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03rd May 2024

The UK GreenTech Catalyst Conference: Empowering Transformation

Gabrielle Percival

Given ‘empowering transformation’ was the theme for the afternoon of the UK GreenTech Catalyst Conference, it’s fair to say the session had quite the name to live up to.

But live up to it, it did!

Opening with a workshop that got straight into the paradox of energy-hungry industries wanting to be greener followed by not one, but two specialist panels, the afternoon brought together over a dozen experts on GreenTech implementation. 

Let’s get stuck in!

Workshop: Elevating Your Sustainable Practices

Chair: Natasha Nauth, Commissioner for the Yorkshire & Humber Climate Commission

Speakers: 

  • Bibi Rodgers-Hunt, Head of Environmental Sustainability for Quorn  
  • Clive Spooner, Business Development Manager at Vernacare 
  • Etienne Humphries, Head of Building Performance for Bruntwood SciTech 
  • Sarah Goodman, Director at Deloitte UK

Bibi began with a statement that we all know to be true: “Sustainability is the bare minimum that consumers expect now.” The Head of Environmental Sustainability at meat substitute product giant Quorn went onto speak about the other factors that influence the types of sustainable products consumers buy, stating, “66% of people are saying they want to reduce the amount of meat they eat. Consumers like to buy things because they are sustainable – but it’s actually also taste and value that matter.” 

Quorn’s Sustainability Focus

Most of us sat in the audience had at least heard of Quorn, if not eaten one of their products. Chair, Natasha, was keen to find out what the core focus for one of the brand’s forerunners for sustainability is set to be.

“I love having lots of new people coming into the market! We need to have lots of different people in the market moving things forward. My GreenTech ‘next horizon’ is that radical circularity, retaining product value by reducing the gaps in our processes.”

Bibi Rodgers-Hunt

Our Responsibilities Professionally…

It was a rousing start to the workshop, continued as Bruntwood SciTech’s Head of Building Performance, Etienne, highlighted how we’re all responsible for the future of our planet.

“Sustainability is everyone’s job now, but we [Bruntwood SciTech] also have a sustainability focus in areas of the business that aren’t as conventional as others.”

Etienne Humphries

…and Personally

This prompted Clive from Vernacare, a manufacturer of products for infection prevention and clinical waste management, to inform the audience of how they can take their personal sustainability responsibilities even further.

“You can calculate your personal carbon footprint on WWF’s website. It’s an education piece to look at what we can all be doing individually.” (And something that Vernacare has prompted its staff to look into, too!) 

Sarah, Director at Deloitte UK, also highlighted a couple of resources that are free for the public to use to look at their own impacts: “Use Deloitte’s website and HMRC’s website – this details the [sustainability] incentives available to businesses and if yours qualifies.”

The Influence of Earth Day

Just three days prior to our GreenTech Conference was Earth Day (22nd April), an annual event to show support for the protection of the environment. This year’s theme was ‘plastic VS pollution’, prompting Natasha to press the speakers to share thoughts on how we can reduce our use of plastics, both personally and in business.

Bibi: “We need more collaboration across the value chain.” 

Clive: “Go back to the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ message. Did you know that the NHS is using five times more gloves now than before the Covid-19 pandemic? As a human race, we’re so wasteful!” 

Sarah: “We all need to take some personal accountability, but we should also remind ourselves of the ‘good’ we’re doing each day.”

Etienne took it a step further, explaining one of the trials his team is hoping to run at Bruntwood SciTech: “We want to trial waste-free days across our commercial properties to make us all a bit more aware of just how much waste we make.” Sounds like a plan, to us!

Audience Questions…

Natasha then opened the floor to questions from the audience who’d been hooked line and sinker on every word from the inspirational panel. The first, around the government’s role in pushing the sustainability agenda, prompted Clive to tell us that, “We need the very top [the government] to be pushing education and awareness. There are startups out there that have the solutions, but they also need the cash!”

Next came a stat from Natasha that was sure to open eyes at the amount of work that needs to be done to keep on top of this evolving landscape: “25% of emissions post-2050 will be from technology.”

“An emergency needs emergency measures! Funds need to be going down to the grass-roots, not us big corporations.”

