Sustainability Live 2015: 10 things we learned

The UK's leading exhibition for innovative energy and sustainability management is over for another year, but the legacy of the expert speakers, workshops and seminars lives on.

Over the three days, more than 130 speakers from board-level decision makers through to operational managers gave us their words of wisdom to help businesses deliver the transformational change needed to create a sustainable future.

We heard case studies from the likes of Sainsbury’s, Rolls Royce and Wyke Farms, along with topical discussions about key industry issues such as behaviour change, collaboration and the circular economy – all under the theme of ‘from risk to resilience’.

So, what did we learn from it all? How are businesses finding new ways of building resilience into their organisational models? And what are the benefits of doing so. Here are 10 things our editorial team discovered while reporting from the show…


1) Most business models are NOT fit for purpose

… if we are to deliver the transformational change needed to create a sustainable future. That was the general consensus in a particularly inspiring session at the new Sustainability Live Conference.  

The session, chaired by Forum for the Future’s David Bent, explored how innovative business models such as the circular economy and servitisation are driving positive change. 

“Doing things in a transformational manor and becoming more ‘sustainable’ means that you have to step out of your comfort zone, and encourage others to step out of theirs,” said Carlsberg’s Charlotta Lyon – one of the speakers during the session.


2) We must INNOVATE to accumulate

Opening the Conference, forecasting expert James Woudhuysen told delegates they should forget ‘resilience’ and instead innovate their way out of trouble. 

“Is resiliency – simply surviving – the best we can do? By prototyping and experimenting, we can turn unknown unknowns into quantifiable risks,” Woudhuysen said. 

“We need more money for R&D, not because doubling the budgets will double innovations, but because spending one pound in every thousand on innovation – as we do now – is a recipe for disaster.” 

edie had its own ‘Innovation Zone’ at the show, showcasing some of the best emerging, pre-commercialised sustainability solutions from across the country.


3) Behaviour change is key, but it’s not just about posters! 

Anyone looking for a great case study of how behaviour change can drive energy efficiency need look no further than Sainsbury’s

As head of sustainability Paul Crewe explained, the supermarket group – which now employs more than 160,000 members of staff across 1308 UK stores – has been able to cut energy use by 3% through a simple-but-effective colleague-engagement programme, in collaboration with Global Action Plan. 

The programme has been so successful it won the Environmental Leadership Award for Organisational Behavioural Change at the Environment & Energy Awards on Day 2 of the show (more about that in point 10 on this page!) 

But, as Crewe pointed out during his panel discussion: “Behaviour change is not just about putting posters up. We actually engage with every single colleague and we share things they can do both in the workplace and at home to help reduce energy use.

“This is about human beings doing the right things to reduce energy, so it is absolutely possible, but you’ve got to handle it in the right way.”


4) Monitoring and measuring can generate HUGE benefits

So many of the seminar sessions and panel discussions over the three days touched on how smarter systems can help you do business better – it was even one of our four ‘Topic Trails’ for visitors this year.

edie editor Luke Nicholls explained how building management systems are moving up the energy efficiency agenda in our exclusive energy management report, presented in the Energy Efficiency Theatre on Day 1.

Dexter Galvin from CDP shared a story about Walmart being shocked to find that refrigeration was its biggest source of emissions, rather than haulage and delivery as previously thought.

And Dr Naghman Kahn from Carbon Credentials gave some other excellent real-life examples of how monitoring energy consumption can impact the bottom line. 


5) NGO’s have incredible power to inspire change

Samsung’s European sustainability chief Bill Skeates shared some case studies from the corporate point of view about being the target of campaigns by international green groups. Samsung was itself targeted by Friends of the Earth (FoE) for its destructive sourcing of tin, and by Greenpeace for its use of APRIL pulp.

In both cases, Samsung ended up collaborating with the NGO and its supply chain to correct the issues, and is now identified as an industry leader by FoE.

We made a similar point in our ‘Five ways social media is changing CSR’ article earlier this month. Read more here.


6) We need the next government to be greener (but the next government needs us to lead!)

Numerous sessions at the show noted that 2015-2020 is a really crucial period and progressive businesses simply can’t act unilaterally. We need policy, stability, high levels of ambition, and policies designed to deliver competitive advantage where the UK is well-positioned.

Specific calls were made from an array of speakers for clarity around how we’re going to implement the third and fourth carbon budget and prompt acceptance of the fifth carbon budget; a strong voice in international negotiations; a convincing understanding of our supply chain risks to resource security; and active support for the skills and technologies to deliver the green products and services which are critical to our national wellbeing and prosperity.

But, as Aldersgate Group chairman Peter Young said on Day 1 of the show: “After the election, if progressive business in particular leads a society-wide demand to test government policy against sustainability criteria, I believe we have the opportunity to get any shade of government to act responsibly.” 

Watch this space.


7) Some of us are already reaping the benefits of going green

One of the big announcements of the show came when Sainsbury’s Paul Crewe explained how behaviour change, on-site generation and smarter systems have all helped the group reduce its absolute energy consumption by 17% since 2005, whilst growing the business by 46% over the same period.

And there were some other great case studies too. Representatives from the likes of Kingfisher, Rolls Royce, and University Hospital of South Manchester gave presentations about the significant energy and cost savings they have made from various efficiency improvements.


8) Solar power will power on, despite further subsidy cuts

A big news story that broke during the three days of the show came when the government announced it is reducing feed-in tariff payments for ground-mounted solar farms by another 28% this summer. 

Prices would continue to fall in the UK solar industry even if all subsidies were removed, a representative of the Renewable Energy Association (REA) told an audience at Sustainability Live this week.

But, according to the Renewable Energy Association’s senior advisor Ray Noble – “Nothing will stop solar now”. Prices will continue to fall in the UK solar industry even if all subsidies were removed, Noble told delegates at the Energy Efficiency Theatre on Day 2 of the show. 

“Even if a new Government came in and said we are going to stop all subsidies tomorrow, the solar industry would continue on. It’s a world industry and nothing will stop the prices coming down and therefore people will be using it.”


9) We’re shifting from competition to collaboration (but the two aren’t mutually exclusive!)

The 2015 buzzword of ‘collaboration’ came up in a variety of panel discussions throughout the course of the show. The context: the transition to a sustainable future can only be achieved if businesses are prepared to work together. 

Louise Armstrong honed in on the topic during her session on the final day at the Conference. She explained how businesses are beginning to create so-called ‘value networks’, leading to transformational changes and bringing sustainable products and services to market.


10) We all LOVE outstanding sustainability performances!

An industry-leading exhibition wouldn’t be complete without its own awards ceremony and in the Environment and Energy Awards we had just that! 

The Awards, held at the nearby National Motorcycle Museum, saw AkzoNobel, B&Q and Sainsbury’s revealed among the big winners; recognised for advancements in green technologies; excellence in energy and water management; and outstanding sustainability performances. 


Thanks to those of you that attended Sustainability Live this year, we you hope you found it as enjoyable and insightful as we did, and look forward to welcoming you back to ‘edie 2016’ next year! J

Luke Nicholls

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