Taking place earlier today (November 3) at the Hurlingham Club the conference provided a platform for organisations’ sustainability figureheads to exchange knowledge and views on how the UK is working towards a target of zero waste and zero carbon.

It also offered attendees a key networking opportunity to meet with other professionals leading their organisations’ sustainability initiatives.

Setting the tone for the conference, Lord Redesdale from the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association offered an overview of the current legislative landscape, including recent developments such as the Renewable Heat Incentive, Feed-in-Tariffs and the Waste Review.

He warned of the dangers of an energy gap unless the UK ramps up the development of renewables, including AD, which could provide 5-10% of Britain’s energy needs. Lord Redesdale called on all local authorities to segregate their food waste and pointed to Wales, which he said had proved it could be done cheaply.

The Liberal Democrat Peer went on to say that the UK would become a net importer of natural gas in the next 10 years and would face rising prices for energy due to competition over scarce supplies. Lord Redesdale looked at the introduction of the carbon reduction tax and said that pricing was the only way to deal with increasing demand for energy resources. He told delegates that he was setting up a Carbon Management Association.

Other speakers at the event included Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) director of policy and public affairs Michael Lunn, Aldersgate Group executive director Andrew Raingold, Sony head of environment affairs Europe Dr Thomas Fischer and Commercial Group environmental strategist Simon Graham, along with panel speakers in the afternoon Q & A sessions.

Following on from Lord Redesdale, Mr Lunn, didn’t pull any punches in his criticism of the government.

Mr Lunn, speaking of the opportunities and challenges for business in implementing a sustainability programme, told delegates that chancellor George Osborne “needs a plan B as his plan A is not working”.

He said: “We need a revolution in carbon thinking for sustainability, we need to see the current situation as a market opportunity.

“We as an industry need to be more innovative too and that means George Osborne needs to be more innovative in his thinking.”

A view shared by Andrew Raingold, who said that “the UK shouldn’t go slower than other countries”, in its sustainability agenda, adding that currently the UK is not winning the cleantech race but rather “China is way out front, followed by Germany”.

In his speech, Mr Raingold discussed whether the UK can lead the green race and provided an overview of the role of government and business leadership in driving economic growth and the competitive advantage of doing so.

However, he said as the result of policy uncertainty and changes in solar policy, “many investors may no longer see the UK as a certain investment”, which he warned could “stifle investment in other areas”.

He also discussed the UK green skills gap, saying that around 70,000 engineers are needed to work in the wind industry alone, which he said required dual funding to fill this gap, while “generic skills are also needed to drive cultural change”.

Meanwhile, in one of two best practice case studies, delegates heard from Sony’s European head of environmental affairs Dr Thomas Fischer, who outlined the company’s ‘Road to Zero’ initiative. The scheme goes beyond the conference theme of ‘Zero carbon, zero waste’, setting a target of a zero environmental footprint for Sony Europe by 2050.

Ambitious stage targets will see greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption reduced by 30%, waste generation halved and 99% of the remaining 50% recycled, all by 2015. And the initiative is already a success, as greenhouse gas emissions were cut by 88% between 2004 and 2010.

With specific reference to product development, corporate strategy and implementation and staff engagement, Dr Fischer left delegates with a clear map for where Sony is on the road to zero, and in no doubt it’ll get there.

On the SME front, Commercial Group’s environmental strategist Simon Graham talked about the company’s ten commitments around sustainability. He said it was important to unleash the potential to work with suppliers on innovation – “that for me is now where sustainability sits” he told delegates.

Since focusing on sustainability in 2006, the company has achieved some remarkable results including reducing its operational waste by 95% and its operational carbon by 75%.

Carys Matthews

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