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Written by Sam Zindel, Founder of Low Carbon Leaders , Managing Director of Propellernet and host of Silicon Brighton – Race to Net Zero

On June 9th, Silicon Brighton hosted its first sustainability-themed Business Leaders event at Plus X Brighton.

In the year after the UK hosted COP 26, business communities have been stepping up action to tackle the climate crisis. Whilst large corporations have been vocal about net zero pledges, the 99% of UK businesses that are classed as SMEs have been grappling with the terminology, complex carbon measurement and implementation of net zero plans.

One thing is clear. The Race to Zero is a race we either all lose or all win – and we only win when the last person crosses the line.

Silicon Brighton partnered with Low Carbon Leaders to deliver a programme our speakers that equally inspired and educated the audience to take action for their businesses.

 

 

Living Beyond Our Planet’s Resources

That word “sustainability” – it is used so widely now that it is easy to lose sight of what it actually means. As a definition, it means the ability to “maintain or support a system or process over time”.

How unsustainable is our current way of life?

The 28th July 2022 is this year’s “Earth Overshoot Day”. Since the 1970’s this day has been modeled every year from data gathered by environmental scientists and represents the day by which humans have used up the biological resources to sustain our way of life for a whole year. As Paul Polman, ex CEO of Unilever and author of Net Positive, puts it: “every day after Earth Overshoot Day (156 days in 2022) we are in planetary deficit, using up resources that won’t be regenerated. That’s 156 days that we are stealing from the planet and future generations”.

The situation is bleak and with governments all over the world acting slower than is needed. The context of our evening was set with a rallying call to the business community about what more can be done.

Collective Action Works

Step up our keynote speaker for the night who has a track record of taking action for the planet – Chris Hines, MBE. As co-founder of the Surfers Against Sewage movement in the 1990’s and more recently, Director of The Eden Project, Chris’s infectious enthusiasm and radical belief in protecting our natural world from human destruction opened hearts and minds from the moment he took to the stage.

Chris recounted the tragedy of ocean pollution 30 years ago, when beaches in his local area in Cornwall were filled with raw, untreated sewage and sanitary waste.

Surfers Against Sewage achieved notoriety and huge support as they took on the water companies and the government in an era where online petitions didn’t exist and direct action involved turning up to Westminster in a wetsuit and gas mask carrying a 20 foot inflatable turd to make their point.


Image source: www.sas.org.uk

The movement used the media to apply pressure on the perpetrators of the ocean sewage scandal and not only achieved success with UK Government legislation passed but even got a face to face meeting with the head of the European Parliament.

One thing is clear from the Surfers Against Sewage story…collective action can succeed against all the odds. Never doubt the power of a small group of determined people to change the world for the better.

And so, we can translate this story to the SME business community in Brighton and beyond. It takes strong will, perseverance and co-ordinated planning to achieve real impact.

We Have The Solutions

Chris’s final point was in stark contrast to how the climate crisis is often portrayed in the media. “Don’t be fooled…we have all the solutions we need to tackle climate change and WE WILL WIN. It just takes enough people to stand up and act. And that means everyone here…from today.”

With hearts beating hard at the prospect of playing a part in solving the biggest challenge of our times, our expert panel took to the stage to provide insights and knowledge to our audience about how they, as individuals and businesses, can take action straight away.

Panelists:

A fascinating 45min discussion covered key areas of carbon measurement and reduction, going beyond net zero, recognising the climate challenge is more than just carbon emissions and fighting for climate justice on behalf of those who have done the least damage but are on the front line of the impact of climate change in the global south.

Zoë Osmond shared information about a new service for SMEs called Net Zero 360 which offers free online workshops, a free carbon calculator tool and access to funding and expertise from Brighton University to provide innovation and R&D support.

There is also a local grant scheme in Sussex and Kent that match-funds up to £10,000 towards eco initiatives like installing solar panels and retrofitting office buildings to lower carbon emissions.

Ben Knight shared the progress GoCardless have made in the transition to net zero including carbon measurement and company policies to support low carbon solutions. These included employees being given “smart plugs” to reduce energy consumption from home working and a new business travel policy to reduce air travel.

He shared the TechZero free net zero toolkit which he has helped produce and invited our audience to sign up to the TechZero pledge. His passion is to “open source sustainability” and is focused on collaboration and acceleration of business action.

James Manktelow provided an investor’s perspective and shared how increasingly the investor community are moving away from fossil fuel and carbon intensive businesses and fuelling the green transformation that supports the transition to a low carbon economy.

His syndicate seeks out pioneering tech businesses that have strong, climate positive IP and a resilient business model to scale.

One Piece of Advice

Our evening ended with each speaker providing a single piece of advice for the businesses in the room. The themes that came shining out were:

  1. Do something now… however small – just get started

  2. Work with others. No-one is an expert at climate action and collaboration is key

  3. We have the solutions to solve this problem. Take a positive approach

  4. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Doing something is better than doing nothing

The conversation ended where we began with Chris Hines delivering the last rallying call:

“Imagine you are waiting on your surfboard to catch the best wave of the day and you see it coming… paddle like your life depends on it and make sure you catch it – if you don’t you could miss the ride of your life and get left behind. Our future depends on it.”


Missed our Race to Net Zero event or want to watch the talks again? Check out Chris Hines’ keynote and the panel discussion on our YouTube channel.