Confusing effort and results
28 November 2019 by David Bott
Monday was another normal one, so I missed the “start the week” meeting and instead headed down to London. I was taking part in the Guardian Cleantech Summit (http://www.guardian.co.uk/cleantechsummit), courtesy of Filomena’s original catch that it was happening and Lady Claire’s desire to engage with the media at every opportunity. It started really well with keynotes from David Blood (http://www.generationim.com/about/team/blood.html), Michael Liebriech (http://www.newenergymatters.com/?p=about&n=9) (who did a fine line is “Al says” quotes) and Nick Parker of Cleantech (http://cleantech.com/about/team.cfm). All were very good speakers, had a track record of achievements but all seem a bit caught up in the eco-celebrity world for many of our companies. There was then the first of many panels, this one about fostering environmental behaviour in small companies. It was mostly harmless. Carbon Trust were the “government“ body on this one and Mark Williamson did a great job – except that he didn't mention us!! The next panel was much more fun. It had representatives from 4 for the Cleantech 100 best companies (a global survey with 13 from the UK, the bulk from the US but most other countries getting a look in for forms sake. They were everything you would expect from Founders and CEOs of successful companies in a tricky space – opinionated, articulate and passionate about THEIR product. This was followed by a lunch (organised by a law firm called Nabarro ( http://www.nabarro.com/home )) with Greg Barker, the shadow minister for climate change. All of the last panel were there so it was difficult to manage the conversation – after a gentle introduction to how the Conservatives would mostly stick to climate change policies because they were bipartisan, Jeremy Leggett of Solarcentury launched into a broadside about how politicians were hamstrung by civil servants who didn't want to do anything and have consistently blocked his ideas (he didn't actually say the last bit in open forum but in emerged in conversations afterwards). I managed to swap cards with Greg and requested a further meeting – we need to follow up soon.
I also caught up with James Lawn who was trying to persuade CleanTech to lower the fees for taking the Clean and Cool Mission people into their San Francisco conference in February.
Barker went on to a head to head with Kidney which was pretty boring because they agreed about most things but had to dress it up as political differences!! The next panels – on energy efficiency and energy generation – were pretty also good but the one on regulation got a bit too into the financial side of things. After another break, it was time for the transport panel that I had been volunteered for. It was chaired by Alok Jha, who is one of our targets, so I was very nice to him. The 3 minute introductions went okay as far as Henri Winand of Intelligent Energy, Chris Walsh of Cenex and I went, but Greg Archer of LoCVP went off on a 10+ minute defence of why this organisation is really important. The questions were all quite average and Henri and I agreed a lot. The woman from Cricket who is angling for a contract with us kept asking “consumer” questions, but otherwise it’s about how fast we have to go and how we’re going to achieve that speed. The final talk of the day was from Dave King, who I had chatted to on and off throughout the day (the international brotherhood of ex-chemists, don’t cha know?)
Tuesday was a Swindon day, beginning with the Innovate wash-up. For me the main learning is that we need to start earlier, and involve more people earlier, but we added some details to that. Then it was the Governing Board meeting. It turned out that they were in a benign mood, so Fearless Leaders report went well – and quickly, Mark described the success that is SBRI – although I persist in worrying that we are confusing the goals and process we use. For me, success will come when someone buys truckloads of the products that have been developed through an SBRI scheme and lots of small companies get a chance to grow on the back of these contracts. So far, we are still having problems getting Government Departments to understand why they should use the scheme. The process is very useful for our own ends and we use it. Then we had a discussion on entrepreneurship, kicked off by a presentation from Allyson which managed to expose both the Executives lack of coherence and the fault lines in the Government Board. Sara thinks we should be focused on very early stage companies driven by “real” entrepreneurs (the ones who are too busy to call themselves entrepreneurs and who Alan Sugar would see as competition), Anne thinks we should focus on getting established companies on the growth journey and all were confused by our ideas – except Andrew Milligan who asked questions and declared the “Way idea” to be a nice piece of low-hanging fruit. Then we had the guy from Edelmann in to describe our stakeholder engagement process. Unfortunately, the back-up paper hadn't been checked or updated and several Board members descended into the details to find faults. ‘Twas ever thus!! Dinner was an interesting affair – I discovered quite how articulate Guy can be after 3 or 4 drinks on the subject of climate change and that Sara thinks it is a hoax!!
