Why climate change mitigation is an economic opportunity not a restriction

By Tim Miller,
Director of Engagement,
Energy & Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI),
Aston University.

After long and bitter rearguard action by vested interests the evidence of climate change emergency has been accepted and the growth of ethical movements along with the impact of a crippling pandemic has turned the world on its axis. Things that were seen as fringe and very marginal have now become accepted as mainstream and visions of plastic pollution, wildfires and flooding have changed the way that people think about the environment and want to live their lives.

The impetus for change is not just driving individual companies but also whole supply chains to decarbonise.

The shift in views and perceptions is now working its way into how people want to buy goods, changing demand, influencing business strategies and pressurising companies to act. Customers now expect brands to provide environmentally friendly products. The impetus for change is not just driving individual companies but also whole supply chains to decarbonise.

In addition to customer pressure, the drive for change is also coming from other quarters such is the desire of highly skilled key staff to work for ethical employers. Investors are actively stopping investment in fossil fuels and looking for ethical investments. Google searches for sustainable investment have increased by 119%. Over the past six months there has been a 31% increase in climate change awareness as a factor for investor communities (Rathbone Greenbank Investment Survey). Sustainability target reporting is now taking place at board level in many companies.

In the UK there have been significant government policy announcements about climate change at a national and local level combined with an aspiration of global leadership and the hosting of the COP26 international conference later this year. These announcements are big steps but in many ways these are the easiest steps, the questions about how the objectives are going to be achieved are much, much more difficult.

The challenges

The growth of the internet totally changed the way we live, learn, work and socialise. The changes we need to make to meet the challenge of climate change have been predicted to be similar in scale. Change is happening at a policy level in government and in the board room, major changes such as the move away from petrol and diesel cars have been announced but there is still a concern that many proposals may tend towards cosmetic changes without proper full consideration and measurement of impact. To counter this, standards are needed to avoid false claims and “greenwash” that could allow companies to achieve customer approval and commercial goals without really making meaningful changes.

To make a real impact, sustainability claims need to be matched by solid action to manage climate impact internally but also within the whole supply chain, full carbon accounting supported by good data capture and processing along with scenario modelling across the whole lifecycle of products.

Sustainability claims need to be matched by solid action to manage climate impact.

Although the situation may seem daunting and full of changes that appear large, fundamental and highly disruptive to the way we live and work, this is just the sort of environment that opens up new business opportunities.

Most of the local carbon and sustainability businesses in the UK are small and even micro. The uncertainties, disruption and creation of new markets could produce openings and opportunities for these to grow, develop and thrive.

New factors for success

The keys to success in these new markets are knowledge, a systems based approach that looks at the whole problem and good business skills.

Businesses will increasingly need a combination of access to new technologies and understanding of social and environmental systems to repurpose the ways we do things in ways that we are not used to. They will also need to be able to package up and present business concepts to customers and investors in ways that allow them to understand and buy into new products and services.

Our part in the future

Ten years ago the Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI) at Aston University set out to provide a bridge between the scientific knowledge and technical skills of the university, and the growth potential of businesses located in one of the largest manufacturing areas of the UK.

During that time we have been helping to build the future by providing master class courses to business leaders and budding entrepreneurs, technical assessments to help with the development of new products and services, providing skilled members of staff as well as working with companies on demonstrators to bring new ideas to market, we have used combinations of our research and analytical capabilities to help technology pioneers, early adopters and entrepreneurial visionaries trail blaze into new markets, but at the end of the day it is the innovation and drive of entrepreneurs that will make things happen.