19th – 23rd May 2014

The week began with a long journey to Port Talbot and a visit to Matilda’s Planet – named after the founder’s daughter and a response to what sort of world he wanted to leave her. The company has a strong focus on energy efficient buildings, both from the input and use side. With expertise in design and manufacture they are scaling up three technologies for buildings to make them operate with less energy and greater comfort. The main product (Matilda’s Blanket) is easy retrofit wall insulation and they have developing solutions for heating the house more efficiently (that is highly compatible with renewable energy) and a novel wind turbine currently working well on top of Vauxhall tower in London.

I then headed to Swindon where I caught up with Natalie Waugh from our comms team on plans for Missions this year before turning in. Tuesday morning started with an introduction to our new Agrifood Lead Technologist, Dean Cook. I then met up with Hannah Collins from ESRC to discuss how they can be part of the Urban Challenges Data competition. We certainly want to include social and economic data from them and I now have a long list of networks to plug in.

I then travelled into London to join the CLEVER project symposium. This EPSRC funded project started life in a Resource Efficiency Sandpit I had a small role in shaping and is led from the University of Bath’s Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies which I am big supporter of. A key thrust of the project is to connect materials and social science and apply this effort to designing better products that we (as consumers) interact with. They are using the mobile phone as a useful proxy. The issue of how we develop emotional attachment to objects was discussed. My personal conclusion was objects we have invested effort in. This may be by having a hand in their formation (think a product you co-designed or maybe something you made at school), having repaired it (perhaps a favourite coat or re-heeled shoes), or took some time to personalise or fit to your needs (such as your most comfortable pair of worn-in jeans or boots). This suggests the growing manufacturing trends of personalisation, hackability and self-design and production (through e.g. 3-D printing techniques) could aid the transition to more emotionally durable products. Companies need to aware of this and adapt it into their offering.

Wednesday started with phone calls to plan a Horizons session at the Satellite Applications Catapult before I headed to the Knowledge Transfer Network’s Runcorn office. There we had a session about using the KTN team to scale up use of Horizons by applicants to our competitions and business in general. The team were very receptive to the message that sustainability for us is about how environmental limits and social value within an economy drive market change. We’re helping companies better consider their future markets – that is the focus. We looked at the wide range of activities the various KTN communities had already undertaken with strong sustainability themes and planned our training sessions in July to get everyone up to speed. We can then help competition applicants at every briefing session.

Thursday I travelled back into London for one of our New Project Workshops. This is where we brief new project teams on how they will be paid and monitored and explain why our systems work as they do. They get the chance to meet their monitoring officer and us Lead Technologists who designed and ran the competitions and ultimately control the budgets they are supported from. Mick and I were there to meet all the Supply Chain Innovation towards a Circular Economy competition projects (see the link for the list). One consequence of having lots of innovators in a room together is that new connections get made. We keep trialling new ways to help this happen at the workshops but not much beats the personal introduction and I was pleased to make a very interesting connection between two of our projects.

I spent the evening catching up with Guy Pattison and Scott Cain who had just launched Long Run Communications to go alongside the Long Run Venture who we partner with to run our Clean and Cool Missions. The following morning I went into Forum for the Future to further explore the barriers to business in moving the circular business models. We spent some time discussing what we meant by business model (I was keen we incorporated the customer proposition) and recent insights on circular economy. A major theme is the need for collaboration between companies to achieve truly circular models that still deliver a proposition the customer wants (or and even better one). However, companies struggle to do this either through ego, risk aversion or not being clear on how they will make money. It does seem we’re getting closer to a clear challenge that can drive a competition to find exemplar projects.

A couple of phone calls to finish the day at a crowded Euston station rounded off the day (I must learn to avoid bank holiday Friday travel). The first was for a feature on our website on the circular economy and the second a team meeting.

Other topics discussed this week: patina, upside down cars, feeding venison to dogs, feeding insects to cattle, fatherhood.

Mike Pitts


12th – 16th May 2014

Monday brought the chance to catch up on admin during a longer than usual train journey to London thanks to engineering works. After a phone meeting on progress in the new Knowledge Transfer Network I met with a company we’ve supported whose technology I use. CarbonDiem produce an app that helps you track all journeys and measure the carbon impact. The ingenious software uses virtually no phone power (not using accelerometers) and 90% of the time seems to know which transport form you are using: foot, car, train, Underground, boat or plane! We discussed the challenges in discriminating cycling (particularly how slow I cycle) and have agreed to let them use my data as they develop. They have essentially become a transport data business and are now talking to those who own those types of problems. I talked about the types of support we have coming up for tackling just those sorts of challenges.

I then headed to Defra (on foot given the lovely spring sunshine) where Mick and I exchanged details on our latest activities with the waste and resources team. Plenty of interesting research and pilots being looked at by Defra in this space and we will work to ensure they align. I then headed to the Royal Society of Chemistry where I delivered an evening lecture on innovation and sustainability. My main messages were to understand the customer and the real issue they face and that collaboration is key to tackling the bigger, potentially more rewarding challenges. There can be a tendency with some innovators to redefine problems to ones they can solve with the solutions they have available or are expert in (the “everything is a nail when you have a hammer” syndrome) and that context for a business opportunity is critical, i.e. what is driving the customer need? I talked through major environmental and societal challenges and how these are big drivers for innovation. It is no coincidence these feature heavily across our strategy: a growing, ageing population that live increasingly in cities; increasing difficulties in accessing sufficient key resources such as energy, food, water and minerals; carbon emissions and changing patterns in health; and changes in technology driving how we communicate and make things. If you don’t know what is drivers are changing your markets innovation is difficult. If you don’t know how or why your customers are buying your product/service you are making money by accident.

Tuesday I had meetings with Forum for the Future and UBM. At Forum we plotted on development and scale-up of support for the Horizons tool. We are working with the Knowledge Transfer Network on this. UBM are the company who run the Resource event which debuted this year with a focus on the circular economy. We spent some time thinking about content for next year’s event (in March) and how we can showcase our best projects and link in a competition that will be running at the time. I then headed to Sheffield for the night and caught up with Andy German our Lead Technologist for Satellite Applications and learnt about the UK space sector and his time in Sheffield as a student.

We were in Sheffield for Wednesday’s SME Innovation workshop run by HMRC and BIS to showcase the support various organisations offer. I gave a couple of presentations to the audience on our mechanisms for SMEs and answered questions before heading to Manchester. At the Manchester Science Park I was part of a series of presentations on funding for innovation in the sustainability space to an audience of SMEs and academics from the area.

Thursday began with a call on plans for a themed event at the International Festival of Business (in Liverpool this summer) for cleantech companies. We are exploring how we might launch this year’s Clean and Cool Mission as part of the event. I then talked through how we might support companies looking to complete the European Environmental Technology Verification process in the UK. This scheme, which Defra has signed up to, aims to verify claims using a standard that is accepted across Europe potentially saving companies money and speeding up access to market. I then drafted plans for our data for urban challenges competition later in the year to help draw all those involved towards an agreed plan.

Friday was mostly spent planning work I need to complete before I go on holiday and when I get back. I also worked on some new case studies for the Horizons tool. Watch out for the much expanded set soon...

Other topics discussed this week: cycling up hills, brewery tours and Italian cities.

Mike Pitts

6th – 9th May 2014

After a bank-holiday weekend of cricket and bike riding I gingerly made my way to Swindon for meetings in the office to start the week. I again bumped into my boss on the way making this week’s catch up easy. After dealing with various project issues such as budget forecast I caught up with Peter Dirken on our Entrepreneur Mission programme. I also bumped into our new Director of Technology and Innovation, Kevin Baughan, on his first day.

