10th – 14th November 2014

Monday and Tuesday was spent in our office in Swindon for a collection of small meetings and chance encounters. These mainly began with phone calls, including updates with Gerrard Fisher at WRAP on how we work with them for our next Circular Economy competition and the same theme with Louise Armstrong at Forum for the Future. I then joined a regular meeting on how we keep the KTN and our innovations programmes aligned. After working through the latest budget information and forecasts I discussed the Resource Efficiency strategy, aims and messages with our Communications team. The last call of the day was with BRE about how the upcoming Resource Efficiency competitions aligned for the construction sector.

Tuesday started with completing the competition brief for the aforementioned Circular Economy call and transferring to our Publications team. I try to get briefs available to potential applicants around three months before the competition opens. I heard this week many applicants struggle to pull a consortium together in the six week window a competition is open so getting people thinking about them in advance is a benefit. Let me know your experience.

Following more budget work, I then met with our contracts teams to improve our forward procurement for Entrepreneur Missions. I then caught up with James Taplin in our Urban Living team to plan the Solving Urban Challenges with Data competition workshops and relate experience from the previous competition: Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data.

Wednesday I travelled on to Banbury to a meeting closing out a project from our Supply Chain Innovation for Resource Efficiency competition. The meeting was at Innoval (consultants for aluminium processing) for a project led by JaguarLandRover on improving aluminium castings for engine components. The consortium was trying to overcome two principle issues: cast aluminium (theoretically the most material efficient way to make aluminium parts) is generally five times more expensive than sheet aluminium components probably as a yield issue with scrapped pieces; and the need for more refined grain structure in aluminium alloys used for high performance parts such as cylinder heads that confer the mechanical properties required. The project’s key technology was a novel grain refiner additive that was potentially superior to the incumbent. Technically the project was a real success proving the substitute worked and moving it through the Technology Readiness Levels. The commercial reality of switching an ingredient with established suppliers, particularly one with a higher cost implication, had started to hit the end of the project and will shape forward exploitation. However, I take this as a sign the project has moved to a commercially relevant result. I will watch the next steps with interest.

Thursday was a holiday and Friday brought a day of admin and calls covering everything from critical materials to environmental data and project monitoring to keeping the Horizons tool updated. Lastly, a follow up to last weeks’ Innovate14 event. If you missed the sustainability in business session I banged on about in previous posts then you can watch the entire panel session here:

Stat of the week:  there are 421m fewer birds across Europe now than in 1980

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 35 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


3rd – 7th November 2014

A London based week started Monday with judging for the Clean and Cool Mission in January to San Francisco. We had around 60 entrants to pick 20 winning companies from and took most of the day about it. We were looking for innovative ideas that were scalable solutions to global challenges in energy, shelter, transport, agriculture and waste. We sought companies with strong teams and ideas and a situation suited to the US market. The quality was very high and I’m delighted with the final list. Keep an eye here for the big announcement in the New Year.

I spent the evening learning about the innovation team at Crossrail and how they are keen to see a life for their collaborations and innovations beyond the project itself.

Tuesday brought an internal meeting planning our future activities under different scenarios.  Plenty of good debate to keep us honest and on purpose and exciting thoughts about what we do next. From there I joined colleagues at Old Billingsgate for the KTP awards event. Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are designed to bring new knowledge into a company to enable it to innovate in new ways. The awards celebrate the best of these and in particular the individuals involved. It was wonderful to hear about such a diverse range of projects and so many successes.

Wednesday morning I met David Willans for breakfast and we discussed the pace of change in sustainability-led innovation and how to quicken it. David is a brand and strategy specialist and we exchanged a lot of good stories/examples and ideas.

Wednesday and Thursday were the main event at Old Billingsgate – our (almost) annual Innovate conference with UKTI celebrating UK innovation and showcasing the support on offer. I was involved in a few sessions: one as a panel member of bringing sustainability into a business, one as host offering a product teardown to think about design for the circular economy and one as a support on global missions. The two days were great fun and we had a huge range of exhibitors showcasing all sorts of amazing innovations we had supported from wireless phone charging to wi-fi through lighting; electric bikes to travel time apps; and wearable technology to domestic energy storage.

The best bit, as always, is getting to catch up with so many people in such a short space of time. This included my own team as we got together the middle night for dinner – an all too rare occasion. The random conversations throw up all sorts of interesting leads, especially when everyone’s thoughts are on innovation. SEaB Energy’s Sandra Sassow suggested I watch Seven Minutes of Terror about the challenge of landing the Mars Rover on the surface. Then think about how much money these guys got to do it – that is top pitching!

Finally back home Friday I caught up on some exciting leads from the week and took several calls planning upcoming competitions.

Stat of the week:  90% of all digital data has been generated in the last 2 years (from InnovateUK14 speaker)

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 35 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


27th – 31st October 2014

The week didn’t start too well as I was ill from food poisoning (ruining a day off on Monday and was slowed down Tuesday as I worked through an email backlog and a range of internal admin. I did take time for a call about our potential involvement in Bristol 2015 which will be well worth keeping an eye on.

Wednesday was mostly spent doing my judging of the excellent applications for this year’s Clean and Cool Mission but also took calls from Jamie Butterworth of Ellen MacArthur Foundation on what he is doing next as he leaves them after many years, our comms team on the Mission and a Skype interview about the Responsible Innovation Framework.

Thursday I travelled to the KTN office in Runcorn to catch up with Catherine Joce on plans to support our upcoming competitions and other ways we are working together. Friday was spent still trying to catch up and mostly working on financial forecasts for the next few years as well as more admin.

The day ended with more calls, mainly ones to brief our excellent panel for our big event Innovateuk14 next week. There is still time to book tickets at and you can hear from Jennifer Clark, Director of Environment, Skanska UK; Mike Barry, Director Plan A, Marks & Spencer; Dax Lovegrove, Director of Sustainability and Innovation, Kingfisher; and Cyndi Rhoades, CEO, Worn Again. I’m also on the panel which will be chaired by our Deputy Director for Innovation in Industry – Richard Miller.

