which one but it was a significant one). The party had a lot of old faces and current colleagues and the evening wasn’t long enough to catch up with all of them; even Jonathan Porritt popped by.

The next day I caught up with Guy Pattison on the Clean and Cool Mission planning and tried to clear my inbox of the most urgent issues. I finished the day being interviewed by a University of Sussex student, Pip Roddis, on innovation that helps protect the environment.

Other topics discussed this week: tattoos, finding your way around festivals, party/drinking games.

Stat of the week:  UK recycling rates were up just 0.2 per cent between 2012 and 2013. Source:

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 92 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


Monday I joined my boss on the train journey down to Swindon (we both live in beautiful North Wales) but got stuck at Newport thanks to train problems right along the London line. Dealing with emails and joining meetings by phone worked until the trains were moving again when I could finally make it to a meeting with ESRC to talk about our planned competition on solving urban challenges using sustainability data. That excellent (if delayed) meeting was followed by a similar one with NERC as we confirmed the involvement of both research councils in the call. Watch this space.

When I finally arrived in the office I hastily joined the regular briefing session from Iain Gray our CEO then caught up with Zahid Latif (Head of Health+Care) on our input into the NHS Sustainable Development Unit consultation. Their objectives match several of our cross programme aims in Health+Care and Urban Living. This was followed by a meeting on our project portfolio and how we track it all better and a chat with our team PA on the competition planning process so she can better help us. After some IT updates I was at last able to head to London for the night.

Tuesday had a big circular economy theme to it. The morning saw me meeting with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation team to get their input to our next circular economy competition. We were examining common barriers to circular economy approaches as many companies are very keen to try them but aren’t forging ahead yet. The meeting was very productive and we had been hearing similar issues and agreed on the general structure. We will consult further with their industrial members.

I then raced over to Portcullis House to join a debate on the circular economy hosted by Laura Sandys MP and organised by Resource Event and Green Alliance. Using the latest Circular Economy Taskforce report as a starting point the panel debated what was needed from a policy perspective. I was disappointed much of the debate centred on the politics of waste collection and recycling rather than supporting more innovative approaches but some interesting points were raised nonetheless.

I spent the evening with colleagues from the KTN debating how they fit into the overall sustainability picture for us. The prompt for the debate was the following day’s training session where Nicky Conway and I took ten of the KTN staff through our Horizons tool. The KTN (amongst other things) help applicants to our calls develop their proposals and we want a team of KTN people trained to help them think harder about the social and environmental drivers for projects using Horizons. We took the group through the background to the tool, then through an in depth exercise before getting them to develop training presentations for their colleagues. Soon we’ll have them helping applicants understand the power of Horizons at all competition briefing events.

The workshop was a long one but I did manage to catch up with Janet Geddes beforehand on disaster resilience, off grid power and healthcare in developing countries. She is exploring the case for innovation in these areas and we’ve met a fair few companies through the Missions who do exactly this. I also took a call after the workshop with a project that wanted to delay their start having just received an offer. We were able to work something out given we always try to help projects towards the best outcomes.

Thursday I travelled into Liverpool for the International Festival of Business event we’d lent our Clean and Cool brand to. The day covered issues for cleantech and after lunch saw 17 companies pitch to a panel of judges that included me. A highlight of the morning was Guy Pattison making the case for celebration in promoting our cleantech strengths and recognising that success breeds success. We want to build the Clean and Cool alumni network along these lines. I was delighted that the day’s best pitches came from ex-Clean and Cool companies and it was good to see the connections and support between the companies in the room.

We took the opportunity at the event to announce the 2015 Clean and Cool Mission. It will open for application on 1st September but for now you can go to and watch the videos from our alumni and hear from us what we are looking for and why we have two parts to it this time...

Friday was spent ironing out the latest plans for various competitions and clearing the emails that had built up while travelling. I also talked to some applicants that didn’t get funded about what is coming next; hopefully some good news after the disappointment. I continued my good deeds by giving another pint of blood that evening.

Other topics discussed this week: sleeping in airplane toilets, sashimi vs ceviche, coffee and oil trading.

