< Back to News

Net Zero is not a COP-out: How innovation collaboration can help create a sustainable future

To mark Net Zero week Midlands Innovation launched MI Planet – a celebration of the work 5200 researchers’ collective deliver to help fight climate change.

In addition, a webinar took place to discuss how collaboration is vital in creating a sustainable future for our planet within the current economic landscape.

Professor Trevor McMillan VC for Keele University and Adam Morton, Head of Environment for Roll Royce and member of the Industrial Advisory Board for ERA delivered keynote talks and a panel of experts from all disciplines discussed the opportunities, challenges and risks of collaboration.

Keele University has been recently recognised globally for its achievements to promote and embed sustainability across all its operations. A fitting celebration to note at the beginning of the MI Planet launch which brings together the expertise of 5200 researchers to deliver real-world solutions to tackle climate change.

Professor Trevor McMillan explained that Keele has reduced carbon emissions by 39% at its living lab campus and how it was made possible thanks to collaborations based on trusted partnerships across industry and public sector.

He elaborated that sharing knowledge, resources and expertise has never been more important. The Midlands Innovation academic network is connected to a national and global infrastructure across HE, research and industry, it’s vital that collaborations add value to communities and create change which is sustainable in the current landscape.

Speaking from an industry perspective and having worked on developing decarbonisation technologies for ten years, Adam Morton shared his experiences of developing decarbonisation technologies. He observed that “rarely, in any sector, does a silver bullet exist” and “no single solution is sufficient.”

He added that the research taking place within the universities will influence the emergence of new technologies which will deliver out-of-sector decarbonisation solutions, this brings with it an exciting opportunity to export green energy sector expertise globally.

Professor Alasdair Cairns, Director of Powertrain Research Centre at University of Nottingham, Dr Avi Baruch, Chief Operating Officer Previsico (a flood mapping business spun out of Loughborough University), Faye McAnulla, Programme Director for Energy Research Accelerator, Dr Josh Vande Hey, Lecturer in Environment & Health, Earth Observation Science Division, Knowledge Mobilisation Lead, Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability, University of Leicester and Julian Bowrey, Innovate UK joined the panel discussions.

Firstly they discussed the potential risks associated with fragmented sustainability strategies being developed locally, regionally and nationally.

Dr Josh Vande Hey reflected that the phrase ‘think global act local’ has been around for years, but stressed that local data is key, especially when it comes to the health of communities in the context of Net Zero and air pollution exposure. He observed that local is critical in this instance.

Professor Alasdair Cairns said that there is a risk of fragmentation at a national and global level, in the case of importing green hydrogen, for example. He also highlighted the benefits of collaborating regionally and sharing that learning at a national level. “We are the golden triangle for logistics in the Midlands and have a great opportunity to decarbonise in that area,” he commented.

ERA has worked in partnership with the Midlands Engine to advise and deliver on Midlands Engine’s ‘Ten Point Plan for Green Growth’. Faye McAnulla highlighted that regional partnership collaboration and long-term collaborations like this shouldn’t be underestimated, this is how ERA 1 has made lasting impact.

Julian Bowrey from Innovate UK explained that there must be a logic, a business need, or a societal problem - like limited EV infrastructure – to foster the best environments for collaboration. He said: “A lot of what we do is helping people make connections” and he is increasingly working with organisations which have a focus on sustainability and identifying ways to fast-track innovations and ideas.

The discussion moved onto how research collaborations can add value to public investment opportunities within the current economic landscape and whether there are risks as funding regimes change.

Dr Josh Vande Hey commented on a publicly managed venture capitalist fund in the north of the country. “I am fascinated by the idea that the council manages these funds,“ ideas like this could bring real value in terms of getting new ideas tested quickly.

Whilst several of the panel members wanted to see more of an ecosystems approach to support collaboration on sustainable solutions.

Faye McAnulla said: “We often think of innovation being really business focussed.” More engagement with the civic sector is really important as that’s often where the management of infrastructure and influence lies.” She added that, looking forward, the focus should be on how to roll out new technologies and innovations at speed and scale.

Dr Avi Baruch from Previsico agreed with the concept of developing long-term ecosystems to help more spin-outs in the future, given the wealth of opportunities within universities to commercialise. He also felt empowering employees to have more of a say in how to reach Net Zero could be a ‘game changer’ for organisations.

Julian Bowrey concluded that the only way to solve these problems is to think globally.

Did you attend the event/ Watch the webinar? Would you be interested in future MI Planet events? Please take this short survey.