I then headed over the see our colleagues at NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) to talk about a follow up to our Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition but this time with a focus on urban challenges and including social data. There are a lot of strands to pull together first but I’m pleased to say NERC are very keen and will be co-funding the call again. Watch this space. We also seemed to solve a few of each other’s budgeting problems.

Back in our office I caught up with Ben Griffin our new Lead Technologist for Design and Creative Industries before joining the Health+Care team meeting. There we explored how we can support the NHS Sustainable Development Unit, join forces on urban health and keep up momentum using Horizons on their programmes.

Wednesday morning was paperwork and following up everything I missed while travelling all last week. I then took calls on two future events on cleantech. The first is a potential one with Heriot-Watt University on cleantech support in Scotland. The second was how we can work with a themed event on cleantech innovation in the International Festival of Business in Liverpool in July. I then spent the rest of the day building presentations for the following day, an event in Manchester next week and a big one I’m delivering on Monday evening.

Thursday’s highlight was speaking on sustainability trends at a Welsh Government SBRI event in Wrexham with my colleague Bryan Forbes. The workshop was to help those public sector organisations thinking of using SBRI to understand the process and frame their problems well. The mechanism (Small Business Research Initiative) is designed to solve public bodies’ needs through procuring R&D to develop a better solution than those available. We were treated to two examples from problem owner and small business perspectives. Betsi Cadwaladwr University Health Board is currently running an SBRI on solutions to help nurses spend 10% more time with patients. I was impressed to hear how well they had framed the problem from explaining the current breakdown of tasks to producing a video on the patient journey through hospital to highlight the inefficiencies.

From the SME perspective we had Intelligent Textiles explain how they had responded to an MOD SBRI call on reducing the weight of equipment soldiers carry into battle. I learnt that the army uses more batteries than bullets with infantry typically carrying 60 AA batteries to power their kit along with a lot of cabling. It takes 40 minutes each day to change all these batteries. Intelligent Textiles have a woven material that is used for the uniform that can conduct electricity meaning a single battery pack can power equipment all over the body without cabling. The power can still transfer even with damage to the fabric as it can always find a route. The small project we supported has led to multi-million contracts with US and Canadian militaries.

With SBRI trick is to set the problem out in as clear a way as possible. It is very easy to jump to possible solutions and I saw plenty of this in the workshop. My table heard that flooding was a real issue for rural as well as urban communities, with a loss of life in the last serious flooding incident in North Wales. After some probing it seems the main challenge is communicating the risk and getting a proportionate response. It seems many residents don’t believe the forecasts or worse still, won’t register with flood alert systems because they believe insurance companies then know and put up their premiums. Even when told, many don’t appreciate the magnitude of the flood or act correctly. There is also the danger of crying wolf with dire warnings not materialising and driving complacency. I’ll be interested to see if and how this one gets formulated.

Friday I had a flying trip to London to meet with Skanska and the RSA. The Skanska meeting, with my colleague Rick Holland, was about how they can develop and scale their Sustainability School programme which helps train and develop their supply chain. Given 80% of costs in a construction project go to the supply chain to make serious headway on sustainability challenges they need to take their supply chain with them. At the RSA I caught up with Sophie Thomas who leads our joint The Great Recovery project networking and growing circular economy experts. Lots of exciting plans and if you are interested I strongly suggest signing up on the website.

Other topics discussed this week: asthmatic racehorses, accidentally meeting the Queen, memoires, ocean plastic and the NFL draft (of course).

Mike Pitts


28th April – 2nd May 2014

The week began with a long journey to the Isle of Wight for a long overdue catch up with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The journey gave me a chance to catch up on a few emails before meeting Mick in Southampton for the ferry. EMF’s work has continued to expand and the global network of business they have built is a perfect route for us to help disseminate the best projects we have supported. We are also keen to draw on their contacts in helping shape future competitions to tackle barriers to developing new business systems that are more circular.

I then headed to Swindon and bumped into Ian Holmes who is our new National Contact Point for agrifood and bioeconomy topics and had dinner with him. A good way to end a day of 5 trains, 2 bus journeys and a ferry. The next day started with a joint meeting of our Digital and Sustainability teams where I learnt a huge amount about what we’re up to. The meeting was to align programmes and not go off and learn afresh how to do something. For example our work on the Internet of Things and getting different systems to talk to each other had lessons for our work on Building Information Systems using the same platforms throughout their lifecycle.

I had a quick meeting with our publications team after that on presenting (and finding) information, particularly on case studies as our resource grows, then headed with the rest of the Innovation Programmes team to our offsite meeting. We meet twice a year to make sure we’re all sharing the most important activities and to share plans we all need to know. We have a tough year ahead and talking to each other is more important than ever. Good job we have so many cool people in the team!

Having said that, Tuesday we lost one of them. Will Barton, our Head of Manufacturing left after many years and to see him off we got together in the pub. Several of us then went for dinner together, not wasting the chance to catch up with so many of us field-workers. We were staying over because the next day we had the entire company offsite day. We’re a large organisation now and these meetings are important for hearing about the breadth of our activities. We saw some very moving videos of our success stories, reviewed the challenge ahead for us all this year (our Delivery Plan will be published after the European elections) and had important updates from the directors.

After the meeting I headed to Cambridge (via the Tube struck London) in readiness for a two day course on sustainability in the health and care sector. I had two objectives for this Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) event: learn more about the challenges the health sector faces and improve my skills in doing my own job. Now, at the end of the course, I can say both were met. I certainly gained insight into how I can better make things happen and had some ideas about where to start in our programmes.

The NHS is facing serious challenges, not just politically and financially. Two thirds of deaths are now from ‘lifestyle’ diseases, i.e. cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Thanks to rising sugar consumption 552m people worldwide will have diabetes by 2030. Environmental change is driving other health problems as are demographic shifts – by 2050 we’ll have 15% of the population over 65 and only 7% under 5. Hospital buildings are aging and inequalities in access to healthcare remain. We need to keep people out of hospital and clinics and change the system from its focus on treating sickness to maintaining health. Given this is a major agenda for our cities and urban areas, it got me thinking about how we link those parts of the programme...

What made the course so good was the quality of invited speakers and organisers, in particular Tony Juniper and the NHS Sustainable Development Unit’s David Pencheon.

Other topics discussed this week: photo-phrenology, dingy rock pubs, boys names, eels and wheels, and good deaths.

Mike Pitts


22nd – 25th April 2014

After an enjoyable Easter break I headed into London for a meeting with Julie’s Bicycle and Forum for the Future. JB are the organisation driving sustainability in the creative industries and the meeting was a follow up to the Horizons workshop we ran with them and Forum. It was great to hear conversations started then are continuing. The creative industries (naturally) think about social drivers all the time but need prompting to see where environmental drivers feature. We are supporting a series of projects JB are running that look at leadership, circularity (for the creative industries) and how they can use their huge pile of environmental data on the sector. I’m fascinated by the link between the creative sector and more technical ones. The creative process and scientific process are more similar that either side acknowledges and much can be learnt from each other. Indeed this is why we collaborated with JB and Forum for the Future on the special Green Futures issue out now on Where Science Meets Art. Given many retailers are trying to effect changes in customer behaviour and the connection with this to culture change it is important to get them in a room together. I’d also like to explore how creating culture change relates to system change as the stages seem very similar.