Stat of the week:  7.7 million items of clothing have been prevented from ending up in landfill through the Shwopping initiative. The partnership, between M&S and Oxfam, has generated over £5 million for the charity since Shwopping launched in April 2012.

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 46 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


I travelled into London first thing to start the week and began with a call from Tracy Sutton on connecting up innovation expertise in resource efficiency. Her particular focus is packaging and we’d certainly like to see her at The Great Recovery events in future. I was spending the rest of my morning (and some of the afternoon) at Forum for the Future. I’m often there and the CEO, Sally Uren promised me she follows this blog religiously (hi Sally!).

At Forum Nicky Conway and I went through our current plans for spreading the Horizons word and getting it more used. Next week we train up a number of KTN people. We talked about joint plans with Nicky holding me to firm actions as ever! I then met with Louise Armstrong, Anna Warrington and Zoe Le Grand to run through our problem setting for a workshop the next day.

Avoiding the Tour de France I made my way to Hub Westminster to record my piece to camera about the next Clean and Cool Mission. We announce the early details next week and the website will feature a video of me, Guy Pattison (from the co-leading The Long Run Venture) and Stephen Marcus of Mission host Cleantech Group. More next week...

The next day started at Central St Martin’s in their impressive Granary Square building. I was with Ben Griffin our Design Lead to talk about sustainable design and innovation with a team at CSM. We saw some excellent portfolios from students and the wonderful facilities they have as well as learning how a culturally diverse (around 90 different nationalities) and young group of people living in London are a great way to gather future insights.

Ben and I then headed to Battersea Arts Centre to meet with Jo Hunter and David Jubb and hear about how they put the user at the heart of innovation: they bring the user into the innovation process! Their ‘scratch’ approach has a producer facilitating development of a new work directly between and artist and an audience (small group). It has been very successful and they applied it to redevelopment of their large, listed building. We talked a lot about the value of creative and divergent thinking, including the study that showed children had fewer ideas for new uses of a paperclip as they got older.

I then said goodbye to Ben and, staying sarf of the river, headed to London Bridge and the Futures Cities Catapult. They were kindly hosting a meeting of Forum for the Future’s Sustainable Business Model Group with me providing the ‘problem’ this time. I was keen for the member companies to tell us what was stopping them moving to more circular business models and systems. How could they be part of value networks that kept resources in more productive use for longer? We had a great discussion and it will be used to shape a competition for early next year.

During the meeting David Bent showed us how forward thinking the Mr Men are. Mr Silly (in a book David was reading to his children) tried to buy a hole but instead was offered a spade. He found this very silly, whereas the ‘normal’ people thought Mr Silly was the daft one. A nice summing up of consumer barriers to circular economy!

Wednesday I headed north to Wellingborough to visit one of BASF’s research farms (pic below) where they look at increasing biodiversity on farmland. The farmer (a fellow Pitts) explained that using field borders which are essentially unproductive land (and no more than 5%) to grow plants that increase biodiversity has advantages. The Grange Farm has seen around 250% increase in breeding birds over four years and an increase in pollinators and natural pest predators (they hadn’t sprayed for aphids for 7 years). The plants provide a green wall and root filtration against pesticide contamination of the farm streams as well.

Heading home I caught up with Shoothill who were about to launch GaugeMap as a result of a project we funded with them, see: This provides all river gauge data in the UK and can help not only river users but those at flood risk to plan. Each gauge also has its own Twitter account you can follow. They’d even had some early celebrity endorsement!

Thursday and Friday I worked through planning two big competitions later this year and some of the paperwork involved, as well as a review with the boss and a teleconference to prepare next week’s meetings.

Other topics discussed this week: Caitlin Moran, Facebook profiles, dried Weetabix, roadmapping.

Stat of the week:  For every five houses we build in the UK, the equivalent of one house in waste materials gets put into landfill. See:

This weeks’ travel carbon footprint: 38 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


I started the week clearing all the usual monthly admin before spending some time working through our portfolio of projects making sure details were correct and up to date. After then watching two internal update meetings (one recorded and one live – the great ways we are kept informed as field workers) I completed details to have one of our autumn competitions authorised.

