RBS Innovation Gateway: Turning green ideas into a resource-efficient reality

Almost a year on from the launch of the RBS Innovation Gateway, the bank's head of customer innovation Marcela Navarro reveals which projects have been successful so far and explains how her initiative is helping to accelerate new products to market, drive resource efficiency and, ultimately, save money.

Like every major company, RBS is aware of how important it is to reduce the amount of energy and water it uses and how much waste it produces through its operations. That’s fundamental for any triple bottom line of people, profit and planet.

But there are limits to what RBS can achieve around resource efficiency using today’s technology. The bank predicted that the products and services currently on the market would help it reach around 25% of its goals. So, back in late 2013 the big question facing RBS was ‘what do we do about the Next 75%?’

The bank’s answer to this question was the RBS Innovation Gateway. The initiative, developed and led by Marcela Navarro, Head of Customer Innovation at RBS, works on two levels; helping the bank move towards re-shaping its estate of 2,500 branches and buildings in the UK for the modern world, and accelerating innovation and access to markets for the next generation of brilliant innovators and SMEs working in the resource efficiency space today.

Technology test bed

I created the Gateway to help RBS find new ideas of saving more energy, water and waste across its estate. That is fundamental. But the Gateway’s purpose goes beyond delivering cost savings and environmental benefits. The Gateway delivers social value too, by including the start-ups and SMEs who find it difficult to get the chance to test their ideas and do business with large corporates. This social inclusion, and the learning we can acquire through real partnerships and collaboration, is a major part of how we will continue to drive resource efficiency.

The Gateway is open to ideas at all stages; from concepts and garage-tested ideas to market-ready products and services. To identify and nurture these innovations, RBS is turning its estate into a test bed, so new technologies can be installed, real data can be obtained and long term, positive changes can be made to the bank’s buildings based on great performance.

The Gateway was launched in March last year to an audience of 200 innovators, SMEs, corporates and academics at 280 Bishopsgate; a 13 storey, steel and glass office block in the City that represents many of the environmental and economic challenges the Gateway set out to tackle; from heating and lighting to cooling and waste.

People from all quarters loved the Gateway, from its ambition to reduce energy, water and waste to the opportunity it gave to innovators and SMEs to test their ideas with a large corporate like RBS.

The Gateway offers:

– Testing in RBS with the potential to roll out their innovation to more buildings
– £3,000 grant for winning concepts and paper-based ideas
– Expertise to help accelerate their innovation to market
– Practical support and insights from the RBS Innovation Panel
– Access to the RBS Property Team and online events
– Connecting and collaborating with other leading innovators.

Within 40 days of the launch, RBS had received 141 submissions from innovators all around the world; from Perth in Scotland to Perth in Western Australia. Each submission was assessed by an independent panel of subject-matter experts, including Cambridge University and Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation.

The shortlisted finalists had to appear in front of a panel of judges – thought-leaders ranging from John Elkington to Maggie Philbin – who selected the Gateway’s first wave of successful innovators, who are now about to be tested on the RBS estate. The first set of results will be available next month.

So far, 24 innovations have been selected for testing by RBS and its corporate partners; Carillion and BaxterStorey. These include money-saving heating and lighting solutions, an energy saving solution to power down PCs when they are not in use, ceiling tiles that absorb, store and release excess heat, magnetic secondary glazing that improves draughty windows and a toilet that saves water – from 1.5 to 9 litres per flush.

Successful market-ready innovations:

– Alquist
– Raise Energy Solutions
– Sunamp
– Senselogix
– Chalmor
– Propelair
– Datum Phase Change
– Certero
– Glaze

All have all been given the opportunity to test their products in RBS properties.

Successful concepts:

– City Farm Systems
– The Solar Cloth Company
– Limetools
– Reduse
– Rype Office
– Powervault

All received a £3,000 grant and additional support from RBS to help move their concept to a garage tested or market ready product.

on with the Gateway story is the innovators who have recently been selected by RBS’ corporate partners to test their ideas on their estates too – as part of the Gateway’s expansion into more and more corporate estates.