Either side of this meeting were phone calls. The first was on the rapidly evolving merged Knowledge Transfer Network and the Sustainability theme within it. We are keen to use the new KTN team to help us scale use of Horizons by applicants to our competitions. The tool will help businesses write better proposals and recent experience shows having an expert in front of applicants explaining the tool works best. The second call was a team meeting and as ever it was great to hear about all the amazing things my colleagues are up to. Of particular interest was how many projects from the Future Cities demonstrator competition we ran had carried on without us, leveraging huge investment on the way. Also some great stories coming out of the Energy Management in Buildings competition:

Wednesday saw me head into Swindon for a meeting with the Head of Comms to talk about Horizons where it fits with a revised communications strategy. My timing was fortuitous as we are currently updating support for business and applicants and Horizons fits right in. I was also able to talk to our government relations team about a submission I’d drafted this week for the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on the topic of growing a circular economy. With all the travelling involved I was also able to catch up on emails and lots of other document reviewing requests.

Thursday I worked through an update of all the projects in the Resource Efficiency and Sustainability portfolios to make sure we have all the latest data in a form that is useful. I also waded through a backlog of admin and had a quick call with Ed Parkes on Nesta’s open data challenges and how they might fit with our future plans.

Friday was spent working on a presentation I have coming up at the Royal Society of Chemistry. I also took a call from ex-colleague Richard Kemp-Harper of Arcola Energy – one of those calls I don’t like – on why there missed out on funding in the last competition. At least Richard could sympathise having had those calls himself!

Other topics discussed this week: the uncertainty principle, Gantt charts, cappuccinos and social innovation.

Mike Pitts


14th – 17th April 2014

I started the week with a trip to the office in Swindon, with the bonus of catching up with the boss on the train journey down. The main job of the day was to hand over the portfolio of roughly 50 resource efficiency projects to Mick Ciotkowski, the Lead Technologist for the programme now.

I then met with Di Gilpin of B9 Shipping to talk about their wider plans to transform the shipping industry using low emission (biogas engines and sails) ships, built in the UK and renewable energy powered sites using closed-loop materials. The wider project is too complex to fit neatly into our calls so far and is a good example to shape our thinking for how we support such interesting projects. With the calibre of companies that are interesting in being part of this new business system and the effect it could have towards regenerating the Portsmouth area it is certainly the kind of project we should support.

The next day I travelled south to Shrewsbury where I met with TBL Group (TBL stands for triple bottom line) and talked about how we support sustainability-driven innovation. Being a Welsh-based business I connected them with the programmes in Wales.

I then caught up with Shoothill who have one of the Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data projects; it was the first to start and will be first to finish. Shoothill had previously worked with Environment Agency data to provide the FloodAlerts service. The project we supported is to use river gauge data to produce RiverAlerts - of great use to river users as well as those with infrastructure affected by river levels such as rail companies. With the terrible floods around Christmas and into the New Year, the Environment Agency was under a lot of pressure to make more data available. Thanks to Shoothill already working on this project they had the APIs in place to enable them to do so! It was fantastic to be taken through the project and see progress so far as well as learn about their work in advertising campaigns and other data visualisation projects.

Wednesday and Thursday I spent at my home office working through plans for the next Clean and Cool Mission, updates to our Horizons tool, circular economy strategy and lots of phone calls I don’t usually get the time for. Happy Easter break!

Other topics discussed this week: Bernie Ecclestone and Smurfs, hayfever, and Samsung Surface.

Mike Pitts


7th – 11th April 2014

I spent Monday catching up on various jobs including judging a UKTI competition for small cleantech companies to attend Cleantech Europe. I also joined a seminar on our forward communications plans aimed at improving how we are understood as an organisation.

Tuesday I had the pleasure of driving through my native North Wales’ glorious scenery to attend a project close out meeting with a company called C-Cure. They had received a Smart Proof-of-Concept award from us to run field trials of a solution to metal waste contaminated sites that are affecting the surrounding environment. They expect legacy mines to be a key market and one test site tackled such a problem. The other was an old Ministry of Defence site used to destroy tonnes of expired World War II munitions. The dump was in a remote part of the Welsh countryside and in some ways an ideal test for their solution. Typically such a site would be dug over and possibly sealed with concrete to make it safe. This wasn’t an option for an unspoilt part of the Snowdonia National Park with tiny single track roads to reach it. The C-Cure solution involves a specialised charcoal made from an agricultural waste product that binds leached metals cutting the levels in groundwater dramatically and encouraging growth of plants that help reduce erosion and stabilise the site allowing nature to play its part in breaking down the pollutants.

After the meeting (at a lovely Natural Resources Wales site – picture above), we headed to the test site to see the evidence of the regeneration the treatment enables. With the ground loaded with munitions waste the water that runs over the site causes the nearby stream to shoot past Water Framework Directive limits right downstream into a river and out to the estuary (zinc is the main issue). Not only do the treated sections (see pictures below) have considerable growth with deep roots, the water passing through them has over 95% less metal content. You can see how sterile the site is from the pictures and the test sections with little or no growth are controls for comparison. C-Cure were able to model the site using laser scanning to predict erosion and in the project developed a close relationship with the ‘client’ – Natural Resources Wales who own this problem, and many more like it! The project has also led to a partnership with a supplier and investment and was transformative for the business.

Wednesday I took a long train ride to Middlesbrough to visit Augean, a leader in hazardous waste management. We learnt about the company’s different but related divisions and their evolution from a landfill company to one that buries as little resource as possible. A tour of the site revealed how they treated nasty wastes such as cutting and drilling fluids to recover value (and noted the lack of seagulls). We also heard about the successes and challenges in a project we funded with them on recovering metals from portable battery waste and discussed other challenges they faced. I was particularly taken with the idea of closed-loop soil.

Thursday was London and started in a meeting with 2Degrees on where we could collaborate more. Given they help major corporate work with their supply chain to understand and act on their sustainability procurement requirements there is a strong overlap with our sustainability and resource efficiency activities. The benefits of suppliers engaging with the programme are increased access to the procurement teams and bottom line improvements as they adopt new technologies and practices. I was intrigued to learn GSK have now joined 2Degrees to work with their supply chain.

I then met up with Kate Harris from MWH Global to talk about our Clean and Cool Missions. Kate was on our last one to Colorado as a fantastic VIP advising the Mission companies. Her help was invaluable and we talked about her joining the next mission as well. Kate is one of those people who connect well between business people and technical people and can help entrepreneurs to put their brilliant ideas into a language investors get excited about and tell the story. We also talked at length about the UK water sector and how important the energy-water nexus is becoming.

I finished with a meeting on how the Design function in the Knowledge Transfer Network can support our Resource Efficiency programme and Sustainability theme with Beatrice Rogers. We are always keen to bring design thinking into what we do given the natural approach of designers to ask questions such as: Who is this for? Why will they use it? How will they use it?

I rounded off the week following up from all the meeting this week and last, chatting with people we are making big plans for the coming year with. All very exciting and as ever, you’ll hear about it here first!

Other topics discussed this week: mountain biking, noise cancelling headphones, chocolate and character profiling.