Stat of the week:  Wind power is cheapest energy, EU analysis finds:

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 12 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


20th – 24th October 2014

The week began in Bristol. There I met Carolyn Hassan of Knowle West Media Centre to discuss their plans for a MakerLab but ended up in a wide ranging discussion about how to bring the human interaction elements into regional development and business-led innovation.

A project wrap up meeting followed as another great project from our Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition looking at assessing biodiversity loss in construction development projects and mitigating them, preferably without an offset. The project integrated some diverse sets of data well and had a very engaged user group from the construction sector. I finished the day by heading into London.

Tuesday brought catch ups with Ed Hobson, the design lead at KTN and our new advanced materials Lead Technologist Lien Ngo. I then travelled out to the Olympic site at Stratford where Taylor Wimpey has a new home development. A project we have supported has meant the marketing suite for this is a test of a ‘demountable’ building – i.e. temporary with a planned forward use in mind. To see it you wouldn’t know:


It is based on a steel frame of standard lengths and managed by ES Global a company that started by building rock concert stages and has progressed to sports venues (much of the non-permanent parts of the Olympic park itself, many now in other places like Sochi and Rio) and beyond to other buildings that have a 1 to 5 year life. This circular economy approach to construction was much debated in the meeting with the Association of Sustainable Building Products driving the network needed to make this more standard in the sector.

Wednesday had a great start catching up with Sophie Thomas and Catherine Joce at the Great Recovery #FabLab hub on how the project was progressing and the events we have planned for the upcoming competitions. If you are interested then get on their mailing list and come along to an event.

I then scooted across town to BIS for a Sustainability Team meeting with my lovely colleagues following that with a telecon to plan the imminent Solving Urban Challenges with Data competition workshops and then (after a quick chat on how we do good things with James Taplin) we both met with Vicky Pope of the MetOffice about using their data in our competitions and activities. I finished the day getting an update on the Clean and Cool Mission from Guy Pattison and got very excited about our plans and aims for this Mission – watch this space!

Thursday and Friday I worked from home catching up on emails, sorting our assessors for competitions, transferring my filing system into the Cloud, preparing slides for upcoming competitions and working through finances. I also took phone calls to plan work on the Horizons tool and catch up with Steve Evans at Cambridge University on the Industrial Sustainability Centre for Innovative Manufacturing.

Stat of the week: The Summer 2003 urban heat island event was a 1 in 19 event, by 2050 it will be 1 in 3, by 2080 it will be 1 in 2 – from Arup’s Reducing Urban Heat Risk report

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 55 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


13th – 17th October 2014

Monday had me heading to London and starting the week a great way – with a call from Guy Pattison on where we were at with the Clean and Cool Mission. This entrepreneur Mission takes the best of UK cleantech start-ups to California in January to develop their pitches, connect with customers/partner/investors and learn from the world’s leading cleantech grouping. For this Mission we want to celebrate the positive messages of cleantech and have established a People’s Champion place on the Mission paid for by sponsorship. The shortlist is here: and YOU get to pick who goes by voting. We are looking for the heroes of cleantech so choose the one that inspires you. Applications for the Mission are still open (closes 20th October) so if you are a cool, young, cleantech company get your application in today.

That call was quickly followed by one with the KTN on our work with Defra, particularly on water, and then another – this time a telecon with the team of us at Innovate UK that connect with the KTN. I then made my way to the Connected Digital Economy Catapult for a meeting with colleagues on autonomous transport systems and where it fits across our strategy. I’m always fascinated when we have these cross-team meetings how many challenges we share from area to area. That was an important take-away for me as well as the power of ‘test-beds’ for serious demonstration projects. Being able to use a city or a health authority to test out a new transport solution accelerates commercial development in the same way a pilot plant does for manufacturing – scaling up the concept.

We were treated to a quick tour of the Catapult afterwards, parts of which are still a building site ahead of the opening on 6th November!

Tuesday was Birmingham and after a call with some government colleagues about helping them with a technology assessment I rendezvoused with Ewa Bloch (our National Contact Point for resources, waste and the environment) and headed to Birmingham Science Park. We were meeting Civico, a company with a fascinating background in making democracy more accountable by using digital skills to connect up and share all council meeting systems (which are all recorded using rather outdated hardware that doesn’t network).

Civico have also managed the Freecycle network and now want to use their skills to track reuse of products through similar schemes. We advised them on which European schemes and Innovate UK competitions would fit the scope of their plans. I particularly liked their mantra that technology should be invisible in an innovation; or in the word of Coco Chanel: ‘when a woman wears a really beautiful dress, all you see is the woman’.

Thursday I had the pleasure of a project close out meeting with Shoothill  and get the latest updates on what has happened thanks to the funding from the force of Nature that is Rod Plummer. Their project was in the Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition and has led to GaugeMap as well as a whole load of bespoke services for other businesses. This builds well on their existing FloodAlerts service and we talked about where next. It is great to see a smart company refocus on societal needs and thrive because of it.

The day ended with a call to coordinate our presence at Resource Event  in March. With the KTN’s help we will brief and connect potential applicants for two calls – one on Circular Economy Value Networks (run by me) and the other on Whole Life Performance of Buildings run by my colleague Rick Holland, which has a circular economy strand. It really is an event to be at and we’ll be helping project ideas all three days.

Thursday I travelled into Swindon for back-to-back meetings in the office. I started with planning for the two Resource Efficiency competitions I’m kicking off (one just mentioned, the other Recovering Valuable Materials from Waste). The next meeting was to work through budgets for next year which ran straight into one on this year’s portfolio and how we manage it to budget. I followed that with a quick update on a project to assess the role of design in innovation for us and then back to finances as I worked through the latest forecast for my team. The long train journeys in and home helped me catch up with paperwork and emails.

I faced serious problems Friday and was cut off from email all day thanks to problems with passwords coinciding with Microsoft updates causing issues with Outlook. Thankfully I had a meeting with the boss powered only by tea and treacle cake as we reviewed my year so far and set some new tasks for the rest of the year. I will do more work on the team’s budgets and delivery plan so when I get my calendar back it will need a few changes.