Wednesday was another Swindon day. After a whole bunch of signing and stuff, I went with Em and the young padawan to meet NERC and the Met Office. Em had persuaded me that this was a better use of my time than the final NAIGT meeting in London (which Andrew Everett went to and largely confirmed her advice). It started a bit “we have the technology, someone ought to buy it”, but that turned out to be more NERC than the Met Office. We countered with “if no-one wants to buy it, it will not sell” and settled down to work out what people might want. We explained our existing incorporation of climate change information into Low Impact Buildings, how it drives Energy Generation and Supply, how it will impact on Detection and Identification of Infectious Agents, how we know it will impact on Sustainable Agriculture and so on. Rob Varley was really open to our approach (or humouring me?) and we agreed to run a joint workshop a couple of months into the new year, where we bring together speakers across the “do you realise what climate change will mean for us?”, “examples of people who already use climate information in a surprising way” and “here are some ways to use similar information” areas and mix up the communities – probably with a bias towards the “new” business community. I think it will take time, because they will have to build the market before they can supply it.
This was followed by a session with the Metrics Ninjas. We have gone down an evolutionary backwater with a unified approach to Technology, so we were trying to decide how to break out the areas without diffusing the impacts. We decided that we would pick some of the Technology Areas but evaluate the impact of specific areas within them – the areas we are mainly focusing one. Thus, EPES gets Plastic Electronics, Biology gets Industrial Biotech, Materials gets Composites, ICT gets Digital Britain and only HVM gets a fuller look. I am still worried that we will produce a report whether we understand it not!!
I needed to finish this early to get onto the web to be a panelist in the Times Online debate - http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/related_reports/the_future_of_energy/article6925491.ece – it is slightly unsettling to be typing stuff into a debate for an hour in the middle of an open office where people keep coming up and asking you things – memo to self, do the next one in a quiet room! I have a load more followers on Twitter as a result, so how about that for a metric?
Thursday and Friday were given over to the Forum for the Future Sustainable Development for Leaders Masterclass I had been sent on. Preparation consisted of wading through the Natural Step online training programme – which lasted over 4 hours and taught me to hate the voice of the particular American woman who provides the commentary, the irritating raising of the voice at the end of every sentence regardless of whether it is a question or not and the mind-numbing focus of the writers on their way of doing things that excludes all other arguments. Happily, the course itself was the complete opposite. Jonathan Porritt is a genial host, an accomplished speaker, and an insightful commentator on a wide variety of approaches to the challenge that climate change probably confronts us with. The other course members shared their experiences of introducing sustainable development into their companies, the Yorkshireman who is Chief Executive of Tetley – now owned by Tata – who effectively gave an seminar of the problem of branding sustainability and the separation of accreditation and branding (think Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance) - joined by Lucy Shea of Futerra, who claim to be the sustainable face of marketing, the pair from Thomson First Holidays who led the drinking, the ex-farmer who runs a sustainable fleet of vans round London, the marketing woman from Cadbury’s, the pair from Balfour Beatty (both of who shaved their heads, is it a corporate thing?), the operations director of the IoP and the guy from the insurance industry body in Cambridge, all contributed to the sharing of knowledge. What I came away thinking is that we are playing around the edges and that we have the ability to do much more from our position to influence sustainable behaviour in the companies we support. Probably because he has seen all shades of response to the challenge of sustainable development, Porritt has an answer for most questions, although occasionally his version of a basic facts was different from the one I thought I knew!!! We agreed to meet soon to explore how the Technology Strategy Board might work with the Forum for the Future. It was nice to learn new things and take the time to explore what we are, and can do, with people outside our own organisation. We should do more of it and bring it back to the “hive”.