Mike Pitts


31st March – 4th April 2014

A big theme this week was downloading knowledge from my brain. Monday I went to our Swindon office to meet with several colleagues all picking at the proverbial grey matter. First was how we could use Horizons in the roadmapping process we will do on quantum technologies. Then a long meeting to codify how we currently approach and plan our Entrepreneur Missions. These are where we take high-growth potential small businesses with scalable solutions to overseas markets to meet potential investors, partners, suppliers and customers as well as developing their message and learning what it takes to do business there. We have run these in health, digital and clean technologies in the past and have plans for four this year. It is a good time to review the process and make sure we’re getting everything right. Having run one of the last missions and thinking about another put me in a good position to outline what we did (and learnt).

After the mission meeting I sat down with our Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) manager who wanted to understand what we needed from the new cross-cutting them on Sustainability in the new organisation which kicked off this week. This activity will mirror some of the work I do and help us scale our support for businesses to think about environmental and social drivers for their innovation. Having previously worked for a KTN I could also give him some perspectives and we talked at length about how things might work from here.

After a quick discussion with our monitoring team on project issues I raced into London for a long overdue catch-up with Jamie Burdett on all things circular economy. A bonus we were joined my Mr and Mrs Shayler. As always a very stimulating evening.

Tuesday was a full day at Forum for the Future. First was a discussion on better understanding how users work with our Horizons tool and how we can make it easier to interact with and gain useful outcomes. I then had a very long session with the team helping us understand barriers to circular economy business models. We are shaping our support for companies to work at a system level to provide a user need with greater conservation of resource and value: making more money selling less stuff. The main aim of the meeting was share how all this might work and what we have been learning on the journey so far in our Resource Efficiency strategy and project portfolio.

Wednesday I popped into Sustainability Live, largely to hear from the water sector on how they think privatisation has gone over the last 25 years. There seems to be a growing acceptance that not all problems can or should be solved by pouring concrete and that water bill increases are affecting the acceptance from customers. The main disappointment though was to hear the Chair of Ofwat respond poorly to a question on innovation. It was clear it was regarded as solving today’s problems a little differently rather than any vision of challenges 10 years away or who they should be working with. I then travelled on to Swindon and spent the evening writing a blog post on UK cleantech and planning resource for the financial year.

Thursday brought the Funder’s Panel for the Supply Chain Innovation towards a Circular Economy competition where we authorised the 11 projects selected at the assessment panel. The project leads should all have heard. I look forward to seeing these projects in action and also to following up with those strong scoring projects that were unsuccessful to see how else we can help them. The proposals we saw have helped shape our thinking for future competitions and support. I used the chance of being in the office to catch up with several colleagues about plans for this year which is certainly looking exciting!

Friday started with a few phone calls before a review of the last year with my line manager Richard Miller. We talked through the plans for the coming year and what we are trying to achieve. I’m pleased to say we have some excellent support for sustainability-led innovation in the pipeline. What this space...

Other topics discussed this week: burritos, teenage rebellions, harems, haircuts and systems versus ecologies.

Mike Pitts


24th – 28th March 2014

Monday was dominated by hosting an inward mission from Brazil at the BIS Conference Centre in London. The group was led by the Science and Innovation Network team that helped us when the Clean and Cool Mission was in Sao Paolo last year and featured a couple of investors and companies largely in the chemicals and materials sector. We had representatives from our HVM Catapult and Chemistry Innovation KTN as well as colleagues in UKTI and BIS to help them group understand the UK innovation landscape and potential for working with UK companies.

Tuesday I was back in London for two meetings which fed off each other thanks to some true serendipity. The first was with our IC Tomorrow team who want to run one of their contests for digital entrepreneurs targeted at sustainability challenges. These contests are shaped by patron companies that are facing such issues who can define the need and host a trial for the winning idea. Given my second meeting was with a group of blue chip organisations to discuss common sustainability business model challenges the obvious people to be involved could be asked the same day!

That meeting took place at the impressive Unilever House in Blackfriars and included a chance to reflect on how we (as sustainability managers in our organisations) can drive change internally. I was reminded how important it is to take colleagues with you and build the picture together rather than presenting a finished solution and having all the answers. The importance of a solid business case was also a common theme.

Wednesday brought a quick trip into Swindon to talk with UKWRIP about water innovation before returning to London for the Environmental Sustainability KTN event at the House of Commons. Always a great event for networking, I took the chance after to catch up with sustainable design dudes Mark Shayler and Charles Ross.

The rest of the week was spent at the computer! Thursday was spent doing lengthy updates to Horizons (our sustainability tool), in particular new ‘nudge’ questions to help you think about each environmental and social factor in relation to your business. I’m also still working on material to help colleagues present Horizons to applicants in our competitions. I took a quick call with one who used it in the briefing day for applicants in his latest call. The feedback was great but crucially they needed a chance to play with the cards in a facilitated session. This could be hard to scale so we have more thinking to do.

Friday was mainly spent catching up on emails and preparing documents for a Funder’s Panel next week. This is where we sign off on decisions made by our assessors taking into account all parts of our operations to double check projects are viable. Given the range of different (and exciting proposals) I decided to include a few pictures to help my colleagues understand what each project was about. With Resource Efficiency we have projects across all sorts of sectors – a wonderful result!

Other topics discussed this week: green beer, Hoxton pubs, dastardly moustaches and remanufacturing.

Mike Pitts


17th – 21st March 2014

I began the week in London meeting with The Great Recovery team as we continue to understand the barriers to changing business model systems for companies. We are reasoning that for many of the companies keen to test new ways of delivering value to customers that use less primary resources the challenges of changing internal and customer attitudes dominates. Sometimes this can best be done outside the business with its long established, and hard won, supply chains and long-term contracts. However those that stand still are ripe for disruption from new innovative companies. Trends are changing in what consumers want from their ‘stuff’ and this week I read an article on 'commitment-phobe Millenials' driving a move service-based business models, which are highly compatible with a circular economy.

After that meeting I caught up with 100%Open who we have used to help us get different groups of experts talking together and fully describing joint problems. We talked about using them to help us with a review of our water strategy this year. They have worked with some water utilities already.

Tuesday brought news of the American Chemical Society’s campaign to highlight ‘endangered elements’. The topic of scarcity/decreasing availability of some parts of the periodic table is something I’ve been involved with for the last 7 years. The highlight might well have been an exhibit in the Design Museum in 2009 that really started to capture people’s imagination and led to several articles on the topic (Chemistry World and The Chemical Engineer). It was one of these that David Willetts highlighted as best explaining the challenge to him when questioned by the Science Select Committee (picture below). I recalled this image when I saw the one of David Constable holding up the ACS version on a T-shirt and loved the mirroring of the image...

The rest of the day was spent updating project portfolios (tracking around 60-70 live projects) and preparing slides for an inward mission from Brazil next week.

Wednesday I travelled to Cardiff and met with the innovation team at the Welsh Government to talk about how we can work more closely, particularly on sustainable development which is being placed at the heart of Welsh policy via their Future Generations bill. We had a fantastic discussion about how these aspirations should be translated into business opportunities and drive innovation support. I introduced Horizons to the discussion and we’ll look at ways to use it as soon as possible. I’m excited by what might follow and the opportunity to connect up policy and sustainability-driven innovation.

I then headed to Swindon to meet with EPSRC and compare notes on Resource Efficiency portfolios and forward plans. I finished with some catch ups in our office including hearing exciting plans for Innovate14.

The next day I was back in the office as we ran an assessment panel to finalise ranking of the proposals for our Supply Chain Innovation towards a Circular Economy competition. There was plenty of healthy debate and more great projects than money so more tough discussions ahead when the selections get signed off at the funder’s panel in a couple of weeks. During the meeting I heard about the Commons Environmental Audit committee’s session on Growing a Circular Economy asking for evidence. Great to hear this is happening.