Stat of the week: American teenagers are taking to the road in fewer numbers than ever before: 46% of 18 to 24-year-olds said they would choose internet access over owning their own car. Source

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 117 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


6th – 10th October 2014

Monday I headed into London to catch up with Forum for the Future on our systems work and the plans to build up to the next circular economy competition. Great of them to let me take over their Christmas network meeting. Again. I followed that with a meeting with Green Alliance on how we can understand research and innovation needs for novel materials used in high-value manufacturing that keep these resources in productive use for longer. A good example is that of composites – a powerful enabler of manufacturing innovation but insufficient thought has gone into end-of-life options. Could we remanufacture or repurpose composite components rather than the current downcycle or burn options? After joining an internal meeting by phone I was able to head to Swindon for the night.

Tuesday was a full day in the office, largely built around a series of interviews for the Lead Technologist role in Resource Efficiency. I also had meetings to discuss future contracts, the upcoming Urban Data competition and catch up with the boss for the first time in a month. My team had also bought a beautiful gift for my new son – a Philadelphia Eagles babygrow! Awesome.

Wednesday I popped into Manchester to speak at an event primarily on Horizons 2020 funding in sustainability and environmental topics. I was covering upcoming resource efficiency and sustainability from us rather than Europe. The event was comprehensive and if you want to see the slides and other info, click here.

After a day off Thursday I returned to Swindon on Friday to crack through some financial work. I am doing more of this stuff so also attended a training session on finance. Great way to end the week!

Lastly I wanted to share this link to a summary of the webchat I did on Guardian Sustainable Business last week:  It is a good summary and flew round Twitter this week.

Stat of the week: There is a potential £1tn market for clean-technology SMEs in developing nations, according to a report by the World Bank Group and the Carbon Trust

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 59 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


29th September – 3rd October 2014

A first full week back started with a full day meeting at the KTN to plan our roll out of the Horizons tool. We had a very constructive discussion with the core team champions and full KTN staff training is coming together. It is important that everyone can help companies consider environmental and social drivers for projects (and their business). Within Innovate UK we seem to be thinking more and more about the longer term societal drivers for innovation. I also took the time to discuss plans for roadmapping a UK bioeconomy with Rebecca Wood.

Tuesday I finally cracked on with clearing the inbox and sorting out project issues from my time away. I also had to catch up with plans for our major annual event Innovate 14 and the two sessions I am looking after and you don’t want to miss. The first is a main stage panel debate on how we place sustainability thinking at the heart of business strategy and features several experts who are doing just that. We have Jennifer Clark, Director of Environment, Skanska UK; Mike Barry, Director Plan A, Marks & Spencer; Dax Lovegrove, Director of Sustainability and Innovation, Kingfisher; and Cyndi Rhoades, CEO, Worn Again. The second is a hands on workshop where you get to ‘tear down’ everyday products to consider their design in the context of a circular economy. This is led by Mark Shayler and connects with The Great Recovery project we support. Don’t miss it, get your ticket now -

Wednesday was spent writing a presentation on our upcoming funding opportunities in sustainability for an event in Manchester next week and preliminary judging the Heroes’ place on our Clean and Cool Mission. The latter is a sponsored place on the entrepreneur mission for young cleantechs and we wanted to encourage a people’s choice that showed some hero spirit and painted a positive and compelling future with their business.

I took Thursday off but was back Friday drafting the last of the competitions I have to ready for this winter and finishing the day talking remanufacturing with Policy Connect.

Stat of the week: Flood damage to cities expected to cost $1tn by 2050

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 12 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


24th – 26th September 2014

My son was born shortly after the last blog post and I’m now back from paternity leave. Having some time to focus on something else (mostly nappies and when we might sleep) has helped me reflect on an issue I have been mulling over the last month: the importance of communities to business. Watching Lord Stern’s TED Talk I was reminded that growth is something we still need to pursue but it must bring with it an improvement in living standards for society. The incredible growth in China and Latin America has lifted millions out of poverty. The challenge has been to sustain that beneficial growth while reducing the impact on the environment. Environmental change leads to societal upheaval on a grand scale so the two are intertwined.

This leaves me thinking about how much companies want to deliver benefit to society and be seen to be valued in that way. Those that do tend be more trusted and able to shift their business model towards value-added services rather than cheapest produced product. Circular economy ideas have been around a long time and something such as the sharing economy is rooted in community. Communities have always shared assets: from playgrounds to woodland. So how do companies create that sense of belonging and trust? Will digital platforms enable this as we increasingly get out sense of identity and community online? Will the trend towards localism (certainly in the UK) drive growth in local, community based, economies? I’d be interested in your thoughts.

In the few days since I’ve been back working, aside from clearing the email backlog I took part in a Guardian Sustainable Business debate on ‘How far can we go with the idea of a circular economy?’ You can see the debate here:

While I have been being a new Dad the next Resource Efficiency call has gone live: the Recovering Valuable Materials from Waste competition. We’re giving plenty of warning for this competition as we’re keen to see waste companies engage – a sector that historically is underrepresented in our projects. To help connect up companies wanting to submit projects the KTN has set up a brokerage site on _connect:

Stat of the week: Google has made $1.5bn investments in renewables in 2014

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 0 kg CO2 – still no travel!

Mike Pitts

1st – 5th September 2014

I finished last week by taking a Nissan Leaf for a 24 hour test drive. It is worth recounting my experience here. Firstly I must say it was great fun to drive and is a wonderful car. On hand over the dealership pointed out the system learns your driving style and puts out a forecast on mileage based on this. Fully charged it was telling us we had 95 miles whereas from new it would say 120 miles. I drove it as economically as I would my diesel Audi (I regularly get over 60 mpg) and chose to test it on a route my wife drives a couple of times a week. If we could comfortably complete this journey it would be the deciding factor, as she could do it more often and still save money. The drive is about 60 miles round trip and we got to the far end with only a third of the charge leaving us very happy. However the return in the dark and rain and maybe a little faster (but not at the speed limit) on the motorway nearly drained the battery. Despite suggesting there was insufficient charge remaining I was able to get it back to the dealership the next day. Just. It would seem that 80 miles is fairly normal in terms of range (Leaf owner and colleague Tim Just has confirmed this), which is just under the distance we’d need to feel comfortable for that run given a diversion or a side errand could easily stretch it. We will however start measuring all our journeys...

