Change Agents UK at Edie Live

On the 23rd and 24th May, a couple of the Change Agents UK team went along to Edie Live at Birmingham NEC. For those of you who haven’t heard of this before, it is an event for energy, sustainability and resource efficiency professionals to network and discuss their field.

There was a variety of exhibitors on show from Eco games (that aim to communicate Sustainability in a fun & engaging way), to the latest in solar energy! We made our way round the exhibition, speaking to representatives about what they are currently doing and listening to talks on key environmental topics.

We’ve summarised the key themes from the conference:

The Circular Economy:

The main focus here was on the technology industry as it is estimated that by 2030, there will be 21 Billion devices connected. That is a staggering amount of technology which also means a significant number of people making a decision about a device once it inevitably comes to the end of its life.

The challenge of a rising population was also noted; it is estimated to hit 9.4 Billion by 2050. We would need 2.3 earths to cater for demand by 2050! One major computer company identified a large proportion of their Carbon footprint comes from their Supply Chain (41% emissions) and Products and solutions (53%).

Computer manufacturers are looking closely at how to reduce the amount of electronics that are sent to landfill, by creating repair centres for broken and faulty electronics, for example. A lot of emphasis is also being put on communicating with the customer what they should do with a product once it supposedly reaches the end of its life. Therefore if a customer is informed of how to ‘dispose’ of a product correctly, right from the get go, there is more chance of that device being recycled, re-used or repurposed.

80% of a product’s environmental impacts are determined at the early stages of design. What happens to a product at the end of its life is the 2nd decision when designing a product. It is all down to life cycle thinking and Eco Design. This needs to be thought about through the whole process – the sourcing, manufacturing, transport, use and end of life.

 

People vs Technology: Driving Change:

Claire from Hilton gave really good insight into behaviour change within a large organisation.

They have 5000 hotels in 100 countries. Labour is their 1st biggest cost with energy in 2nd place. Claire found that if you spend 1-2% of an organisation’s typical annual energy spend on a behaviour change project, this can lead to a 10% energy cost saving.

To encourage behaviour change at Hilton,  communications with staff about the actions they had to take were kept simple by using a pack of cards with top 10 behaviour changes on them. They key success was to make actions personal to a particular role, by empowering teams to do more, you must let them make the changes and therefore savings themselves. Oveall, there has been an 8% reduction in energy use through the use of behaviour change projects; competition is the most effective method of keeping staff motivated, especially if there is a reward!

Technology has its place and can work very effectively. For example occupancy lighting & LEDs can save an organisation thousands of pounds through energy saving. Some of the most successful behaviour change initiatives used a combination of people and technology – ensuring that staff are fully trained and aware of how to use energy saving technology.

 

Food as a feedstock: unlocking the potential of Anaerobic Digestion

Food waste is a growing problem across the UK; Annually the UK creates 10 million tonnes of inedible food waste. So far 8% of this is processed through Anaerobic Digestion (AD). Households are the biggest contributors of food waste, accounting for 7.3 million tonnes whilst retail accounts for 0.2 million tonnes of the total figure! We could reduce the world’s carbon emissions by 20% just through eradicating food waste. Therefore, Anaerobic Digestion is becoming an increasingly popular solution to this problem.

So how does Anaerobic Digestion work? You take the food waste, pulverise it, add water, then the mixture is pasteurised and passed through a digestion tank. Bacteria is added here to make biogas which creates power! 85% of the volume still remains, which can then be spread back to land as a natural fertiliser.

So who would this type of energy be aimed at?

1.       Dairy Industries – they can use liquid waste to power themselves which also reduces disposal cost to sewer.

2.       Distilleries – digestate can be used to grow Barley.

3.       Coffee – biomass

4.       Brewing Industry – waste acts as a great fertiliser.

5.       Farms – some focus on manure / slurry

The biggest challenge with Anaerobic Digestion is that it is expensive to set up. However, once in place and installed, the running cost is relatively low.

 

The role of business in mitigating and adapting to climate change:

The Lead Corporate Lawyer for a large network of environment focused law firms, spoke of their use of litigation and scientific findings to bring corporations and government services to trial for lapses in environmental responsibility. Recent examples of their work are bringing the government to task over air pollution levels, which are still far too high in urban areas, especially in London.

It was stressed that Climate Change is very real and something which governments and corporations have to manage and prepare for.  The Paris Climate Agreement was a further example of governmental cooperation in trying to tackle climate change and therefore reduce liability.

 

Engaging Millennials: the role of corporate responsibility

The final speaker was from a sustainable development organisation that is driven by young people wanting to make lasting, positive changes to the world. A lot of development work is done in Africa, South America and Asia; working with local communities to create a better future for them and the planet.

The speaker, a Business Development Strategist, spoke at length about the importance of engaging with Millennials. They make up around one quarter of the population in the UK with a figure close to 16 million people.  Millennials are now starting to break into leading projects and managing change, so it is really important that organisations engage with them in order to push positive practices.

Due to societal changes Millennials are far more likely to purchase sustainable products, engage with ethical organisations and have a desire to make the world a better place. Patagonia, the clothing brand, was used as an example again as a willingness of Millennials to purchase a sustainable product over a non-sustainable brand despite a higher price.

People within this age range are increasingly looking not just at the role when they apply for jobs, they are also looking at the corporate responsibility and values of the organisation they are applying to. Making values clear and visible is an important thing for businesses and the like to have available.

Concluding Thoughts

The overall theme appeared to be Organisations now taking more responsibility for their actions. There is now a much bigger desire from the public for the organisations they interact with to be ethically aware and have sustainability practices. Access to information is now far simpler for people wishing to investigate a business, not for profit or government authority. As such these groups are far more regulated and monitored, with an emphasis on responsibility.