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29 July 2013

Investing in Sustainable Businesses

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), joint financer of The North West Fund, supports many projects within the North West of England. Below, Mark Joslyn, Sustainability Manager at ERDF looks at some significant environmental projects backed by the ERDF and flags up the wider issues facing businesses as they strive for resource efficiency...


Artist impression: The National Graphene Institute in Manchester

It's only been a few years since the 'Green Economy' moved from a being a fringe sector driven more by ethics, supporting niche products and services. The green or low carbon economy has been transformed into one of the fastest growing markets, with the UK generating £122 billion of a global market worth £3.3 trillion. For long term economic growth it's widely accepted that there is a need to decarbonise the economy, which brings with it the need and also the opportunity for business to innovate in relation to products, materials and processes. Research and Development will be key to achieving this end and the increasing links being forged between business and the Higher Education Sector are essential to support and drive this agenda forward.

The National Graphene Institute in Manchester, which has received £23 million of European Regional Development Fund support clearly demonstrates this link. The institute being developed by the University of Manchester aims to work with North West businesses to develop an understanding of how the properties of graphene can be applied commercially. While the properties of graphene are broadly understood, its commercial application has huge potential to revolutionise manufacturing and investing now ensures innovation benefits the North West and widerUK.

While graphene at some point in the future may revolutionise large swathes of the manufacturing sector, driving change and innovation to create new market opportunities is essential now. The Centre for Global Innovation delivered by Lancaster University has been developed to support businesses who want to develop new products, processes or services. In many instances the need to innovate and change is a requirement not a luxury.

The renewable sector has seen considerable growth in the last few years from large scale wind generation through to increased use of photo voltaics on domestic roofs through the feed in tariff.  While many of these technologies have been imported, Salford Energy Hub based at Salford University provides a unique research environment. By constructing a Victorian terrace within the Hub, the University allows developers and manufactures to independently test products in a controlled environment, replicating all types of weather. This link with Universities offers greater opportunities for business to develop closer research and development, providing the resources which may be out of the reach of many smaller businesses.

The implications of climate change and long term economic prosperity have shaped
the UK and wider European legislative and policy agenda's to drive down CO2e emissions.  Businesses will have to adapt and change how they operate if they are to meet the challenges of increasing energy, material and waste disposal costs.  ENWORKS, one of the business support projects supported by ERDF, has been working with businesses in the North West for over a decade, identifying resource efficiency opportunities and providing direct savings to businesses. Opportunities also arise from changes to processes, material substitution or behavioral change of employees and it often takes an outside organisation such as ENWORKS to identify these small but significant changes that can generate efficiency savings. It can often be seen as counter intuitive to invest in efficiency savings during a recession when all we want to do is tighten our belts, however the savings that can be generated can far out way any investment and put a business on a better footing when the markets begin to grow.

Other developments supported by ERDF such as Armstrong Point in Wigan have taken the low carbon agenda forward within the construction sector, with the highest ever BREEAM rated building to be constructed. Creating such buildings has to be the future model. Reducing the energy demands for occupants and increasing competitiveness, while also supporting businesses that design, manufacture and install technologies within the North West & across the UK.

Climate change provides one of the biggest threats we have faced, but with threats come opportunities. Business as usual is not an option as resources increasingly become scarce, there is a need to work smarter and achieve more for less. The UK has long been seen as a world class innovator and the North West has played a key part in this. An increasing number of new and lucrative markets provide the opportunity to ensure North West businesses remain competitive and can lead the way to adapt our economy and way of life to the predicted challenges climate change will bring.

Mark Joslyn, Sustainability Manager at ERDF 

The European Regional Development Fund in England is managed by the Department for Communities and Local Government - for further information please visit https://www.gov.uk/erdf-programmes-and-resources'


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