The dealership was clear that a Leaf is where they can provide seriously good offers right now. Since we live in the countryside and have slightly longer average journey distances (and fewer charge points) we needed a little more convincing, but not much. Getting a charge point fitted at home right now is pretty cheap (compared with payback time) as British Gas will do one for ~£115 or ~£214 if you want the fast charge version. Some dealership offers include even this subsidised fee. If you haven’t tried an electric car yet I’d certainly encourage it despite not committing just yet myself.

This week I haven’t travelled as my first child is due very soon. It has been a great opportunity to catch up on admin and personal development as well as receive a lot of phone calls!

Monday I covered off end of month admin and continued to process of transferring our upcoming Urban Data competition to my new colleague James Taplin. Tuesday I joined a call with colleagues to discuss our input to the House of Commons Science Select Committee on use of biometric data. I then heard feedback on our planned circular economy call from Forum for the Future companies via their systems team who have been helping us shape and frame the competition. I also took the chance to plan my diary post paternity leave and book in travel.

Wednesday Catherine Joce called to plan events later in the year supporting two Resource Efficiency competitions and I talked with Sophie Thomas about The Great Recovery project. I spent much of the day uploading new case studies to the Horizons tool. Thursday I did more Horizons uploads, talked social enterprises and communities with our new Urban Living Lead Technologist and all-round sustainability expert Niraj Saraf and finished the day getting competition scope feedback from Nitesh Magdani at BAM Construct UK who has some string project ideas for the circular economy in construction.

By Friday I was in danger of catching up with my inbox and ‘to do’ lists as I tied up lose things that had been waiting days and weeks to be completed. A bit of a luxury!

Other topics discussed this week: part re-usable nappies, getting some sleep, ball bearings.

Stat of the week: it takes almost 500,000 litres of water to extract just 1 kg of gold

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 0 kg CO2 – no travel!

Mike Pitts


26th – 29th August 2014

A bank holiday shortened week started with a call from AlpSynergy (environmental consultant for business) about how we view sustainability. I explained that we thing social and environmental trends are as important drivers of future markets as technology and economic trends. We have an aim of economic growth but are always thinking about how that fits within a sustainable economy – that is one operating within safe environmental limits and delivering social value and quality of life. We know these are hard things to consider (hence our development of the Horizons tool) but for those that get it right innovation will scale quicker and farther.

I spent the rest of the day working through competition paperwork (I seem to be doing a lot of that right now) and checking through progress of projects across the portfolio. Projects from our Supply Chain Innovation for Resource Efficiency competition are finishing this year and we have some great results.

Wednesday I travelled into the office in Swindon to try and tie up a few urgent activities before I stop travelling until my son is born. It was a lot easier to chase up activities by talking with the people helping me than via email or trying to reach them by phone. The accidental conversations that arise by being in the office are also invaluable. I spent the journey home thinking about the role of social innovation and building communities and a sense of belonging in enabling wider innovation. These ideas keep appearing across our strategy and increasingly from businesses with brands to maintain. It is an area I know our Digital team are working hard on and I intend to discuss further.

Thursday I was in London and started with a meeting discussing a planned textile sector competition with Carol Rose from WRAP. The call will seek new ideas to increase the durability of clothing and is being supported by Defra. We talked about how we and the KTN could support the competition. I then met with a new KTN person who will lead on sustainability within their health and bioscience teams and took her through how we think about sustainability and how we use the Horizons tool to do so. KTN staff are key to helping our applicants using Horizons to think about the environmental and social drivers of their projects and business.

I then headed to BIS to meet with a delegation from FINEP who are an Innovate UK equivalent in Brazil. We spent two hours explaining how we work and discussing the differences in approach. Given FINEP did the same for me when I went to Rio before the last Clean and Cool Mission I was happy to reciprocate. We will soon sign a joint funding agreement with them as we seek to strengthen our ties with Brazil.

Friday I caught up with my boss then spent most of the day transferring the Urban Data competition to my new colleague James Taplin. He has a lot ahead! Whereas I won’t be travelling now until October. Serious baby waiting starts now, so if there is no blog next week you’ll know what happened!

Other topics discussed this week: locking wheel nuts, email accounts, tax.

Stat of the week: The average commuter in the UK spends 29 working days each year travelling to work

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 70 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


18th – 22nd August 2014

On Monday we changed our name. The Technology Strategy Board is now known as Innovate UK – a name that better encapsulates what it is we do. Particularly when you’re running programmes on resource efficiency and encouraging business to consider social and environmental trends driving their future markets (as I do) a name that suggests a focus on technology isn’t helpful. The name isn’t a huge change as we already used the ‘brand’ for our annual conference and our website address. We hope you like it as it is part of a process to simplify how we help business and clear out jargon.

The name change has meant a change in email address which came in over the weekend. Inevitably this led to updates and changes to the email system and having to go through all registrations changing the email address from to – as we are now. While doing this I had calls with our recent Urban Living programme recruit Niraj Saraf and Zoë Le Grand from Forum for the Future on future joint work. More competition and ongoing project paperwork followed.

Tuesday started with a call from the University of Exeter on a new data centre with the MetOffice. Most of the day was spent uploading new case studies to Horizons – examples of businesses responding to social and environmental trends. To see when these updates go up, follow the Horizons Twitter account.

Wednesday I met up with Long Run Venture in London to do further planning for the Clean and Cool Mission. We largely focussed on communications and how we can make use of our considerable alumni network. We’re very keen for these amazing cleantech entrepreneurs to show more of their hero side and develop the intangibles that make a good pitch great. A good pitch is much like a superhero story (we reasoned): you need to sell the villain (market problem) fully first and have a tangible sense of jeopardy (risk) to get excited about whether the hero (entrepreneur) can overcome the odds with their superpowers (unique selling position/technology) and save the day. Good superheroes are flawed investors do tend to like those who have tried and learnt by overcoming set-backs. We even see the mentor role in superhero movies as relevant to most good entrepreneur journeys. We’ll be using these ideas to build the Clean and Cool network and have them support and promote their peers. Such things happen with a mission group but we want to see it happen between missions in the UK. Let me know if you are interested.

To help build this community and give it a sense of location we’re working with Mapify. This start up has been working to map out the social fabric of communities and I was very interested more generally as to how they can help other businesses and even whole urban areas get a handle on this. One to watch!

