What is Clean Growth UK and why was it set up?

Zoe Osmond, Director, Clean Growth UK

We originally set up Green Growth Platform back in 2014, with the aim of supporting companies to innovate and develop the products and services we need to deliver a net zero, sustainable economy, by linking up businesses with academic experts at the University of Brighton.

Our innovation support focuses on clean growth and low carbon solutions. We saw the opportunity to work with similar university-business innovation networks and launched Clean Growth UK with hubs at the Universities of Brighton, Portsmouth and Liverpool John Moores.

We’re a membership network and now have over 2,000 members. As well as helping businesses to innovate, we offer a range of commercialisation support services helping businesses to take their products to market through specialist workshops and 121 coaching, and a lot of support around access to funding. We also deliver the LoCASE (Low Carbon Across the South and East) grant programme to SMEs in C2C and East Sussex areas, which provides up to £10k grants for energy efficiency and for innovation/growth for green focused SMEs.

We are also currently developing a new carbon accounting support service for SMEs (watch this space for launch date) which will involve an app and support via workshops, student projects and a peer-to-peer forum.

What kind of businesses do you support?

We mostly support SMEs, but our membership pretty much mirrors the economy with different sized businesses. As a university we have a 100 per cent success rate in securing Knowledge Transfer Partnership funding for businesses from Innovate UK.

KTPs are suitable for established businesses wishing to undertake a strategic project leading to growth in sales, profitability or a step change in productivity where additional knowledge is needed. For start-ups with a new idea, there are various funding pots available to support innovation.

How much has demand for your support changed? Are you seeing a big increase in membership?

Absolutely. We used to offer business workshops focused on sustainability and often struggled to fill the sessions, so we decided to focus on our core innovation offer where we have always experienced steady demand.

We’re now experiencing much more demand for support around net zero / sustainability for SMEs, both from SMEs themselves and also from other business support organisations and local authorities.

What are the main challenges for businesses in reducing their environmental impact?

There are three main issues: a lack of knowledge, lack of money and lack of time. How do businesses know what their carbon footprint is, as a starting point? There are already so many pressures, especially with Covid and Brexit. Thinking about the environment has been further down the list of priorities historically, but it’s moving further up the agenda now – we get the feeling that awareness is really growing. It’s really about practicalities.

What are your hopes for COP26?

My hopes are that they set in place the international rule book to govern the Paris Agreement. We need to see that countries are turning up with ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in line with 1.5 degrees.

We need some really big agreements on phasing out fossil fuels including coal and properly financing developing countries’ carbon reduction. We’re still financing fossil fuels and building coal fired power stations.

I think it’s also about that clear message to the world that this needs to happen very quicky and at huge scale. There’s a lot riding on this CoP – it’s really our last chance to get on the right track to tackling the climate crisis. We know that the human / planetary impact is going to be really severe if we delay further. It also doesn’t make any business sense. The cost of runaway climate change will be much greater than the costs for reaching net zero.

What opportunities are there for green jobs in coastal West Sussex?

One of the major things we have to tackle is our buildings which are the worst in Europe in terms of energy efficiency. That’s a huge opportunity – we need to invest in that sector quickly and at scale. Even if you just take one sector like that there’s a huge amount of potential in terms of creating jobs.

What we need is government policy. We had the Green Deal which failed and the 2020 Green Homes Grant was pulled. Businesses need long term policy and financial certainty. It needs huge government backing – whether that’s from zero interest loans, VAT exemptions or grants – but whatever it is it needs to work in the long term. 

Zoe is speaking at our ‘Race to Net Zero’ event on 22 October 2021. Click here for more information and to register.