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23 – 27 June 2014

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


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