Thursday I was back in London and caught up with ex-colleague David Altabev who is now at Nesta. We talked about his work with cities and the perils of European projects. I then crossed town to meet with Saul Jamieson at Telefonica and talk about how we help them connect with interesting companies to tackle interesting problems. Telefonica have a CEO committed to sustainability and social benefit enabling in particular. Their question: how can they help communities with their needs and ensure O2 customers get priority benefits? For this they exploring all sorts of spaces and we talked about how we best help.

I had taken colleagues from the Digital team: Jonny Voon and new recruit, Agata Samojlowicz. We followed the meeting with a coffee to talk over where digital and sustainability meet and thanks to the power of the internet (and 4square/Swarm) David Bott joined us and as ever made the complex landscape we are trying to help seem very simple. He reminded us that our budget is too small to leverage economic growth on any scale through funding alone. We are an innovation agency (not simple a funding agency) and can use good stories from the support we have delivered in connecting people in powerful ways – they act as a ‘goad and blueprint’. This echoed what Saul had told us about how much easier it was for Telefonica to work with new people through one of our challenges and that the funding wasn’t important to them (if anything a hindrance) but it did help the SMEs they wanted to work with.

On the journey home I bumped into my boss and we had a long chat about what we were plotting next. Bit early to say much but my role is going to evolve. He left me with some thinking to do Friday. The rest of the day was spent chasing things up as many colleagues are on holiday next week and fatherhood is imminent for me now!

Other topics discussed this week: Nissan Leafs, Game of Life, ice buckets.

Stat of the week:  Ocean acidification is happening 100 times faster than over last 55 million years. See:

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 78 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


11th – 15th August 2014

Monday I immersed myself in working on our refresh of the Resource Efficiency strategy. Working through the document took most of the day but I did manage to also complete a near final draft of our Value from Waste competition and have a discussion about doing circular economy in a big company (or not) with Cisco. The day ended with a call to try and help a project reshape to be able to start. Sadly too many things were against it and the excellent ideas will have to go forward in a different way.

Tuesday I read up on challenges in the waste sector (see stat of the week) and worked some more on plans for the next circular economy competition. I finished the day being interviewed by Forum for the Future on sustainability trends affecting business.

Wednesday I travelled into London starting with a meeting over coffee with Susanne Baker from EEF. We discussed their recent Innovation Monitor and Materials for Manufacturing reports. Insight from EEF members is extremely useful for us on business innovation challenges and EEF can help us reach more companies.

I then headed to our KTN offices to meet with Rob Holdway of Giraffe Innovation and Ben Griffin our design lead to talk about how design can help innovation. We agreed the common view of design is wrong and that most technical innovators don’t see the value in using a designer for insight. An excellent discussion and great war stories that I had to cut short to get over the Hub Westminster for my next meeting.

At the Hub we were bringing our communications team and The Long Run Venture together to continue planning the next Clean and Cool Mission. We are about to enter purdah (for the Scottish referendum) which means we can’t announce new things. We have long planned to open the Mission competition on 1st September (in the middle of purdah) so were clarifying how that would work. We also worked through the timetable and aims and how we would capture the great stories and successes the missions generate.

Thursday I went to the Swindon office suffering awful train journeys there and back. Only and hour late getting in but not home until 10.30pm! The core of my day was a series of meetings with the Communications team about different aspects of the sustainability programme. There was also a meeting to organise our project portfolios across the strategy. As ever being in the office meant a lot of quick conversations with people as I saw them on things that need progressing and are much easy with a chat than an email. I didn’t have enough of them though so will have to go back in a week or so.

Friday mainly saw me sending in a final draft of a competition brief and working through the process of transferring our email system over to a new email address, but more on that next week.

Other topics discussed this week: whale foreskins in design, Roman concrete, train conductor stamps.

Stat of the week:  just one fluorescent lamp contains enough mercury to pollute 30,000 litres of water – 100m are sold every year in the UK

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 62 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


4th – 8th August 2014

I started the week catching up on project admin. Tracking the progress and (rough) spend profile of each portfolio of projects is important in managing budgets as well as seeing where we have delivered value to business. I also spent time dealing with issues in projects in the start up phase. With around 70 live projects from 5 different competitions it takes a while! I did get time to complete a submission to the NHS Sustainable Development Unit’s current consultation on its strategy.

On Tuesday I travelled to Runcorn to meet with the Resource Efficiency and Sustainability team at the KTN to plan as one team. The KTN support for upcoming competitions was the main discussion but we also covered support for applicants in using Horizons to consider environmental and social drivers for their market. We have a very busy autumn/winter ahead of us!

Wednesday saw more financial admin, this time tracking spend for external work. I also worked some more on details for this financial year’s competitions. I also picked the boss’s brains for a bit - as usual largely on what we can and can’t do within the various rules of spending public money.

Thursday was London and started with a catch up with Tom Fiddian from our Digital team on user-centred design and user experience-led innovation. We are very interested about where it impacts on the circular economy. I recounted some interesting points from an article I’d read on marketing a circular economy that were important user aspects. The first was future approaches could see supermarkets delivering your food and taking away the waste – packaging and leftover food. This would enable them to use your food waste as a further dataset to inform what they sell you (potentially reducing waste if you keep throwing out uneaten foodstuffs). How will customers feel about this and where do digital platforms fit in? The second was the cultural switch from wanting to own a product that makes you feel part of a social group to feeling part of that group in other ways so using that product without owning it. Social media and digital lifestyles are surely a part of this shift? We promised to consider the challenge here further.

I then joined the Digital team meeting for a bit to learn what they were up to and see how other team meetings work. I then walked to the KTN London base at the Business Design Centre. There I joined the KTN Directors’ meeting to help present the Horizons tool and help them understand how it works. We will roll out some basic training across KTN staff this year so they are able to help businesses, and in particular, applicants to our competitions use the tool to think about factors driving their future market.

Friday had me working some more of the document for autumn competitions and included good news on EPSRC joining us for one of them. I also had a long call with The Long Run Venture about plans for the Clean and Cool Missions. We’re really keen to find the cleantech heroes out there and have some great plans to encourage them and grow the community around our 60 strong alumni network. Keep an eye on

Other topics discussed this week: driverless vehicles, meconium, Lego.