Tuesday I headed to the Swindon office and caught up with my boss on the train. Once there I had catch up meetings with colleagues on the Resource Efficiency portfolio and financial planning before heading on to Bath (and serendipitously catching up with another colleague on that train). I was in Bath for the Chancellor’s Dinner which was part of graduation week. The new Chancellor is the HRH Earl of Wessex which meant the dinner was in the lovely surroundings of the Pump Room at the Roman Baths with coffee taken ‘bath-side’ to finish the night. It was a great evening for networking and my first time seeing the baths (see photo below). I even tried the water.

The next morning I trained into London (awful journey thanks to signalling issues, overcrowding and tube maintenance) and after a bit of work at our hotdesk space at BIS relocated to Greenwich to meet with Mark Shayler. Mark is one of the design and sustainability experts we use in The Great Recovery and other projects and works across industry on such topics. It was good to hear the latest and check on plans to have him running a hands-on workshop at Innovate14 – don’t miss it!

I then left the sunshine to return to BIS and meet with our Urban Living and Assisted Living Innovation Platform teams to discuss the big area where they overlap. Local authorities and cities are responsible for the care of older people and with changing demographics this share of the budget will grow. Helping people take control of their health and growing support communities will help with some of this burden but many of the solutions lie within the control of cities themselves. We were clear this was a space rich for innovation and that we’d work on joint future competitions that brought forward the challenges and perspectives of the health & care sector and local & city authorities.

Thursday and Friday were spent at home doing more work on our project portfolio and clarifying the financial position. This was interspersed with: a chat with our new Assisted Living Platform person, input to Defra work on business valuing Nature, planning for business consultations the next two weeks on barriers to the circular economy, writing a piece for our website on doing business in Brazil and discussing sustainability in the hospitality sector.


Other topics discussed this week: reinforced jeans crotches, lime, and the value of Doctoral Training Centres.

Stat of the week:  Approx 75% of industrial water usage is for energy generation …

This weeks’ travel carbon footprint: 54 kg CO2 – much better this week

Mike Pitts


Monday started with a catch up with our colleagues at WRAP. We largely discussed the difficulties businesses face in exploring new circular business models with the particular insight that they need time and resource to prove the financial case before then can go ahead. Some plans were hatched and we’ll discuss more soon!

I then had more catch ups by phone on various projects about to start before responding to interview questions from Maxine Perella for the Resource Event. I then completed some paperwork for upcoming competitions and invited some excellent speakers for a panel session we are planning on sustainability at the heart of a business for our major event in November: Innovate.

Tuesday I headed into London, starting off by paying a flying visit to the Marks and Spencer’s Plan A update. It was great to hear about so many great projects they have completed in the last year and to see the one we have just funded on textile recovery listed in their report commitments. I really liked the use of digital technology to increase transparency and reporting from their supply chain (in Bangladesh, essentially every adult has a mobile phone) and the remanufacturing of old fridges and shelving to fit out a new store.

I then dashed over to BIS to meet with colleagues planning an overhaul of our Smart application process to talk about where sustainability fits in. Given our emphasis on sustainability being about social and environmental drivers for market opportunities I am keen to see it emphasised at the project context stage – i.e. what is driving the business opportunity. This should then be reflected throughout the application – the drivers set the context of the opportunity and should define the solution. The project should describe how the business gets closer to that solution so the drivers should surface the risks, impacts, partnerships and need for support in a project. I don’t think enough applications make this mapping explicit through an application and end up sounding confused – describing a project that doesn’t relate to the defined opportunity. Sometimes this is a result of cognitive dissonance: the applicant has (unconsciously?) redefined the opportunity to one they can solve with the technology they have to exploit.

I followed this meeting by heading to the King’s Fund for our SelfCare14 event. The event was part of our activities on how innovation can help people live independent lives as they age and manage chronic conditions. In particular it focussed on individuals taking personal responsibility for their health and how that can be enabled in a digital age. I was struck by how much it aligned with challenges in our Urban Living programme and how community driven the large projects are. There are clearly innovation opportunities for savvy retailers here who can help provide the nutrition and community hub requirements alongside the health and care providers. See/learn more via the video of the conference and the dallas project Self Care Video.