Friday was largely spent on the phone talking with the team and those who help us run things, and working through paperwork that comes with the year end.

Other topics discussed this week: triplets, ScienceGrrl, bad train journeys and respecting the chemistry.

Mike Pitts




10th – 14th March 2014

I was back to work Monday and started with meetings at Chemistry Innovation covering our Materials Security work (do look at the website for some great information on funding, Europe and case studies) and how we will manage Sustainability in the new Knowledge Transfer Network from April.

Tuesday I waded through emails and calls I had missed during my mini-(honey)moon in Scotland. Part of the trip saw us staying at a purpose built lodge in Angus that was a great example of sustainable building techniques. Heated by groundsource, solar power and a wood burner the site also featured a 17kW wind turbine and was the best insulated building I have been in. It certainly assuaged the guilt of using the sauna and hot-tub! Emails were broken up by a quick Skype interview with a Loughborough student on circular economy in the mobile phone industry. I can’t quite understand the focus on developing a shifting new models rather than providing a quality service for that sector and trust his dissertation will shed some light.

Wednesday was spent in London starting with a quick catch up with the boss before a meeting with Forum for the Future’s Nicky Conway, James Goodman and CEO Sally Uren on how we are working together and shared areas of interest. We were clear that we needed to integrate our work on energy and food better and noted both organisations’ strategies looking at systemic challenges.

I then (after some mix up over venue) met with Policy Connect who manage several parliamentary member groups to look at overlap in interest. Again energy was a big area of common activity as well as building energy efficiency and resource efficiency. The day was rounded off catching up with Guy Pattison of Long Run Venture to have initial discussions about the next Clean and Cool Mission.

Thursday I travelled into our Swindon office to meet with Professor Richard Owen to discuss integration of the Responsible Innovation Framework we developed for our synthetic biology competition with our Horizons tool which helps thinking on environmental and social drivers. In many ways they have parallel aims: helping innovators think about the societal drivers for their work and how to ensure they address these in the project. A PhD student will include an assessment of these approaches in his work and recommend how we might build on our support in the future.

I was also in the office to look at the proposals we are taking into next week’s assessment panel for our Supply Chain Innovation towards a Circular Economy competition. It was great to see so many good proposals, particularly with several focussed on business model innovation as we’d wanted. I finished the week working through all these proposals in detail and preparing case studies for our Resource Efficiency strategy which is currently being refreshed. A few quick calls with colleagues on joint future competitions and a catch up with Julie Hill of Green Alliance rounded everything off.

Other topics discussed this week: car problems, Breaking Bad, board games, nappies.

Mike Pitts


24th – 26th February 2014

A short week began with a full day of meetings in London. I started at the Business Design Centre with the Creative Industries KTN who were keen to align their networking plans for the coming year with upcoming sustainability and resource efficiency activities. It has been good to see such strong connectivity from the creative and digital industries on sustainability of late.

I then joined a meeting with Steve Lee of CIWM and i2i who run the huge RWM event to discuss how we can use the event to engage the waste sector in the circular economy and a planned competition for the end of the year. I think we surfaced the difficulties in getting the sector to look differently at the opportunity in front of them. Plenty of build up will be key.

The last meeting was with Forum for the Future and The Great Recovery team on how we will understand the common barriers to moving to circular economy business models. This will inform future competitions and we are particularly interested in systemic challenges where we can help in overcoming them. It was a very productive meeting. If you are interested in this, get in touch and we will talk to you.

Tuesday brought a call from Laura Owen at APSRG on remanufacturing in the UK and what government should do. Remanufacturing is taking back a product or component to ‘as new’ complete with warranty and works well where there is high embodied value, low rate of design change and the regeneration of parts is cheaper than the original.

The next day I took calls from the writers for our co-supported issue of Green Futures that will appear in April. The theme is where Science Meets Art and our work on the circular economy through The Great Recovery is a great example of this. Creative input to making more money by selling less stuff is vital. In essence businesses are moving from cheapest standard product offering to a service approach with feedback of feedstock. Essentially you sell your knowledge and expertise with good design and materials management key to success. Given the strong sectors in materials and design strong in the UK we could be real leaders at this.

Next week will see the Resource Event and the launch of phase 2 of The Great Recovery. We will be featuring videos from our New Designs for a Circular Economy competition projects but you can see some of them here:

I won’t be at Resource; I’m off for the next week and a half to get married. Next blog 14th March.

Other topics discussed this week: nice ties, sea level rises, hacking designs, renewing passports.

Mike Pitts


17th – 21st February 2014

My week kicked off with a day of phone calls. The first was with a group of companies interested in water catchment management that I was keen to include in discussions for our water strategy refresh; a later call was with UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) about how we can work with them on this. I also talked with Anna Simpson about a special edition of Green Futures we are supporting on where science and art meet. Ensuring creative and technical worlds collaborate is particularly interesting for us and there is plenty of evidence that it benefits the economy too. I also took calls to wrap up our New Designs for a Circular Economy competition (watch my twitter feed for links to project videos in the coming weeks) and the Satellite Applications Catapult on embedding sustainability in their strategy and programmes.

Highlights of Tuesday (a day in the office) included: discussions on tagging and tracking projects, supporting competition applicants to use Horizons, and catching up with others in the Sustainability team.

Wednesday brought a Horizons session with the creative industries hosted by Julie’s Bicycle – an organisation coordinating the sector’s environmental strategy and collecting comprehensive data on impacts thanks to a forward-thinking mandate to provide it from Arts Council funding. It was a fantastic session with a lot of committed individuals. I certainly learnt that ‘creatives’ help people see and experience the world in a different way. This fits well with our aims to help business see market opportunities differently and left me wondering how we get the worlds to collide more. Even this group were honest enough to say they were too insular. I was particularly excited by the idea that the creative industries could generate positive scenarios of the future and help citizens and business experience these rather than just see a description of them. This immersive experience is apparently core to many festivals, such as Burning Man, and reaches millions. 

Image: Jo Hunter

creative output at the Julie's Bicycle Horizons workshop

As I say, the workshop certainly reinforced our view that we need to mix creative people with technical people more to drive socially compelling innovation. The plus side of working with the creative industries sector is British culture is highly regarded and has a huge influence around the world. This represents an important opportunity to scale innovation. One of the coolest parts of the day was meeting one of the Rockström Planetary Boundaries team: Diana Liverman who sits on the Julie’s Bicycle board. The boundaries form a fundamental part of the Horizons tool.

The week ended with two days of desk work and multiple phone calls. I dealt with some application questions from several consortia as we reached the deadline for the Supply Chain Innovation towards a Circular Economy competition and some follow up queries from the Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition. I had discussions on how Defra can use the SBRI mechanism, how we can work better with the Welsh Government innovation team (and planned a meeting),early planning of the next Clean and Cool Mission and was interviewed about aluminium recycling.

Other topics discussed this week: fixing i-pads, Northern lights, breaking in shoes, team get-togethers.

Mike Pitts



10th – 14th February 2014

My week started on Sunday as I heading down south in advance of an early Monday start. My route took me past the river Avon and scenes of some minor flooding and caused me to reflect on the increasing problems we are facing with water in the wrong place. It wasn’t that long ago we had winter droughts and now we have a saturated water table, spring tides and unseasonable amounts of rain causing misery for many. The images of how flooded London would be without the Thames Barrier should cause plenty of people to think.