Stat of the week:  UK recycling rates were up just 0.2 per cent between 2012 and 2013

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 45 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


28th July – 1st August 2014

Two days in London kicked the week off with a load of meetings I hadn’t looked at a tube map when planning. Zooming east to west and back again was a theme across the two days! I started with a catch up at 100%Open with Roland Harwood on where we might need their expertise in facilitating workshops this year. They are particularly good in cross-discipline communication. Their new office at Somerset House also has a great view from its ‘balcony’:

After dropping off my bags in Old Street I tacked across London to the Bush Theatre in Shepherd’s Bush to rendezvous with Sarah Tromans our Urban Living lead to meet Čedo Maksimović of Imperial College who leads the Blue Green Dream project to develop a holistic ecosystem service approach into city planning. His aim is to tackle issues such as water/noise/air pollution, heat island effect, flooding/drought, health and energy efficiency through an understanding of how the water cycle and green space is controlled. Afterwards I talked with Julie’s Bicycle about our upcoming competition on using data to tackle city problems with the irony that one of the team had to join by phone due to travel routes being cut off by flash flooding.

It was then a dash over to the National Gallery to meet with Jaclyn Mason who is our lead in California for UKTI and a huge supporter of the Clean and Cool Missions. Together with Oli Barratt and Guy Pattison we did some early planning for January’s mission. I then met up with Maggie Brown, a sustainability consultant, to hear about her work with TfL.

Tuesday morning I caught up with colleagues at IC Tomorrow, our digital entrepreneur support programme. Emily Memarzia and Kriss Baird took me through the recent Connected Cities event and planned competition where we will support small projects that tackle particular city problems using digital innovation. The projects all have a sponsor organisation that owns the problem and will trial the potential solution.

I then caught up with Sophie Thomas at the RSA to hear how work was progressing in our joint The Great Recovery project. Very cool things have been happening around placing designers in waste facilities to see how they can be improved. An all too brief meeting as I then headed to Imperial College to meet with Weston Baxter who Frank Boyd of the KTN had put me on to. Weston is looking at the barriers to the circular economy from a more social and system design angle. With a background in engineering it was refreshing to hear someone with such a strong design and sustainability perspective carrying out research into why consumers make certain choices. We had a great debate about how the circular economy does or does not deliver actual benefits to the end user. His work is one to watch and any companies interested should get in touch and I’ll connect them.

Due to last minute meeting changes I decided not to travel into the Swindon office Wednesday and clear my email backlog and to do list. I joined a lunchtime session from Frost and Sullivan in the office on megatrends via weblink. It was interesting to hear just how much focus is moving onto cities now as engines of growth and supports our decision several years ago to pursue the Future Cities and Urban Living programme. I also took calls with EPSRC on where they might join in with our upcoming resource efficiency calls and with the boss on what needs doing most urgently now we are a person lighter in that area.

Off the back of that call, Thursday was spent writing a first draft of a competition brief and sorting out various project finances. Friday saw work on a different competition brief as well as the usual end of month admin. I took time to have a very interesting chat with Di Gilpin about circular economy at scale and what is enabling it and what is a barrier. It is fascinating to hear the parallels between her world (shipping) and construction in that a lower cost service, with potentially higher benefits might be delivered if only everyone can work out how to share the risk and profit and finance/insure something different to the status quo. In both cases hard evidence will prove the case and that is where we are looking to help.

Other topics discussed this week: writing books, women’s memory for smells, closed-loop furniture, disruptive hairdryer design.

Stat of the week:  Cities will increasingly drive economic growth in the future – e.g. Seoul is responsible for 50% of South Korea’s GDP [Frost & Sullivan presentation I saw this week]

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 38 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


21st – 25th July 2014

Poor planning saw a week with meetings in different places as a repeating theme. Monday saw a morning meeting with Forum for the Future catching up on our plans on the circular economy and how we can help companies take a systems approach to new value networks to keep key resources flowing back to them. I then dashed across London to catch a train to Swindon for a Sustainability team meeting. This one was special as we had our new Director of Technology and Innovation, Kevin Baughan joining us as well as two new starters in the team. It is always good to hear about the breadth of our combined team which covers Urban Living (opportunities in making cities work better), Low Impact Building (opportunities in how we make more energy and resource efficient buildings), Resource Efficiency (how business makes more money selling less stuff) and Sustainability (understanding how social and environmental drivers create market opportunities). Our colleague Ewa Bloch also joined the meeting; she covers support for EU programmes on climate, environment and resource efficiency and outlined how well that aligned with our portfolios.

After the meeting I met with Peter Dirken about missions and how we need to a) capture the process for planning them better, and; b) what we want from our partnership with UKTI on entrepreneur missions. The latter is very much planned support for companies post-mission as well as in country connections made in advance of the mission.

Tuesday morning was given over to work on the total project portfolio and current budgets. This included a quick meeting with colleagues at NERC to make sure their co-funding of certain competitions was coming to us at the right time for them and us. I then tried to dash back home for a late term scan of my son who is 8 weeks from birth. Sadly the train system had other ideas and I was caught at Newport (again) having watched the connection I wanted pull out as the first train pulled in; horrible feeling. The extended journey home gave me chance to further update our project spreadsheets and understand coming cash flow.

Wednesday was a day of phone calls starting with one on building circular economy into the scope of an upcoming Built Environment call. The use of Building Information Modelling tools is a key theme in the programme and it seems they could enable the use of circular economy products ranging from reusable building frames to service provided contents such as lighting. In fact these ideas were the subject of a later call with Construction Manager. Nice to link up topics in a day!

I also had a call from Nicky Conway (Forum for the Future) as she tries to keep me on track with our joint work while she is on a six week sabbatical, and GreenWise who were keen to connect with cleantech SMEs who need help with marketing. I worked on the outline of our next circular economy competition and the day ended with a call from Toine Roozen at the KTN about using Horizons in upcoming events.

While travelling the next morning (to Swindon initially) I worked on Horizons tool presentation material for the KTN before joining a meeting on the process for our entrepreneur missions with TSB and UKTI colleagues. After that I raced to London for a joint meeting with our Digital team colleagues to discuss areas of overall. There are a lot of these and we’ll work to connect businesses across them. With the sweltering temperatures we did pause the meeting for ice lollies when an ice cream van pulled up outside!