The following day saw me driving to Harwell first for a session with our Satellite Applications Catapult on using our Horizons sustainability tool. Together with Nicky Conway and James Goodman from Forum for the Future we took over their brown bag lunch to explain how Horizons can help explore the drivers for business opportunities and the benefits of a systematic integration of the tool into their strategy.

I then continued on to Brighton where I spent a few hours at the end of the day talking to seven start-ups based at FuseBox, an incubator in the middle of the city. I heard about ideas ranging from Cardunino’s educational car kits that you code yourself (and drive by smartphone) to 3D printing tools for fashion textiles. I explained where we could help and have started to make a few connections to get hopefully get some started.

I was mainly in Brighton to speak the following day at the EcoTech Show but I took the chance to meet with The Long Run Venture to plan our next Clean and Cool Mission and accept an invite to go a see the Waste House. The Waste House was a marvel – see pictures below. The stories about how the various building materials had been sourced or reclaimed were the main attraction for me. There were so many aspects to hear about as befits a research project that sought to try a big idea out. What was really interesting was how it has stimulated business to think different and overcome cultural and belief inertia about using second hand materials in construction.


The stories about the components also surface all sorts of existing problems and market failures. For example the beams in the roof came from a demolished house that was completely rebuilt rather than refurbished and extended in an effort to save £300k in tax – VAT being exempt for new build but not for refurb/retrofit. The frankly gorgeous 50 year old ex-Korean shipping container light fittings surfaced the issue that ship breaking in that part of the world is done by beaching and getting the nearest village to strip down the parts for selling – with no health and safety or training or even pay in many cases. A third example is the ridiculous route for the denim used as insulation packing in one wall unit – this came from a company that imported finished jeans then cut them into shorts!

Back home, Friday morning was spent on the phone: planning our circular economy consultations, learning about a project understanding the value of design to innovation that we are working with and hearing about a potential project tracking and quantifying local authority waste savings through non-recycle means. After a webinar on changes to our IT infrastructure I finally started to catch up on the week’s emails....

Other topics discussed this week: hot sauce, garden birds, salt on wine stains.

Stat (fact) of the week: "ditchwater has become so contaminated it could be used directly as a lice-control pesticide" is an eye-catching conclusion of new report on pesticide use

This weeks’ travel carbon footprint: 188 kg CO2 (all that driving!)

Mike Pitts


A short blog this week as I disappear for a while to enjoy a honeymoon (finally), a birthday and two weddings. I’m not back in circulation until 16th June.

Nursing a sore body from a Bank Holiday 42 mile cycle ride I headed into London to meet with Forum for the Future. This followed on from last week’s meeting to plot out a programme to support circular resource system business models. We covered a lot on the need to explore the structure and benefits for all stakeholders in a new system (the end user included!) and how exemplar projects would have a knock-on effect in the wider economy. As we reviewed the timelines it was very clear why we encourage 10 year horizon thinking in these type of proposals; the projects are unlikely to be making money for the businesses involved much before 2020.

A very interesting communication issue arose during our discussions, that of economic benefit of our work. The Forum team where impressed by (and hadn’t appreciated) our work on understanding the return to the economy of the projects we fund. In 2011 we published a report with a headline figure of £6.71 per £1 of government funding.  What was interesting was the 5% of projects that produced 87% of the benefits. Given we invest in business-led projects to share innovation risk there will always be a number of projects that don’t result in tangible benefit and a small proportion of highly successful ones. What we have since been learning is that the nature of the challenge projects address is important. Challenge-led competitions have a higher return on average again and early indications from system-type programmes such as our Low Carbon Vehicle demonstrator can be as much as £35 per £1 of public money. It got me wondering how widely know this data is as it helps explain some of the things we do. I know our evidence team is building the data to lay this out even more clearly and direct our work. Do let me know what you think.

After the meeting I had a long catch up with Mick by phone before heading home. Wednesday was spent tying up loose ends before holiday, especially administrative ones and discussing plans for the Solving Urban Challenges with Data call later in the year with my Digital shotgun colleague Lech Rzedzicki. One important issue is what we call it!

Other topics discussed this week: sunburn, back problems, user-centric design and collaboration.

Mike Pitts