16 New Year’s resolutions for the green economy in 2016 – Part one

If we can carry the positive momentum of Paris into the New Year and achieve just a few of the resolutions set out in this list, then 2016 could be the green economy's best year yet.

If that Paris accord was anything to go by, 2016 is the year that the green industrial revolution will gather momentum; sustainable businesses will prosper and low-carbon infrastructure investment will boom. But will any of these promises be realised?

As we saw in our annual review of 2015, last year was, in itself, a sustainability success story. It began with record-breaking renewables figures for the UK and surges in clean energy investment; and went on to see a huge array of pledgesinitiativescollaborations and innovations which together proved that the green industrial revolution really has entered the corporate mainstream.

No story would be complete without a happy ending, and the Paris climate conference gave us just that. The signing of the ambitious final deal to keep global warming well below 2C was a resounding victory for French diplomacy.

But the year wasn’t without its setbacks for green business: domestic energy and climate policy has reached a crisis point after a raft of green policies were scrapped before any credible replacements were put in place; and the UK remains off track to meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets.

So, where does all of this leave us? Is 2016 the year that fully ‘circular’ resource use is implemented? Will the public become more engaged with green issues? And will the UK Government provide more stable policies to drive low-carbon investment that is so urgently required? 

We’ve gazed into our crystal ball (and spoken to a few sustainability professionals and green groups) to find out…

2016: The green business wishlist (part one)

Read part two here

1) Put the ‘policy bonfire’ of 2015 in the rear-view mirror

”2016 is the year where the renewables industries needs to regather, regroup and rethink how the UK is going to continue to decarbonise our energy sector,” says the Renewable Energy Agency’s (REA) head of policy James Court.

“The industry has grown hugely in the past decade and is now a mature, mainstream sector. In the short term, many companies will struggle following the announcements last year, but renewables are the only part of the energy sector with a long term future, we will innovate and change and we have to start putting the business, policy and technological foundations for 2020 and beyond in place this year.”

Court says a key moment of the year will be forthcoming changes to low-carbon heat subsidies.

“The confirmation of the RHI budget was very positive, but the detail of the RHI will be key, as will the new DECC heat strategy sometime this year,” he says.

2) Ramp up smart technology investment

A report released in November last year by Swedish firm Ericsson claimed that the spread of mobile devices and uptake of smart technology could help reduce global GHG emissions by up to 15% by 2030.

Finding the next generation of green technology therefore is one of the policy priorities for 2016, according to Susanne Baker, head of the environment and compliance programme at TechUK – a lobby group representing the tech sector.

She told edie: “Currently in the UK, there is little in the way of discussion and analysis of how technology can deliver and enable concrete reductions, so we hope to fill this gap and stimulate discussion over the year.”

An example of the benefits the UK could see comes from Vodafone, which claims its ability to connect devices and share information through the Internet of Things (IoT) has saved its customers more than 3.5m tonnes of CO2e.

3) Catapult sustainability into the consumer mainstream

Although 2015 was largely a success for the low-carbon economy, that success was largely ‘technocratic’ according to Marks and Spencer’s head of sustainable business Mike Barry.

Barry says that progress was driven by a ‘few tens of thousands’ of campaigners, politicians and business leaders making decisions on behalf of billions of citizens globally.

“This cannot continue,” he says. “Europe’s migration agonies show how decisions, however logical they seem in the negotiation room, are doomed to fail unless there is true democratic mandate for change.

“We need to learn from this and re-double our efforts to engage citizens in why we need to change; give them confidence that change is possible; and inspire them that it will lead to better lives for them personally, not just some abstract concept called the planet.”

Barry says that cities, sports teams, religions, universities and brands all have a role to play in entrenching sustainability firmly into the mainstream consciousness.

4) Capitalise on COP21!

Every single day of the Paris talks was headlined by a major commitment that could have a profound impact on green investment and business prospects. But will these commmitments become actions? And will businesses listen? 

Hugh Jones, managing director, advisory at the Carbon Trust, believes COP21 presents “huge opportunities” for green business in 2016. “The agreements forged in Paris will, if realised, provide a level of confidence to businesses and investors that will drive investment towards low-carbon technologies, potentially unlocking trillions in capital for clean energy,” says Jones. 

“They will also help create larger markets for low carbon technologies and services, which will be a vital source of future revenue and jobs. In contrast there will be risks for organisations which don’t change.” 

John Alker, campaign and policy director at the UK Green Building Council, adds: “The broadly positive outcome from COP21 is likely to have a major impact on the mood music around sustainability in 2016. It should give business far greater certainty that action on carbon globally has genuine momentum behind it. There is an increasingly strong business case for action – whether it’s around resilience and risk mitigation, staff retention and recruitment or value creation.”

Meanwhile, writing in a blog post of 2016 predictions this week, M&S’s Plan A team (Carmel McQuaid, Adam Elman and Mike Barry) believe we’ll need a “reality check” if we are to realise the positive momentum built in Paris.

“COP21 was the easy bit, the words on paper but the hard yards of action lie ahead,” says the M&S team. “Business needs to get organised quickly to start to systemically drive down its footprint at scale. The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) for a specific sector; RE100 for a specific issue (renewables); and WBCSD for technologies that span the economy all offer pointers to how to do this but we need to step on considerably to fulfil the potential of COP21.”

5) … And the circular economy package!

Amidst the furore of COP21 in December 2015, the European Commission launched its much-anticipated circular economy package, including weakened recycling targets, tools to halve food waste by 2030, and measures to promote reparability in the design phase of products.

Jacob Hayler, executive director of the Environmental Services Association (ESA), hopes that the UK Government and businesses will use the framework to spark a resource revolution.  

“2016 will now be the centre of much discussion for our sector as the European Parliament and Council negotiate the final form the package will take,” says Hayler. “ESA hopes that these discussions will result in legislative measures which place a greater emphasis on the demand for recycled materials.

“The waste and recycling industry has made great strides to get discarded products and packaging out of landfill but there has been too little thought about what happens to these materials once they have been recovered.” 

WRAP’s chair Julie Hill adds: “Whatever your opinions on whether in each instance [COP21 and the circular economy package] policy makers went far enough, there can be no doubt that there is political will and momentum as we head into 2016.”

6) Leave unsustainable competitors in the dust

In 2015, we saw signs that sustainable businesses were starting to set themselves apart from the market. Unilever revealed that its ‘Sustainable Living’ brands accounted for half its growth in 2014 and grew at twice the rate of the rest of the business.

Another report from the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute (IRRCi) claimed that revenues from sustainable products or services are growing up to six times faster than ‘normal’ equivalents.

This trend is only likely to increase in 2016, says Hugh Jones, the managing director of the Advisory division at the Carbon Trust.

He says: “Businesses which understand and report on the environmental impacts in their value chain will be more likely to thrive during the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy.

“They will gain a competitive advantage from early action, some very useful reputational benefits and an increased ability to flourish under future regulatory action on climate change. It will also position them to manage their risks from the physical impacts of climate change as these impacts are revealed, and to embrace the opportunities inherent within a transformed business environment.”

7) Get Britain building (renewable energy) again

In October last year, George Osborne announced the creation of a new independent body to fast-track the building of new energy and transport infrastructure across the UK, known as the National Infrastructure Commission.

Lobby group RenewableUK claims that this new body should make wind energy infrastructure its number one priority for 2016 and beyond.

A recent survey conducted by the Commission found that across Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat voters, renewable energy was considered the most important area for UK infrastructure investment.

RenewableUK’s deputy chief executive Maf Smith said: “People understand the importance of investing in renewable energy. That’s why they’ve told the National Infrastructure Commission to make this sector their number one priority. Wind deserves a place in our energy mix. Onshore wind is one of cheapest of all sources of electricity for consumers.”

8) Get Scotland’s politicians courting the green vote

Last year’s UK election and the Government it produced was likley not the ideal scenario dreamed up by many green businesses and Scottish firms will be hoping it’s not more of the same in 2016, as the Scottish Parliament elections will be held in early May.

Instead, WWF Scotland director Lang Banks hopes the election will see the major parties set out an ambitious green agenda.

“In 2015, Scotland missed yet another annual climate change target underlining the need to ensure we do much more address carbon emissions from other sectors including our homes, businesses and transport,” he says.

“In the run up to next May’s Holyrood election we’ll be particularly keen to see each of the political parties set out their plans for tackling climate change that will create jobs, improve health and reduce inequality.”

Read part two edie’s green business wishlist here

Luke Nicholls & Brad Allen

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