After the meeting we shepherded an unaware Richard Miller to a surprise party for his birthday (I won’t reveal which one but it was a significant one). The party had a lot of old faces and current colleagues and the evening wasn’t long enough to catch up with all of them; even Jonathan Porritt popped by.

The next day I caught up with Guy Pattison on the Clean and Cool Mission planning and tried to clear my inbox of the most urgent issues. I finished the day being interviewed by a University of Sussex student, Pip Roddis, on innovation that helps protect the environment.

Other topics discussed this week: tattoos, finding your way around festivals, party/drinking games.

Stat of the week:  UK recycling rates were up just 0.2 per cent between 2012 and 2013. Source:

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 92 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


14th – 18th July 2014

Monday I joined my boss on the train journey down to Swindon (we both live in beautiful North Wales) but got stuck at Newport thanks to train problems right along the London line. Dealing with emails and joining meetings by phone worked until the trains were moving again when I could finally make it to a meeting with ESRC to talk about our planned competition on solving urban challenges using sustainability data. That excellent (if delayed) meeting was followed by a similar one with NERC as we confirmed the involvement of both research councils in the call. Watch this space.

When I finally arrived in the office I hastily joined the regular briefing session from Iain Gray our CEO then caught up with Zahid Latif (Head of Health+Care) on our input into the NHS Sustainable Development Unit consultation. Their objectives match several of our cross programme aims in Health+Care and Urban Living. This was followed by a meeting on our project portfolio and how we track it all better and a chat with our team PA on the competition planning process so she can better help us. After some IT updates I was at last able to head to London for the night.

Tuesday had a big circular economy theme to it. The morning saw me meeting with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation team to get their input to our next circular economy competition. We were examining common barriers to circular economy approaches as many companies are very keen to try them but aren’t forging ahead yet. The meeting was very productive and we had been hearing similar issues and agreed on the general structure. We will consult further with their industrial members.

I then raced over to Portcullis House to join a debate on the circular economy hosted by Laura Sandys MP and organised by Resource Event and Green Alliance. Using the latest Circular Economy Taskforce report as a starting point the panel debated what was needed from a policy perspective. I was disappointed much of the debate centred on the politics of waste collection and recycling rather than supporting more innovative approaches but some interesting points were raised nonetheless.

I spent the evening with colleagues from the KTN debating how they fit into the overall sustainability picture for us. The prompt for the debate was the following day’s training session where Nicky Conway and I took ten of the KTN staff through our Horizons tool. The KTN (amongst other things) help applicants to our calls develop their proposals and we want a team of KTN people trained to help them think harder about the social and environmental drivers for projects using Horizons. We took the group through the background to the tool, then through an in depth exercise before getting them to develop training presentations for their colleagues. Soon we’ll have them helping applicants understand the power of Horizons at all competition briefing events.

The workshop was a long one but I did manage to catch up with Janet Geddes beforehand on disaster resilience, off grid power and healthcare in developing countries. She is exploring the case for innovation in these areas and we’ve met a fair few companies through the Missions who do exactly this. I also took a call after the workshop with a project that wanted to delay their start having just received an offer. We were able to work something out given we always try to help projects towards the best outcomes.

Thursday I travelled into Liverpool for the International Festival of Business event we’d lent our Clean and Cool brand to. The day covered issues for cleantech and after lunch saw 17 companies pitch to a panel of judges that included me. A highlight of the morning was Guy Pattison making the case for celebration in promoting our cleantech strengths and recognising that success breeds success. We want to build the Clean and Cool alumni network along these lines. I was delighted that the day’s best pitches came from ex-Clean and Cool companies and it was good to see the connections and support between the companies in the room.

We took the opportunity at the event to announce the 2015 Clean and Cool Mission. It will open for application on 1st September but for now you can go to and watch the videos from our alumni and hear from us what we are looking for and why we have two parts to it this time...

Friday was spent ironing out the latest plans for various competitions and clearing the emails that had built up while travelling. I also talked to some applicants that didn’t get funded about what is coming next; hopefully some good news after the disappointment. I continued my good deeds by giving another pint of blood that evening.

Other topics discussed this week: sleeping in airplane toilets, sashimi vs ceviche, coffee and oil trading.

Stat of the week:  7.7 million items of clothing have been prevented from ending up in landfill through the Shwopping initiative. The partnership, between M&S and Oxfam, has generated over £5 million for the charity since Shwopping launched in April 2012.

This week’s travel carbon footprint: 46 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


7th – 11th July 2014

I travelled into London first thing to start the week and began with a call from Tracy Sutton on connecting up innovation expertise in resource efficiency. Her particular focus is packaging and we’d certainly like to see her at The Great Recovery events in future. I was spending the rest of my morning (and some of the afternoon) at Forum for the Future. I’m often there and the CEO, Sally Uren promised me she follows this blog religiously (hi Sally!).

At Forum Nicky Conway and I went through our current plans for spreading the Horizons word and getting it more used. Next week we train up a number of KTN people. We talked about joint plans with Nicky holding me to firm actions as ever! I then met with Louise Armstrong, Anna Warrington and Zoe Le Grand to run through our problem setting for a workshop the next day.

Avoiding the Tour de France I made my way to Hub Westminster to record my piece to camera about the next Clean and Cool Mission. We announce the early details next week and the website will feature a video of me, Guy Pattison (from the co-leading The Long Run Venture) and Stephen Marcus of Mission host Cleantech Group. More next week...

The next day started at Central St Martin’s in their impressive Granary Square building. I was with Ben Griffin our Design Lead to talk about sustainable design and innovation with a team at CSM. We saw some excellent portfolios from students and the wonderful facilities they have as well as learning how a culturally diverse (around 90 different nationalities) and young group of people living in London are a great way to gather future insights.

Ben and I then headed to Battersea Arts Centre to meet with Jo Hunter and David Jubb and hear about how they put the user at the heart of innovation: they bring the user into the innovation process! Their ‘scratch’ approach has a producer facilitating development of a new work directly between and artist and an audience (small group). It has been very successful and they applied it to redevelopment of their large, listed building. We talked a lot about the value of creative and divergent thinking, including the study that showed children had fewer ideas for new uses of a paperclip as they got older.