EA image 11/2/2014

What is frustrating for some of us working in sustainability is this is precisely what was forecast. When I first started in this area such predictions were being made including the serious implications for infrastructure such as industrial and energy generation plant (particularly as these are often near the coast). Indeed the recent destruction of the south west train line at Dawlish was forecast in a 2010 report:

At the TSB we have been running competitions to stimulate innovation to tackle such challenges for several years; in particular our work on designing for future climate which was targeted at the built environment. At the end of last year we ran a competition called Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data which sought to bring together environmental data experts with digital experts and those with challenges in dealing with the effect of environmental externalities on their business and markets. Several of the successful projects sought to look at increasing the resilience of infrastructure and supply chains and one in particular aimed to use river gauge data to help forecast problems (and favourable conditions) for those at the mercy (or reliant on) our water courses. This project is led by Shoothill who also developed FloodAlerts using Environment Agency data. Environmental change is an increasingly important issue and a market driver that can no longer be ignored.

Monday brought an extended session on our ‘outreach and engagement’ strategy. With the imminent changes to our Knowledge Transfer Network(s), discussed by Iain Gray in his recent blog in The Engineer, we looked at how we can both work closer and productively. It was an energising day – always is when I get to spend several hours with colleagues in our Innovation Programmes team.

Tuesday was spent in Birmingham which had no floods but did hit me with rain, hail and snow! Mick and I met with International Synergies to discuss our plans in industrial symbiosis and how they can help as well as be updated on the interesting projects they are doing. They have some fascinating work helping companies track their resources better and gain efficiencies. We then headed to the impressive Birmingham Library to catch up with Ewa Bloch who has been a National Contact Point (free expert in helping understand and apply for EU funding) for a while and now with Horizon2020 will focus on resource efficiency and climate adaptation. She is becoming a closer part of our team and together with the KTN and WRAP will provide the best source of help accessing European support in this area within the UK. I finished the day with a telecon on how textile recycling can be improved. Any important technologies for fibre recovering out there we should know about?

Wednesday and Thursday was spent in London, starting with a quick trip out to Maple Cross to meet Skanska UK. Skanska UK are very proud of their status as a construction company with a strong sustainability record and we talked around their challenges is going further. A particular highlight is the Supply Chain School which they established with competitors to improve the knowledge and skills of their suppliers to help them achieve these aims. We talked about promoting it further through the KTN and the need to build in social sustainability training.

After a productive call with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and agreeing a more extensive meeting at their headquarters soon, we heading into central London to meet with PwC, courtesy of their wonderful Director of Corporate Sustainability, Bridget Jackson. We were treated to a tour of their building at Embankment Place and learnt more about how BREAM Outstanding was achieved in their new building. They want to keep going further as a leader on sustainability and the discussion we had centred on eliminating their waste streams and how The Great Recovery could help. I challenged them to consider the consumables they used now and question what they were for and whether any could be delivered by a service or a change in behaviour. This route to eliminated resource use should happen before optimising the current systems.

Thursday was CleanTech Innovate where 40 young companies come to pitch to an audience of experts and investors. I was on the judging panel this year to select the finalists and enjoyed hearing them all tell their story. There was a huge range of ideas and fascinating solutions to sustainability challenges. It was good to see Clean and Cool Mission alumni such as Alquist who have a cooling system for data centres that helps reduce power outages. They use lasers to measure temperature changes in a fibre optic cable (tech developed for oil & gas so reliable) to give a heat map across the data centre. The product is less complex, cheaper and more robust that competitors.

Other presenting companies that caught my eye included:

·         Avalon who are abseiling insulation installers to avoid scaffolding costs (typically largest proportion). They have done 20,000 installations to date and are developing new insulation technology and want to go international.

·         SkyRad who do solar heating/hot water but use the house walls as dynamic insulation – store warmth with solar energy and draw in heat to cool when it is hot outside. They are targeting social housing for field trials and one in Birmingham showed 80% reductions in energy use and improved comfort.

·         ADFerTech have retrofitable anaerobic digestion (AD) technology that takes AD digestate liquor waste and converts it to a granular fertiliser.

·         Azotic Technologies have developed a nitrogen fixation formulation using bacteria that is food grade to coat seeds as a treatment before planting, that is non-GM.

·         Frigesco have solved the problem with supermarket freezer defrost cycles requiring energy to heat the coils. They use a phase change material to store waste heat and simply switch circulation direction when defrost is needed. M&S tests showed 40% reduction in energy and 1/3 time to defrost. Their solution can be retrofitted.

·         B9 Shipping who have developed renewable powered cargo ships and have worked on the wider system challenges of moving to this new fleet in a sustainable way.

The week ended with several catch up meetings and an interview on UK performance towards eliminating waste as part of a European project.

Other topics discussed this week: identifying designer shoes, absorption versus adsorption, travel disruption, comfortable bike seats.

Mike Pitts


3rd – 7th February 2014

My week started by giving an interview to the Guardian on innovation opportunities in Latin America. This was mostly a discussion of our lessons from the Clean and Cool Mission to Brazil last year (see earlier blog posts). After further calls with companies seeking to understand how we can help them I worked through the videos I have so far from the projects in our New Designs for a Circular Economy competition. We will soon publish all these on the Great Recovery site and have some of the best on our Vimeo site and have them playing at the Resource event. I also joined a teleconference about changes to our wider engagement strategy and how we can better connect with our networks.

Tuesday saw me travelling to Banbury with Mick (I will get him on Twitter) to WRAP’s head office. Our Resource Efficiency strategy overlaps considerably with WRAP’s remit and strategy but we were very clear that we do different things. WRAP are experts at convening sectors to understand what is possible to move everyone forward – we then come in helping tackle the technology barriers and piloting new collaborative business models. WRAP are then very good at driving a mainstream of best practice. We worked through a range of programmes to ensure we worked in this approach and complimented each other’s plans.

The rest of the week I spent in Glasgow. I had an excellent meeting at the new offices of the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult on sustainability strategy and our Horizons tool (getting in just before a visit from our CEO Iain Gray). I met with Iain Gulland, boss of Zero Waste Scotland, to understand how we can match strategies - much as with WRAP (given they are essentially WRAP in Scotland). Their agenda is wide and covers retrofit for buildings, energy efficiency and heat networks as well as circular economy and resource efficiency. We need to meet further with them to compare delivery plans.

I also had a very productive meeting with Scottish Water. Being owned by the Scottish government means they are beholden to the country rather than shareholders. Their innovation team are setting interesting direction for the company. They have aims to be exemplary in compliance, develop revenues from wastewater and most eye-catching – develop integrated solutions for rural communities in waste, energy and water. The need for this in Scotland is highlighted by the stat that 90% of their customers are served by 10% of their infrastructure. That’s a lot of cost inefficient capital being used – essentially scaled down versions of larger plant. Crucially such solutions tested here could be sold around the world. We covered the shared aims of an improved understanding of the innovation needs for the water industry and started making plans...

A meeting with Glasgow City Council’s sustainable city team covered the issues of embedding sustainability practice across all their operations (very hard, but possibly analogous to doing so in a large corporation), the importance of understanding how citizens view issues and behave and the extensive projects in energy management and health that will interest our Independent Living, Built Environment and Energy Systems teams.

In between all these visits I had some useful calls with Defra (on our Resource Efficiency plans and how they fit with policy), colleagues from across TSB and ESRC on where we help the retail sector innovate and the Knowledge Transfer Network on the NHS Sustainable Development Unit strategy.

