Homes with no energy bills and Patagonia and Oatly’s green policy push: The sustainability success stories of the week

Published every week, this series charts how businesses and sustainability professionals are working to achieve their ‘Mission Possible’ across the campaign’s five key pillars – energy, resources, infrastructure, mobility and sustainability leadership.

Across the UK and across the world, leading businesses, cities, states and regions are turning environmental ambitions into action. Here, we round up five positive sustainability stories from this week.

ENERGY: Scotland pilots new funding for community renewables

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Image: Local Energy Scotland

This story is technically from last week, but we couldn’t miss the chance to include it. The Scottish Government is piloting a new means of distributing grant funding for community renewable energy projects through a £1.5m fund.

The Community Energy Generation Growth Fund will run until March 2025 and support projects that are already in their development and/or construction phases, or which will be by the end of next February. All kinds of renewable energy generation will be eligible for funding.

Outcomes from the fund will be used to shape Scotland’s future strategy for allocating Community and Renewable Energy Scheme funding. To date, this Scheme has awarded more than £65m to 900 projects, taking in low-carbon heat technologies as well as renewable generation.

“Scotland is fast becoming a renewable energy powerhouse, with enormous benefits for our people, economy and environment,” said the national Government’s Net-Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan. “Scotland’s communities must be at the heart of this journey. I am determined to ensure they can lead and benefit from this era-defining transition.”

RESOURCES: Morrisons rolls out in-store coffee pod recycling points

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Around four in ten British homes now own a coffee machine, and machines which use pods dominate the market. This has presented a waste management challenge, as the pods – typically aluminium, plastic or a mix of the two materials –  are not accepted in household recycling by most councils.

Cross-industry recycling scheme Podback was launched in 2021 with the initial backing of Nestle and Jacobs Douwe Egberts. This week, Morrisons unveiled plans to add in-store recycling collection points for Podback to more than 350 of its stores.

Customers will be able to pick up free bags from Morrisons customer service desks, fill them with used pods at home, and bring them back to the store. The supermarket trialed this approach between last July and this spring in 29 stores, collecting some 2.8 million pods.

Podback’s executive director Rick Hindley said: “We are delighted to be working with Morrisons to make Podback available across its national store network. The in-store drop-off trial proved an immediate success with recyclers, and the volume of pods collected through the trial has continued to grow month-on-month.”

MOBILITY: Diesel train goes electric in pioneering retrofit

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Image: TransPennine Express

The UK is aiming for rail networks to achieve net-zero operational emissions by 2040. Transitioning to electric systems will play a key role in achieving this goal, but progress to date has proven slow.

Some good news in this space comes from Hitachi Rail, which has worked with operator TransPennine Express and rolling stock firm Angel Trains to retrofit a diesel intercity train with next-generation battery technology.

The battery unit has been developed by British firm Turntide Technologies. It is no heavier than the diesel engine it replaces and could reduce running costs relating to fuel by 30% for the five-carriage train. The train will be able to run up to 100km in battery mode before recharging.

Trials of the battery will begin across TransPennine routes this summer. Project staff will observe how intercity trains can be electrified without the need for overhead wires, and how they can operate at non-electrified stations.

A press statement from Hitachi Rail stated: “This type of private sector investment in leading-edge technology is critical to the success of UK rail. The trial, and the industrial opportunity presented by battery trains, means rail can help grow the domestic battery sector.”

THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT: Thakeham touts ‘zero bills’ for dozens of new Sussex homes

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Regulator Ofgem this week confirmed a new Energy Price Cap, meaning that the average home in the UK can expect to pay 7% less for their annual bills from July. But some believe the energy price crisis is still far from over and are foreseeing steep rises in the cap this upcoming autumn/winter.

It is timely, then, that housebuilder Thakeham has teamed with energy retailer Octopus to guarantee residents at 48 of its new homes, in Burgess Hill, Sussex, zero energy bills for at least five years.

The homes have been built to maximize energy efficiency and also have heat recovery systems to recapture heat from wastewater. They also benefit from onsite solar and batteries, plus electrified heating.

Octopus Energy is aiming to deliver 50,000 ‘zero bills’ homes by 2025.

The business’s director for the Zero Bills Homes projects, Michael Cottrell, said: Bill-free living is the future for homes everywhere – reducing households’ impact on the grid and on the environment too. The tech may be state-of-the-art but the premise is simple: greener is cheaper, and together with Thakeham we’re making it a reality.”

SUSTAINABILITY LEADERSHIP: Patagonia and Oatly campaign to shape green election in EU

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The UK has been rocked by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s shock general election announcement this week. Meanwhile, in the EU, most experts expect this summer’s election to hamper the delivery of the bloc’s flagship Green Deal.

Patagonia has this week joined forces with Oatly in a bid to increase voter turnout and give the next Parliament permission from the private sector to set robust green policies.

The firms will offer hundreds of employees time off work to vote and will provide staff with resources on how they can vote, and encourage their loved ones to do the same. They are encouraging other businesses to follow suit. This decision has been taken in light of a 51% voter turnout in 2019 and far lower turnout at previous elections.

Additionally, Patagonia and Oatly are engaging directly with policymakers to encourage strong environmental commitments to form a key part of the election agenda. Oatly is providing parliamentary candidates with a manifesto, for example.

“Depending on the outcome of these elections, we will be left with policies that either help us all, or silently sign the eviction notice for our children and grandchildren from our planet,” said Oatly’s chief executive Jean-Christophe Flatin.

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