B4E summit brings to life big business needs and how competition-led innovation could be the answer

In May I was fortunate enough to be asked to attend and present at the Business 4 Environment (B4E) Summit in London. The event was organised by The Climate Group and B4E and was titled ‚¬Å"Net Zero, Climate Positive‚¬.


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The purpose of the forum was to discuss the challenges and opportunities around business strategies that either strive for zero environmental impacts or aim for ‘net positive’ results; where companies actively generate benefits for society and the planet.

Attendees included senior members of government and industry, including such companies as Kingfisher, Renault Nissan, Rio Tinto and Adidas, amongst others.

I was asked to attend as the 2011 winner of the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge (www.greenchallenge.info), the world’s most valuable Clean Technology competition and was part of a panel discussion on the use of competitions to promote disruptive innovations that positively impact on Global Climate Change.

There were 2 main conclusions that I took away from the conference:

  1. That climate change itself is approaching a ‘tipping point’. That if more and better action is not taken soon, the wild variations in extreme weather that we have seen in the last few years will get both more frequent and more extreme.
  2. That industry and government policy itself is also approaching a tipping point in tackling these issues. It’s been said that ‘the answer you get depends on the questions that you ask’ and what I took away from the conference is that there is a huge breadth of people who are now asking many important questions about the environmental impact of everyday things. Mostly, right now, they don’t have the answers but the key issue is that they are asking and, once they have the answers, they have the will and the authority to act.

That’s a very general statement, but it’s easy to illustrate with a simple example that is very relevant to me.

My company is called CINTEP and we make the most efficient shower systems in the world. Showers are the largest use of drinking water in a house and the second largest use of energy after space heating and cooling. Our showers cut both water and energy consumption by 70% but without reducing flow rate at the showerhead. We cut the environmental impact and the cost of showering by 70% without reducing the enjoyment.

We are definitely an answer to someone’s question – but the key issue for us is “whose question?”  At the B4E summit, I found out. Twice.

On the first day of the summit, Peter White, the ex-head of sustainability for Proctor & Gamble stated that P&G had performed a whole of life analysis of their shampoo and soap products and realised that their biggest environmental impact was not in their manufacture, but in their use. In his words “our products are used in the shower, every day, by millions of people. That uses lots of hot water and that means lots of water consumption and lots of energy consumption. We need to find a way to reduce that impact, we know we need to, but we don’t as yet know how”.

On the second day of the summit I heard exactly the same statement made by Richard Ellis, head of CSR for Alliance Boots plc.

So, P&G and Alliance Boots were asking a question, to which we had the answer. As a result of that summit we will now look for ways to work with them to help them solve that problem. The key issue, for me, is that they had identified that their biggest environmental impact is water and energy consumption from showering.

This also illustrated my largest recommendation made during the panel discussion on how best to improve the outcomes of competition-based innovation, which was to encourage large established companies to take part in these competitions to help look for entries that solve their problems.

Ideas are great, but they are only a starting point, until they are actually widely used as solutions their impact is theoretical only. So, entrepreneurs, enter the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge and large established companies with unanswered questions to sustainability problems, take part, encourage, mentor and then buy the products and services that come out of these competitions. Especially our recycling shower systems, but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Many thanks to The Climate Group, the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, The Dutch Postcode Lottery and the B4E Summit for the opportunity to take part.

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