In the Spotlight with Innovation Manager Katrina Appleyard

10 January 2024

Pulling together her experience working in business, alongside her interest in the effects of climate change, Katrina Appleyard, Innovation Manager at Innovation SuperNetwork works with businesses to help them understand sustainability and tackle the challenge of becoming Net Zero. We spoke to her about why it’s crucial for the future of business, and how businesses can access financial support to reach their aims.

‘If we don’t have a habitable planet, there will be no businesses to support’

Why is support for net zero innovation so crucial for the future of business?

The simple answer is if we don’t have a habitable planet, there will be no businesses to support. So, supporting innovation towards net zero is crucial. We don’t have all the answers, however, to create the solutions, we’re going to have to think differently, collaborate with people we don’t yet know, and look at large systemic change to be able to make sure we have a future on this planet.

I think innovation in the sustainability and net zero space is one of the most exciting places you can be right now. There is such a huge challenge, and it requires such interesting collaboration. On top of that, it’s an urgent place to be. We literally must make change. There is so much that every business can do to contribute to that change.

Why does the North East play such a critical role in pushing net zero innovation forward?

The North East has invested heavily in the energy transition (one of the largest global decarbonising challenges) and exploring ways to create change and find new solutions. We have the offshore wind industry, heat networks and using mining water for local heat production – renewable energy ideas are everywhere. There are so many innovative ideas being put into action here in the North East that are going to be instrumental in our ability to get to net zero.

‘To build a robust future regional economy, the net zero challenge should be evident in every single business, because it will affect them one way or another.’

What are the biggest issues facing businesses looking to access net zero innovation?

There is a gap in investment designated for improving the operational aspects of running a business and making it carbon positive. Better design, more sustainable raw materials, having your own power systems or solar panels, more efficient processes, circular economy thinking. This is where there is a lack of finance and a need for investment to practically help organisations innovate and answer this challenge.

Very big organisations are taking action towards net zero proactively, however are also being forced to pay attention through consumer demand and new reporting regulations.  To ensure they meet their own ESG (Environment, Social and Governance reporting) targets, they need to include their suppliers and are doing so through more stringent procurement processes.  With a recognition that many organisations will only move towards more sustainable practices if it benefits or penalises them monetarily, purchasing decisions which include weighting for environmental and social impact are making a difference.

The process of understanding your environmental and social impact, and what your plans are for net zero can be difficult for smaller businesses being hit by this requirement. If they’re proactive about it, then they’re already a step ahead of what’s coming down the line, but this takes a little commitment to get ahead of the curve. So, to build a robust future regional economy, the net zero challenge should be evident in every single business, because it will affect them one way or another.

What advice would you give to businesses looking to unlock net zero innovation?

A lot of people feel like net zero is too big a problem to tackle. But there are some practical things businesses can do to start getting their head around what it looks like for them.

With environmental impact, the first step is to reduce unnecessary consumption. This can be water, utilities, waste and your carbon footprint.  When people get into operational efficiency, they find they use less, or they buy a better, or they just do it differently to be operationally more efficient, and this in turn often saves the business money.  After that, start looking at transforming your products and services to face the net zero challenge. The you can pitch for investment so you can pivot your business, towards surviving in the net zero world.

Social impact is also key in achieving Net Zero.  If people are not paid well and treated well, immediate survival needs will come before their ability to make choices for the planet.  Every business impacts the lives of its people and community.  Start with looking at how you treat the people that work for you, how you engage with your supply chain and the ways you are involved in your community. Consider how this can support a sustainable future.

How can access to support help businesses begin their journey towards net zero?

Businesses can practically access help through innovation support. This allows you to learn more about the challenges your organisation might be facing in a Net Zero world and how you can start taking steps to ensure your own future sustainability.  There are lot of opportunities to access funding and support however you need to be scanning the horizon to understand where you fit into that landscape. The bigger organisations have more pressure to push down through their procurement and their supply chain, so smaller businesses need to be actively working to access development opportunities to respond to this. Organisations who understand and are taking responsibility for their environmental and social impact are also more attractive to investors. Innovation SuperNetwork’s  Access to Finance programme can help develop your organisations’ investor readiness.

If you want support to understand your environmental and social impact better, that’s something that Innovation Supernetwork can support you with, whether it be strategy or explicit frameworks like B Corp. It’s all about building a sustainable future and having a fair and just society that allows us to make this transition.

Learn more about the support we can provide across the Energy & Net Zero sectors here: https://supernetwork.org.uk/sectors/energy/

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