I then said goodbye to Ben and, staying sarf of the river, headed to London Bridge and the Futures Cities Catapult. They were kindly hosting a meeting of Forum for the Future’s Sustainable Business Model Group with me providing the ‘problem’ this time. I was keen for the member companies to tell us what was stopping them moving to more circular business models and systems. How could they be part of value networks that kept resources in more productive use for longer? We had a great discussion and it will be used to shape a competition for early next year.

During the meeting David Bent showed us how forward thinking the Mr Men are. Mr Silly (in a book David was reading to his children) tried to buy a hole but instead was offered a spade. He found this very silly, whereas the ‘normal’ people thought Mr Silly was the daft one. A nice summing up of consumer barriers to circular economy!

Wednesday I headed north to Wellingborough to visit one of BASF’s research farms (pic below) where they look at increasing biodiversity on farmland. The farmer (a fellow Pitts) explained that using field borders which are essentially unproductive land (and no more than 5%) to grow plants that increase biodiversity has advantages. The Grange Farm has seen around 250% increase in breeding birds over four years and an increase in pollinators and natural pest predators (they hadn’t sprayed for aphids for 7 years). The plants provide a green wall and root filtration against pesticide contamination of the farm streams as well.

Heading home I caught up with Shoothill who were about to launch GaugeMap as a result of a project we funded with them, see: This provides all river gauge data in the UK and can help not only river users but those at flood risk to plan. Each gauge also has its own Twitter account you can follow. They’d even had some early celebrity endorsement!

Thursday and Friday I worked through planning two big competitions later this year and some of the paperwork involved, as well as a review with the boss and a teleconference to prepare next week’s meetings.

Other topics discussed this week: Caitlin Moran, Facebook profiles, dried Weetabix, roadmapping.

Stat of the week:  For every five houses we build in the UK, the equivalent of one house in waste materials gets put into landfill. See:

This weeks’ travel carbon footprint: 38 kg CO2

Mike Pitts


30 June – 4 July 2014

I started the week clearing all the usual monthly admin before spending some time working through our portfolio of projects making sure details were correct and up to date. After then watching two internal update meetings (one recorded and one live – the great ways we are kept informed as field workers) I completed details to have one of our autumn competitions authorised.

Tuesday I headed to the Swindon office and caught up with my boss on the train. Once there I had catch up meetings with colleagues on the Resource Efficiency portfolio and financial planning before heading on to Bath (and serendipitously catching up with another colleague on that train). I was in Bath for the Chancellor’s Dinner which was part of graduation week. The new Chancellor is the HRH Earl of Wessex which meant the dinner was in the lovely surroundings of the Pump Room at the Roman Baths with coffee taken ‘bath-side’ to finish the night. It was a great evening for networking and my first time seeing the baths (see photo below). I even tried the water.

The next morning I trained into London (awful journey thanks to signalling issues, overcrowding and tube maintenance) and after a bit of work at our hotdesk space at BIS relocated to Greenwich to meet with Mark Shayler. Mark is one of the design and sustainability experts we use in The Great Recovery and other projects and works across industry on such topics. It was good to hear the latest and check on plans to have him running a hands-on workshop at Innovate14 – don’t miss it!

I then left the sunshine to return to BIS and meet with our Urban Living and Assisted Living Innovation Platform teams to discuss the big area where they overlap. Local authorities and cities are responsible for the care of older people and with changing demographics this share of the budget will grow. Helping people take control of their health and growing support communities will help with some of this burden but many of the solutions lie within the control of cities themselves. We were clear this was a space rich for innovation and that we’d work on joint future competitions that brought forward the challenges and perspectives of the health & care sector and local & city authorities.

Thursday and Friday were spent at home doing more work on our project portfolio and clarifying the financial position. This was interspersed with: a chat with our new Assisted Living Platform person, input to Defra work on business valuing Nature, planning for business consultations the next two weeks on barriers to the circular economy, writing a piece for our website on doing business in Brazil and discussing sustainability in the hospitality sector.


Other topics discussed this week: reinforced jeans crotches, lime, and the value of Doctoral Training Centres.

Stat of the week:  Approx 75% of industrial water usage is for energy generation …

This weeks’ travel carbon footprint: 54 kg CO2 – much better this week

Mike Pitts


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


27th – 28th May 2014

A short blog this week as I disappear for a while to enjoy a honeymoon (finally), a birthday and two weddings. I’m not back in circulation until 16th June.

Nursing a sore body from a Bank Holiday 42 mile cycle ride I headed into London to meet with Forum for the Future. This followed on from last week’s meeting to plot out a programme to support circular resource system business models. We covered a lot on the need to explore the structure and benefits for all stakeholders in a new system (the end user included!) and how exemplar projects would have a knock-on effect in the wider economy. As we reviewed the timelines it was very clear why we encourage 10 year horizon thinking in these type of proposals; the projects are unlikely to be making money for the businesses involved much before 2020.

A very interesting communication issue arose during our discussions, that of economic benefit of our work. The Forum team where impressed by (and hadn’t appreciated) our work on understanding the return to the economy of the projects we fund. In 2011 we published a report with a headline figure of £6.71 per £1 of government funding.  What was interesting was the 5% of projects that produced 87% of the benefits. Given we invest in business-led projects to share innovation risk there will always be a number of projects that don’t result in tangible benefit and a small proportion of highly successful ones. What we have since been learning is that the nature of the challenge projects address is important. Challenge-led competitions have a higher return on average again and early indications from system-type programmes such as our Low Carbon Vehicle demonstrator can be as much as £35 per £1 of public money. It got me wondering how widely know this data is as it helps explain some of the things we do. I know our evidence team is building the data to lay this out even more clearly and direct our work. Do let me know what you think.

After the meeting I had a long catch up with Mick by phone before heading home. Wednesday was spent tying up loose ends before holiday, especially administrative ones and discussing plans for the Solving Urban Challenges with Data call later in the year with my Digital shotgun colleague Lech Rzedzicki. One important issue is what we call it!

Other topics discussed this week: sunburn, back problems, user-centric design and collaboration.

Mike Pitts


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