Other topics discussed this week: harp music, flooding, Stornoway black pudding and six-legged pigs.

Mike Pitts


27th – 31st January 2014

The week was largely spent based in our office in Swindon. I didn’t rush down Monday, first taking a call on an upcoming Horizons workshop on energy systems before taking a civilised train journey down the Welsh borders. This was a good time to work through all the feedback from the first stage of our Supply Chain Innovation towards a Circular Economy competition to draw out common issues to relate back to applicants who have proceeded to the second stage. The main issues our assessors had were around detail in the project plan, finances and risk analysis – all easier to provide at full stage with more space for responses. We have certainly had some exciting proposals in this competition.

In the office I was able to catch up with a lot of different people on ongoing tasks and spend some time working through plans for an industrial symbiosis KTP competition and detail for our updated Resource Efficiency strategy.

Tuesday started with a webinar for those second stage applicants in the circular economy competition. After some issues with the equipment (smoke pouring from cables!) we were able to brief the second stage applicants.  A catch up on plans for Resource Efficiency with Mick (lead for that area) was followed by more advanced planning of the KTP competition which we’ve now submitted for approval.

Mick and I then went to WRc to meet with Leo Carswell and talk about innovation in the water sector. Leo is doing work to understand the baseline for water innovation investment which will help inform where more action is needed. This is very timely as we update our water strategy this year. Do get in touch if you are keen to input.

On Wednesday I travelled into London from Swindon to run a Horizons workshop with Nicky Conway from Forum for the Future and experts across our innovation programmes team to look at the area of energy systems. This is concerned with the infrastructure and transportation of electricity, heat and combustible gases that make up the link between energy generation and use. We have an aging energy infrastructure in the UK (as have many other countries) and one that needs to be more adaptable to future energy mixes and responsive to changes in the way we use and manage energy. The session focussed a discussion around cards such as trust, interdependence, resilience, information and long termism.

Thursday started with resolving project spend issues on portfolios we co-fund with Research Councils. For them, essentially, academics are paid upfront following a fairly predictable profile. We however pay agreed eligible costs for businesses once they have been incurred and defrayed which means our forecasts are at the mercy of the projects, which naturally are subject to real world change. We spent a bit of time making sure we could both follow our financial business model without impacting the other.

This was (ironically) followed by meeting project leads from a joint competition with the Natural Environment Research Council - Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition – at a New Projects Workshop. This is something every new project goes through where they learn about how to report and meet their Monitoring Officer. With 33 projects in the portfolio I had a lot of people to meet! It is a fun part of the job. I could then finally head home clearing email backlogs on the way.

On Friday I spent the morning working on forward plans for the Resource Efficiency strategy before taking a full afternoon of scheduled phone calls from applicants to the Supply Chain Innovation competition to help clarify the feedback they received from the expression of interest stage.


Other topics discussed this week: grading and selecting tangerines, sleep patterns and the effect of alcohol, how animals navigate.

Mike Pitts


20th – 24th January 2014

Before a week working out of London I had a Monday at home to catch up on paperwork and planning. The highlight was wrapping up much of the Brazil Clean and Cool Mission admin and beginning to discuss the next with The Long Run Venture.

Tuesday morning I headed to London with a larger bag than usual and started with a resource efficiency focussed day. First was a catch up with Sophie Thomas on The Great Recovery plans for the coming year, in particular briefing Mick, our new Resource Efficiency Lead Technologist. Mick and I then headed to Defra for two meetings. One was understanding the new MRF legislation and how that might be a driver for a new competition we are scoping on value from waste. The other was how we could use the SBRI mechanism to overcome technical hurdles to resource efficiency in sectors Defra and WRAP are working with.

In the evening I caught up with Gillian Harrison of Whitefox Technologies who was a VIP on our Brazil Clean and Cool Mission. We talked about what worked on the Mission, the importance of Brazil and I learned about their trials on farms to be self-sufficient in fertiliser and energy from on-farm waste streams. The potential increase in profits was startling!

On Wednesday, with Forum for the Future, we ran a Horizons workshop with several cities from the Sustainable Cities Network. We were keen to better understand their common challenges from a environmental and social perspective and in particular which of these they couldn’t get a good handle on because either data or understanding was lacking. We got some excellent ideas that can shape competitions and feed into the Future Cities Catapult programme. It was also clear that projects to develop solutions for city needs must develop a business case that councils can buy into to be able to get to market. This business case needs to address how the solution saves money in or helps address the critical challenges of cities such as income inequality, health, energy security and skills/education.

Thursday saw more time with Forum for the Future as we sat and scoped out the forward plans for Horizons over the next year or so and similar for the Great Recovery project. For Horizons we want to complete the beta phase of the tool and ensure it is intuitive and addresses the needs of users – in particular those applying to Technology Strategy Board competitions. On the Great Recovery we were planning with RSA how the project will interface with Forum for the Future to investigate the common challenges in moving to circular economy business models at a system/sector level. In the longer run we’d like to run a competition to overcome these and have some projects looking step-wise change in business models. Many companies are keen to understand how they do this but need to be able to work right across the supply chain. The challenge still seems to be getting everyone together in the same room and talking the same language to even be able to see what is possible.

New business models that are driving more sustainable practice tend to also provide better consumer propositions as well. That certainly seems to be the takeaway from this report I read Friday morning: I would certainly like to be able to pay for a service to use whatever vehicle suits my needs at the time rather than having to own a fleet or worry about maintenance. I’d love to be able to fully manage many of my services, particularly financial, online or by phone but crucially, with far better customer service than I get now. And expensive things I will need for only a short time would be much better under a lease model than having to buy then not knowing what to do with it afterwards.

The week finished with a reunion for the Clean and Cool Missions – and getting the recent Brazil and Colorado groups together for the first time to swap experiences. It was great to see the energy in the room and frank discussion of what we had learnt. The video summaries of the Missions brought back great memories. These Missions are part of our series of entrepreneur missions designed to help high-growth potential SMEs break into overseas markets faster. In many cases they have an offering that is better matched in that market and Brazil was a good example of this. You can learn more starting at this earlier blog post and at the Mission website Sadly, I had to leave before John Elkington did a turn as guest speaker. All in all an excellent way to wrap things up.

Other topics discussed this week: harmonicas in rock songs, getting arrested for littering, tenancy law, Hot Steve.

Mike Pitts


13th – 17th January 2014

The week started with me ploughing through various contractual paperwork, preliminary plans for our refresh of the Resource Efficiency strategy and working on updates to the Horizons tool.

Tuesday saw a trip to London for a workshop of the great and the good in the world of resource efficiency, manufacturing, materials and recycling to consider the challenges in novel materials at the end-of-life. Everyone seemed to agree it was important and that despite the huge range of expertise in the room, they couldn’t fully assess what should be done. I concluded that the workshop perfectly highlighted the problem with Resource Efficiency – no sector fully owns it and progress can only come from collaboration across the supply chain at a system level.

Wednesday continued in London with a visit to UBM to discuss our involvement in March’s Resource Event. Anyone interested in the circular economy or resource efficiency should certainly attend. It is being held at the ExCel alongside EcoBuild. The programme is fantastic and it is free to attend. We will be there launching the second phase of The Great Recovery with the RSA and connecting with business with the Environmental Sustainability KTN.

After that I had a quick catch up with Sophie Thomas on The Great Recovery plans that featured an amazing gooseberry flapjack (it really was very good) and Mick, the new Resource Efficiency Lead Technologist. Mick and I then headed to Oxford for a dinner with members of the Environmental Sustainability KTN steering board. Dinner featured an inspiring and debate provoking talk from the wonderful Mark Shayler. Mark talked about how we need to do better things with our resources and related some excellent stories that brought home the social aspects of consumption.

