Encouraging the green breed

According to a report published this week, more needs to be done to identify, encourage and support the entrepreneurs who are promising new ways to tackle climate change.

The report from the National Endowment for Science, Technology & the Arts (NESTA), coincides with the launch of the organisation’s ‘Environment Challenge’, a £1m prize fund to inspire  novel approaches to carbon reduction .

‘The Disrupters’ report uses eight examples to illustrate the importance of innovation in the fight to reduce carbon levels. These stretch beyond the traditional expectation of new, energy-efficient technology to include new ways of owning energy assets, and new services to engage people in energy saving.

The report stresses the potential impact of these entrepreneurial approaches, showing how the eight it profiles alone promise savings equivalent to the carbon dioxide emitted by 1.6 million homes. However, it argues that not enough is being done to ensure all this innovation has the widest possible effect.

With no obligation and limited encouragement for individuals to save energy at home, for example, innovative approaches like ‘GREENHomes’ – a service for busy, environmentally conscious Londoners which arranges for their homes to be made more environmentally friendly – will simply not penetrate a wide enough market. Equally, without major energy system changes, ‘2°C’, which has developed a way to use the pressure in gas pipelines to generate renewable electricity, cannot actually be adopted.

Measures must be put in place that ensure this new innovation is adopted by bigger players; that put other companies under pressure to change; and that persuade more people to take action on CO2 reduction. More broadly, the report shows how the government’s current focus on encouraging the creation of new technology in answer to climate change also makes it hard to develop non-technological solutions or ones that focus on using existing technology differently.

Jonathan Kestenbaum, CEO of NESTA, said: ‘In an area with the highest need for innovation, we also see some of the biggest barriers. If we are to overcome our dependence on carbon, it’s vital we start to remove these barriers and encourage what begin as niche ideas to become more widespread’.

Supporting the innovators

Highlighting the current challenges, the report calls for government to develop better ways of supporting these entrepreneurs and provide the right conditions and opportunities for them to flourish.

The report suggests that government re-direct some of its investment in innovation towards lower-carbon alternatives and include support for non-technological innovation, like those that drive behaviour change.

Within this, government should provide local and regional decision-makers with the autonomy and funding to involve local households, communities, businesses and the public sector in carbon reduction. This might result in a community piloting a new technology or establishing a voluntary carbon-trading scheme

The report also suggests reforming the energy markets to create better incentives for innovation and extend the remit of Ofgem so that it is in a position to provide some of those incentives.

Building on these aspects, NESTA is developing a £1m prize fund to inspire more innovative approaches to carbon reduction amongst community and third sector organisations.

Full details of the initiative, which will reward imaginative, high impact solutions from not-for-profit organisations, will be announced in October.