An insightful overview of the recently launched Sustainable Innovation Fund by our KTM for Emerging Technologies, Emma McKenna.

I’m sure we can all agree, it doesn’t feel great to be living through a global pandemic. However, one of the many things that COVID-19 has shown us is that mass change and rapid response is possible, and in our fight against climate change, this does provide me with some optimism.

In 2019, the UK Government made a bold (and legally binding) commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. By encouraging a clean growth led recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19, this provides the UK with an opportunity to build back better.

The recently launched Sustainable Innovation Fund looks to support sustainable growth, continuing progress toward this net-zero target whilst creating jobs and rebuilding the economy. This provides a new and exciting opportunity for organisations to drive sustainable innovation within the UK. And for the first time, this fund will be expecting all applicants (including those not developing sustainable innovations) to also consider their impact on the planet. As such, this post will address a number of enquiries seeking further guidance on what the expectations are for applicants.

Within the Sustainable Innovation Fund, there are currently two open competitions: Temporary Framework (Round 1) and SBRI Phase 1, so let’s explore each individually to understand the different requirements.

Temporary Framework

As COVID-19 has affected R&D across all sectors, this competition is to help all sectors of the UK recover, grow and create new opportunities from the aftermath of the global health pandemic.

As a minimum, all projects must consider their impact on climate change and/or environmental sustainability. If this is your first time considering your environmental impact, it might be challenging, so here are a few examples of things to think about (this is not a definitive list):

  • Raw materials:
    • Are they sustainably and ethically sourced and processed? Are you ensuring these materials can be kept at the highest value and not wasted? Could you utilise secondary materials?
  • Energy
    • Is it clean and renewable?
    • What efficiency measures are you taking?
  • Water
    • How are you optimising the use of this resource?
  • Transportation
    • Is this the most sustainable method?
  • Waste
    • How is it being recovered? Could it be prevented?
  • Business Model
    • How will your innovation generate revenue? Do you plan to make and sell? Or could you explore alternative models such as rental, subscriptions etc?

A good application would demonstrate how a project is addressing environmental sustainability or in some cases, evaluating and concluding that there would be no environmental impact as a result of the project. A weak application would show no consideration whatsoever or downplay the environmental impact of the project.

In addition to this, applications are welcomed if they have a focus on (amongst other themes):

  1. Decarbonisation, circular economy and/or biodiversity
  2. Climate change and environmental sustainability

SBRI Phase 1

This competition is focussed on employing clean growth innovation to set the UK economy on the road to recovery and the environment on the road to net zero. Applicants are required to address one of the specific themes set out in the brief:

  • decarbonising energy, business and industry
  •  improving business and industry efficiency
  • improving the energy efficiency, heating and cooling of our homes and other buildings
  • accelerating the shift to low carbon transport
  • enhancing the benefits and value of our natural resources
  • innovating for a more sustainable public sector
  • climate change adaptation and mitigation

Applicants may cover several, or even all, of these themes in their work but must indicate one key theme of focus in their application. Each of the themes above have been identified as priority areas part of the UK’s Clean Growth strategy and more recent government announcements. Each application must explain how they might deliver economic growth AND a positive impact on climate change and/or environmental sustainability. Applicants must set out how this will be achieved, maintained and measured. Examples of environmental metrics that you might use are carbon reduction and waste diverted from landfill.

In our journey to net-zero, moving to renewables across the globe will only address 55% of greenhouse gas emissions. To tackle the remaining 45%, transitioning to a circular economy, diet shift, emerging innovations and carbon capture and storage are all required (Completing the Picture: How the Circular Economy tackles Climate Change, Ellen MacArthur Foundation). As such, innovations that address these challenges are welcomed.

If you need further guidance on sustainability and circular economy, there are a number helpful tools to help you navigate through this, including Horizons and 30 ideas to kickstart your circular business.

Hope this helps and good luck with your applications!

Emma McKenna, KTN Emerging Technologies