The following morning saw the board meeting and a healthy debate about the future for Knowledge Transfer Networks – watch this space! We also heard a lot about what Defra was doing on resource efficiency. At lunchtime I left to head into London, called the office about the latest stage of the Supply Chain Innovation towards a Circular Economy competition then went to a meeting of Forum for the Future’s Sustainable Business Model group. This group has sustainability innovation leaders from a range of big brands and businesses who meet regularly to see where we can learn from each other and collaborate on common needs. The meeting was excellent with some constructive impatience to get stuff done!

The week finished with planning the three upcoming Horizons workshops we are running as well as starting to prepare material to help external users make use of the tool. We are particularly keen to help applicants to our competitions use Horizons to prepare better proposals. I also joined a webinar on the Resource Revolution run by The discussion explored how companies can employ circular economy business models. The best examples (and most entertainment) came from James Walker at Kingfisher relating several projects they ran under our New Designs for a Circular Economy competition. They explored how a customer could be provided with the right materials and tools for a DIY job and lease the right tools for a task while allowing unused materials to be returned. An aligned project is looking to redesign power tools to enable quick and economic repair and remanufacture to extend their life; particularly useful when you are leasing them rather than selling them.


Other topics discussed this week: nuclear waste contaminating smelters, health and safety aspects of event seating, SnapChat, leasing baby buggies and learning that Elizabeth I was of Welsh descent.

Mike Pitts


6th – 10th Jan 2014

The week started with a visit to the office to greet my new colleague, Mick. He will assume responsibility for the Resource Efficiency programme once he has his feet under the table. Mick starts at a good time as we finalise the plans for the coming year. We are also updating the Resource Efficiency strategy and spending some time looking again at water and where we can help innovation in this hugely integrated sector. I shared a train journey down with the boss and took the chance to talk through plans to the end of the financial year. All in all a forward thinking start to the year!

Tuesday saw two calls preparing for Horizons workshops – one on energy systems and one with the creative industries. I also spent time working on our plans for the coming financial year. As ever we will publish the full Delivery Plan in April.

The rest of the week had a North West flavour. Wednesday saw me travel to Manchester to meet with Malcolm Bailey from Link2Energy. The discussion was around industrial symbiosis and the need for collaboration in getting data on secondary resource flows. Link2Energy have expertise in extraction technology and have a few projects with us in this space. The afternoon saw more phone calls and another Horizons workshop planning session: this time for cities!  

Thursday had me heading to Chemistry Innovation for a Materials Security Special Interest Group meeting. We discussed forward plans and spent some time on looking at opportunities for innovation in the energy, health and care sectors as well as the upcoming Horizon2020 calls from Europe.

I did work the last two days of last week and mostly spent them catching up on reading, with one notable exception. The Supply Chain Innovation towards a Circular Economy call closed just before Christmas and rather than have assessors miss there turkey to work on them we set them going first thing in the New Year. Throughout the week I’ve been responding to queries from the assessors as they work through the big set of proposals, with some very exciting potential projects in there.

I finished the week with a visit to Axion Recycling at their plant in Trafford Park for car shredder waste residue. The plant sorts the fluffy the non-metal fraction into plastics for their Salford plant for upgrade to quality polymers, aggregate and a dry, inert material that can be used a fuel for cement kilns. They also recover a fair bit of metal the main process misses, particularly copper. The plant handles 200,000 tonnes per annum which is the equivalent of 600,000 cars.

What keeps Axion competitive is their constant innovation. We discussed what drives the development of new commercial recycling routes and it seems large scale demonstration (on real streams) is the key to unlocking things. Much of the demand comes from local authority waste partnerships who want to find new ways to deal with what they collect. It was good to learn than a Tetrapak recycling plant is now being built in the UK thanks to demand for the recovered fibre.

We talked about some of the excellent TSB projects Axion are involved in covering everything from fuel cell material recovery to dealing with advertising banners. What most caught my eye are the trials to mark packaging with something recycling plants can detect easily to sort (for example) food contact plastics from general plastic waste. As ever, nothing beats going to learn more about a company and seeing how the technology works live.

Other topics discussed this week: crisis-driven innovation, system innovation (#theBIGshift), Sherlock (jumped the shark?) and mobile phone signals.

Mike Pitts


16th – 20th Dec 2013

My week started with another 5 am wake up to catch an early train to Swindon. Working through Friday’s emails on the way I seemed to be getting only good news with exciting activities in the pipeline and great feedback on finishing projects. I was in the office for the Funders Panel for our Solving Business Problems with Environmental Data competition where we sign off which projects we can support. Applicants will hear today and we’ll publish the list of 33 projects in the New Year. We were delighted with the range, quality and quantity of proposals which are a testament to the work we put in before the competition across eight workshops around the country. ESKTN and 100%Open were critical partners in getting these done so well. We are now thinking about what should follow.

I then raced into London to be part of a Forum for the Future workshop at the RSA that acted as a trailer for our next stage of The Great Recovery. We want to explore with companies keen to bring forward circular economy business models what is stopping them doing so. We believe the barriers can only be overcome through collaborations across the supply chain and probably involve developing new flows of resource and ways of delivering customer needs. This systems approach will be mapped out through a series of events over the coming year and inform our future support.

The workshop featured one of the Great Recovery’s famous ‘teardowns’ as attendees took apart old products to see how much they are designed for a linear life. We then heard from Caterpillar Reman on how successful they have been at remanufacturing. We finished by challenging the audience of sustainable innovation leaders from all sizes of companies in Forum’s membership to frame the challenges to be overcome. It was interesting to hear some we knew such as better waste sorting and knowledge of materials properties and flows as well as some ideas we hadn’t thought about enough like emotionally durable design and exploring consumer pull.

The workshop end coincided with Forum’s annual Christmas drinks event which is never to be missed, not least for the exciting cocktails. This year featured a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster (lemon infused gin with a cucumber ice cube) and cold (dry ice) filtered mulled wine. Fascinating for a chemist such as myself! The event was a great chance to catch up with old friends and meet many new ones and even a couple of very exciting potential big activities!

Tuesday saw me debrief with Roland Harwood of 100%Open following the Environmental Data competition. Their ability to create a neutral space for cross-sector and silo collaboration and keep a workshop process simple and on track was invaluable in bringing three communities together. There were several other areas where their expertise could help us bring people together and we talked about those. I then headed back north for my last journey of the year and worked out of Catalyst Science Discovery Centre for the rest of the afternoon, including a Sustainability team teleconference. I am a Trustee at Catalyst and that evening we had an AGM and dinner with the staff for Christmas.

The rest of the week I worked from home to wrap up the admin for the Environmental Data projects (including taking enjoyable calls from delighted applicants) and the close of the Supply Chain Innovation towards a Circular Economy call which saw 56 expressions of interest. I took a call from the UK Water Research and Innovation Partnership on their impending report on innovation in the water sector which was very timely as we seek to review our strategy in this area over the coming six months. There seems to be a recognition growing that better water management needs to involve a wider set of stakeholders and users than just the water companies and the barriers can’t be overcome simply by building more infrastructure.

Have a great Christmas and I look forward to interacting with you next year!

Other topics discussed this week: wedding planning, emotionally durable design and deep fried Christmas pudding.

Mike Pitts


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