Carillion, BaxterStorey and Cambridge University (Engineering Dept) are trialling innovations from:

– Polysolar
– SEaB Energy
– Voyage Control
– bio-bean
– Asset Mapping
– Breathing Buildings
– SkyRad
– EnergyDeck
– Teropta
– Greenrunning

So what makes all of these projects so ‘sustainable’? I think it’s important to go back to the original meaning of sustainability. To be truly sustainable means being relevant to your people and your community, to your business and your market, and above all your customer – in the long term, and on every level. If we move away from sustainability meaning ‘green’ or CSR, a much more powerful definition of sustainability can re-emerge; long term relevance.

New opportunities

The more we embrace the concept of long-term relevance, the more we can embrace the role that key drivers such as diversity and innovation can play in sustainability. Business and society are stronger if they are open to ‘difference’ and ‘new’. By redefining sustainability as long-term relevance, we open the door to asking the right questions at the right time about the true value of what we are doing – as a business, a bank, a Government, a local authority, a community or right down to individual level. The RBS Innovation Gateway is all about long-term relevance – the relationships we are building with SMEs, communities and customers, the products and services we are testing and taking to market and the long term savings we are making around energy, water and waste.

RBS knows that most innovators and SMEs struggle to establish a profile and a place in the market, despite their James Dyson-like potential. The Gateway is setting out to change this and open the doors to more partnerships between SMEs and large companies. And through the community that has developed around the Gateway – including corporate partners such as Carillion and BaxterStorey – these partnerships are already creating new opportunities for creating and driving value, by combining the ideas and innovations going through the Gateway.

BaxterStorey is an entrepreneurial, privately-owned hospitality provider. The company provides catering services in workplaces across a broad range of businesses and industries, from leading international FTSE companies – including RBS – to fashion houses, media centres and sports and leisure organisations.

BaxterStorey has selected a range of ideas and processes from the Gateway to trial across its business. One example combines Bio-bean with Voyage Control. Bio-bean turns coffee into bio fuel. Voyage Control optimise freight deliveries.

Used coffee grounds are collected for recycling from BaxterStorey and Benugo restaurant locations. Co-ordinated by Voyage Control, Zenith, a supplier to BaxterStorey, ‘back haul’ the used coffee grounds to their depots when returning from a normal delivery to site.

Bio-bean then collects the coffee grounds and convert this into biomass pellets (for CHP renewable energy) and biodiesel, to be used by Zenith to run their fleet to collect more coffee grounds. Through this collaboration, over 200 tonnes of coffee grounds will be diverted from landfill or other recycling across the BaxterStorey estate- saving over 700 tonnes CO2e, equivalent to taking 187 cars off the road for a year.

Positive impact…

On every level, the RBS Innovation Gateway has exceeded all expectations – from the quality of the concepts, to the spirit within the Gateway community, to the positive headlines in the national and local press. More recently we’ve seen the Gateway’s exciting expansion into more and more corporate partners, with Carillion and BaxterStorey testing Gateway innovations on their properties too. It’s brilliant, and I’m so proud of what we are doing and what we have created.”

It is less than a year since we launched the Gateway concept but already we are seeing installations taking place and real results and savings being delivered through the Gateway – helping RBS and its corporate partners to save energy, water, waste and money. And the Gateway’s positive impact goes beyond savings. At the same time, we have created access to markets for the innovators and SMEs involved; accelerating innovation across the UK.

Marcela Navarro is head of customer innovation for RBS.

Innovation Zone at Sustainability Live 2015

For the first time, edie will be hosting an Innovation Zone at Sustainability Live 2015 to showcase the best emerging, pre-commercialised sustainability solutions. 

We are looking for emerging products, technologies and solutions in the energy, waste, water and cleantech space which are yet to be commercialised but have reached trial or prototype stage. 

Find out more about the new Innovation Zone here and register to attend Sustainability Live 2015 for free here.

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