Clive Spooner 

We then set the audience at the afternoon of the GreenTech Conference the task of answering three questions around implementing GreenTech in their business:

  1. How much appetite is there in your business to becoming greener? 
  2. What are the biggest barriers when it comes to implementing new technologies into your business?  
  3. How do competing priorities, from budgets to sustainability to upcoming legislation/regulation, play out in the decision-making process?

…and Answers!

Feeding their answers back to the room, it’s fair to say that appetite is certainly there. Yet barriers are, too, like:

  • Being time poor 
  • Fear 
  • Lack of budget/funds 
  • No solution is one-size fits all  
  • A small bandwidth to implement any change – for example, not owing the property your business is based in 
  • Risk – new technologies don’t always fit into a traditional business mindset

The points catalysed a whole host of discussion, ending with a prominent point shared by Natasha.

“Were you aware that it was BP who invented the idea of the ‘carbon footprint’?” 

That’s one to look into on your next lunch break! 

Audience Q&A at the afternoon of the GCC

Panel 1: Eco-Innovators and Technology Providers for Holistic CSR in Industry

Chair: Dennis Dokter, Data & Insights Manager and Smart Cities Lead, Nexus (Leeds)

Speakers:

  • Dan Graf, CO Founder and CEO of Earthchain 
  • Gabrielè Barteškaitè, Founder and COO at Future Greens 
  • Rob Marrow, CFO at Econic Technologies 
  • Steven Ogden, Director of Green Gain 

Second on the afternoon agenda was a panel of founders or directors of some of the most up-and-coming GreenTech businesses in the UK.

  • Earthchain provides an automated carbon accounting platforms for businesses and their suppliers to measure, report, and ultimately manage carbon emissions across operations and value chains 
  • Future Greens is driving circular vertical farming for fresh produce that is both carbon negative and free from pesticides 
  • Econic’s technology replaces fossil-based raw materials with renewable carbon and is used by manufacturers that supply some of the world’s most iconic consumer brands 
  • Green Gain is a consultancy firm who specialise in supporting companies to become more sustainable by developing strategies that help them to reduce their carbon footprint

Business Advice for GreenTechs

Dennis was interested in hearing what it’s like out there for GreenTech start-ups trying to get a foot in the door with investment. 

Gabrielè: “As an early-stage startup developing hardware to achieve sustainability, [we’ve seen that] VC investment just isn’t comfortable at investing in hardware. The realisation for how long it takes to develop these things hasn’t trickled down yet.”

Rob: “One of the challenges is convincing your customer that your technology is great. We need lots of solutions to make a sustainable world, but how do you compare what [solution] works the best?”

Steven: “It can be overwhelming for businesses to understand which route to go down. There are three things that limit innovation: time to investigate, business costs going up across the board, and investors being more risk averse and wanting to invest in certainty.”

Dan: “Some barriers are now being broken down. Sustainability used to be ‘nice to have’ but now regulations are coming into play. Yet smaller companies are being approached by the bigger ones who the regulations apply to, and they [smaller companies] are realising it’s essential for them to comply with them, too.”

How GreenTechs can Secure Investment

So, what do GreenTech businesses, big and small, need to keep up with evolving legislation and regulations, and to ultimately secure investment?

Steven: “We need evidence-based solutions.” 

Dan: “Access to brains [from universities]!” 

Gabrielè: “Make sure accelerator programmes are more than just a generalised training day and instead, one that leads to funding!” 

Steven: “There’s lots of innovation happening in packaging. There’s a renewed interest in shifting away from plastic since Covid-19. The market and supply chains now need to catch up with demand.”  

Rob: “What’s interesting is how we go from global to local supply chains – there are opportunities out there for companies who can embrace this change.”

GreenTechs: Getting a Foot in the Door

We ended with the advice our panellists had for their peers looking to break new ground with green technology solutions:

Gabrielè: “Applying for a grant as a business with an academic partner is really fruitful.”  

Dan: “We’re seeing those smaller businesses being asked about their footprint – they are now seeing it [visibility] as a competitive advantage.”

Rob reminded aspiring start-ups out there about the importance of understanding the market they’re looking to launch their GreenTech into, stating, “You’ll always get asked how competitive your solution is.”

The first panel certainly gave us all some tasty food for thought!

Panel 2: Funding Your Sustainable Tech Purchase and Wider Business Support

Chair: Georgia Halston, Group CEO at yours truly – Halston Group! 

Speakers:

  • Ash Wray, C3 Group’s Founder 
  • John Rastrick, Founder & CEO of Flotilla 
  • Paul Collins, Senior Service Manager (Clean Growth) at West Yorkshire Combined Authority 
  • Jessica Farrow, Head of Digital Communications & Insight at Halston B2B

The GreenTech Investment Landscape

The final session of the UK GreenTech Catalyst Conference was chaired by Georgia, the very catalyst and brains behind the day’s events! She got straight into asking Ash, the Founder of sustainability consulting firm C3 Group, about the current investment landscape.

“Funding is very difficult to obtain. For public sector funding, you have to paint a real picture of the impact. The private sector is completely different – you have to be very careful as it’s a volatile market with gas and electric. Investors want projects that have value from the start.”

Ash Wray

Keeping Up with Regulations

Georgia went onto pick the brains of sustainable strategy extraordinaire John, stating that, “You [a business] may not realise you’re part of a public sector supply chain, but regulations and legislations will catch up on you!”

John: “There are so many factors on why it’s commercially important for your business to be doing this [sustainability reporting] now. If you have the datasets to show you’re doing the right things, there’s lots of opportunities out there. Doing this in a modular way is really useful!”

Next in the hotseat was Jessica who works for Halston Group-owned marketing agency, Halston B2B. Georgia asked Jess to explain one of the newest buzzwords to hit the sustainable marketing scene, ‘greenhushing’.

Greenwashing VS Greenhushing

Jess: “How many of you know what greenwashing means?”

Queue all hands in the room getting raised!

Jess: “And how many of you know what greenhushing means?”

Queue a rather tumbleweed moment…

Jess: “Greenhushing is where businesses hide their green credentials from the public. There’s a number of reasons why they might do it, like fear of reaction, having unsubstantiated claims, or the risk to their reputation.” 

But what’s the impact?

The Impact of Greenhushing

“By hiding your sustainability objectives and achievements, no matter how big or small or how many you’ve met or remain outstanding, you risk losing trust with your audience. If you’re not willing to share what you’re doing right, and where you need to improve, they’re going to be far more inclined to suspect something’s up. We [the public] are way more savvy when it comes to greenwashing, but it goes both ways.”

Jessica Farrow

Georgia was keen to hear the advice Jess would give to businesses who might be greenhushing, without even knowing it! 

“Get everyone involved in your sustainability projects. Explain what your business is doing, what its goals are, and how everyone can contribute. How you communicate your sustainability goals with your employees is vital to retaining and building that trust, and also inspiring action. We’ve seen clients send letters to the homes of their staff to really enforce the message that they care about getting them engaged with their initiatives!”

The GCC: Over and Out!

To close the panel, Georgia asked the WYCA’s Paul what business support GreenTechs in the region should be aware of.

He told us, “West Yorkshire’s Business Sustainability Support Scheme for SMEs. 90% of businesses in West Yorkshire are SMEs! There’s also a free to use carbon footprint calculator on our website – doing something is better than doing nothing. Businesses can be scared of doing everything at once!” 

Indeed, with the vast scope of insight shared from the entire GCC, there was a lot for businesses to take away. But we hope any ‘scaries’ GreenTechs had prior to the conference have since been replaced with tangible steps to support them to their next goal, be it nailing an upcoming pitch or consciously avoiding greenhushing.

Thank you!

We’d like to thank all workshop hosts, chairs, and panellists who joined us to make the inaugural GreenTech Catalyst Conference possible – and such a success! 

We’d also like to say a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who took the time out of their day to attend one, two, three sessions – or even the entire event.  

And our final thanks must go to our host, Nexus, the community hub for Leeds’s innovators and entrepreneurs.

The conversations at the GCC were inspiring, the stats were eye-opening, and the sense of community in the wider West Yorkshire region to drive a more sustainable future was strengthened. 

For more information about any of the points raised during the GCC, ping us a message!

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