Planting the CEED

Charged with driving economic growth of our businesses, UKCEED's Director, Jonathan Selwyn, tells Tom Idle why the environment should be at the heart of the process

Back in 1984, in a bid to encourage UK business to entertain the notion of more sustainable practices, a charitable trust called the UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development (UKCEED) was established.

At around the same time, an economics graduate called Jonathan Selwyn was running his own business importing classic cars into Japan. However, he had a growing interest in how the environment could be worked into economic theory, an interest which ultimately led him to obtain a Masters in Environmental Economics and join the organisation that was closest to his model of thought.

Now, more than 20 years later, as the focus on Britain’s environmental agenda continues to grow, Selwyn is Executive Director of UKCEED – and it’s busier than ever.

Tom Idle: Why is UKCEED so important?

Jonathan Selwyn: I think there is a need for independent and objective research, as well as policy, advice and guidance. We’re very much committed to environmental improvement but we think environmental improvement needs to go hand-in-hand with economic development.

So, what does UKCEED have to offer companies looking to improve their environmental performance?

We’re an evidence-based organisation – not led by philosophy but by the evidence we gain. Today, we are getting increasingly involved in technology demonstrations. The time for talking is over – we want to see what technology can actually deliver.

What do you mean by that?

Well, we have a £250,000 photovoltaic [PV] project, where we worked with a social housing company to fit 14 houses with PV integrated into their roofs. We’ve been monitoring the benefits of that kind of technology.

Is PV technology something that will actually take off?

There’s a lot of interest from social housing providers, but in the private sector it’s slightly more hit-and-miss.

Why do businesses have trouble seeing that environmental responsibility can lead to economic growth and stability?

It was oversold in the late 1980s. A lot of companies did the simple things which saved money, and they found it difficult to move on to the next level to realise long-term savings.

So what is the main focus of UKCEED?

We have four main areas of focus. First area is Environmental Enterprise, which is all about encouraging the companies that are developing goods and services with environmental value to realise their growth.

There is the second business unit, Low Carbon. Then, we’ve got a couple of large projects in our Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Communities unit, focusing on recycling. This looks at construction and demolition wastes and the chance to segregate and capture the value from the raw materials.

And the fourth area?

Sustain IT – basically, using technologies to reduce the need to travel; teleconferencing, for example.

What’s your biggest stumbling block in talking to businesses?

The type of people we get involved with are CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] managers, directors or people in environmental management. They are often marginalised.

You can sometimes ring up these companies, asking to speak to their CSR director, and the people on the switchboard have never heard of CSR.

What’s the biggest green issue facing UK business today?

The biggest impact is going to come from climate change, but there’s a whole raft of directives coming onto the statute books that will hit different companies in different ways.

Like what?

The Energy Performance in Buildings Directive, coming into force next January. People are just not aware of it.

Why do you think that is?

Business is being hit by a lot of different directives and the government keeps a fairly low profile with regard to some of these, almost until after they need to be implemented.

But shouldn’t businesses be aware of legislation and take responsibility for preparing for it themselves?

It usually falls on the plate of the Environmental Health & Safety, or Environment Manager – and they’ve got a hundred and one things to deal with.

Have you any advice for our readers?

Look at what others are doing and be inspired. Don’t think it’s too difficult, too complicated, too costly, because quite often you can do quite a lot with very little cost. n

For more information visit

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie