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Co-cultivating climate coping capacities with businesses in the South West of England

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Lucy Hawkins explaining a sustainable drainage solution

University of Exeter

The Centre for Business and Climate Solutions (CBCS) assisted 208 businesses in the South West of England to mitigate against, adapt to and develop solutions for the impacts of climate change. Particular sectors were targeted, which were construction, environmental technologies, tourism, water and marine. The idea was to give the businesses access to the academic and practical expertise of the project partners to co-cultivate a business culture of responding to climate impacts by developing new or improving existing processes, services or products. The CBCS team was tasked with providing a ‘business assist’, which took the form of 12 hours of bespoke engagement time, based on the needs of the business. Projects ranged from implementing new water and energy monitoring systems to improve businesses’ environmental credentials, to developing and helping commercialise innovative energy generation and rainwater harvesting technologies. Of the 208 businesses assisted, 49 joined new networks, 31 realised new commercial opportunities, 25 launched new products or processes, 10 developed new products and a number of new jobs were created, all with a climate change impacts focus.

  • Project aims
    • The aim of the project was to co-create competitive advantage within South West businesses by cultivating a critical mass of climate aware businesses. This aim was achieved through the provision of CBCS services (access to world-leading research and knowledge exchange), raising awareness (using business networks to highlight business-relevant issues and opportunities), undertaking collaborations (in co-creating research and in developing processes, services and products) and networking extensively (to maintain and further awareness and collaboration).
  • Audience
    • The target audience was the business community working in the construction, environmental technologies, tourism, water and marine sectors within the South West. This was in particular the Western Peninsula, which consists of Devon, Plymouth, Torbay, West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland, Taunton Deane and West Somerset. The types of business that were assisted included renewable energy installers, energy assessors, hotels, equipment manufacturers, consultants, architects, construction companies and facility providers. The diversity was huge as climate impacts are relevant for most businesses. For example, those that use water and energy in their everyday practices might be interested in reducing their environmental impact by reducing consumption as well as their overheads.
  • How it started
    • The project started with recognition that the business community is often left out of research on climate impacts and actions. The University of Exeter and project partners then secured funding from the European Regional Development Fund, which enabled the team to get started on meeting with and gauging the needs of businesses. This was followed-up by providing relevant climate-focused services through the assists. First steps towards engaging businesses included attending national and regional business and innovation events to generate interest by talking to various enterprises. Through these activities a specific programme of provision was co-created for the businesses, with them and also with local Chambers of Commerce and channel organisations such as solicitors.
  • Partnerships
    • The Met Office, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, IBM and RegenSW were partners on the project. These were key to the delivery of the project due to the data and technical expertise they provided. The collaboration was established at the proposal writing stage, as it was recognised that these organisations have a strong interplay with climate and business in the South West region. Regular meetings, events and co-working to provide assistance to businesses ensured that the partnerships were (and are) maintained. Partnerships that went beyond the project were also formed with some of the businesses that were assisted. For example, some businesses wanted to participate further in research and development projects with the collaborators, which lead to the creation of an ongoing community of practice.
  • What did you do?
    • The co-created programme of provision delivered by the CBCS team consisted of bespoke workshops, reports and visits (or combinations of each) through which the businesses and the experts could exchange knowledge and ideas, discuss problems and identify solutions and work on turning challenges into opportunities. Public engagement methods used included:

      - Delivering workshops and presentations – topics included strategic carbon reduction, flooding risk and resilience, future-proofing buildings, sustainable water and drainage systems, exploring algal energy, environmental accreditation and developing R&D projects;

      - Writing reports for non-specialist audiences – covering topics including those above;

      - Holding panel discussions – at a range of CBCS and other organisation’s events;

      - Community-based learning (where students completed projects in collaboration with the businesses) – for example, a local tourism business wanted to assess the hydraulic and financial implications of relocating its water storage tank to be more efficient and the student wanted to develop their computer modelling skills;

      - Developing a community of practice focused on environmental technologies.

    • The last activity was particularly successful, as a range of businesses were interested in both developing and implementing environmental technologies or processes, but they recognised that such innovation may be ahead of service or cultural innovation, which can hinder their integration into society. Outputs from the activities included a revised and updated programme of workshops, a comprehensive understanding of the needs and aspirations of South West businesses and an increase in the competitive advantage of the businesses by enabling them to plan and mitigate for and adapt to climate change impacts (in very individualised ways).
  • Evaluation
    • As the programme was co-created with the businesses engaged in the project, reflection and revision were constant throughout providing ‘live’ evaluation as the project progressed. Additionally, feedback forms were circulated as part of the activities, which allowed careful, measured reflection and improvement. For example, one question asked the participating businesses about what they might do as a result of the business assist, in order to ensure the programmes being provided would add value for them. An independent evaluation was also undertaken by the ERDF, which included an evaluation of the actual and anticipated economic impact of the project based on interviews, document analysis and gross value added calculations. Reports were produced from the findings of all the evaluation activities and are available separately. In total 208 businesses were assisted (against a target of 200), though a total of 387 businesses were ‘touched’ by the CBCS (unfortunately some were not eligible for assistance under ERDF rules). It was identified that although there is a real willingness by businesses to engage with climate topics, often the resources they have available to implement interventions are restrictive of their ambitions. It was also identified that the businesses had begun to develop interventions and strategies through which to increase their competitive advantage by planning and mitigating for and adapting to climate change impacts.
  • Key lessons learnt
    • Key lessons learnt from the CBCS project include:

      ‘Client relations’ is key in the business world – presenting the project through business networks (rather than academic ones) enabled the team to talk with and learn from the business community directly;

      Talking to businesses in their language is vital – businesses are happy to collaborate if you’re able to translate what your knowledge means for them;

      Businesses want to take action on climate change impacts, but have limited resources and often don’t have the resources required to co-fund research proposals (for example, to research councils or InnovateUK);

      Continued collaboration is needed in order to further co-cultivate regional, national and international business coping capacities for climate change;

      Accurately quantifying the short and long-term economic impacts of 12 hours of assistance time is impossible and perhaps impractical! Focusing on the provision of a longer period of support to a smaller number of businesses may have improved this, which may have also improved the quality of the capacities built, but would have reduced the reach of the impact that was achieved.
  • Keys to making it work
    • To make a public engagement activity really successful, all parties need to believe in it and stick with it even when it gets tough. Taking a step back, talking, reflecting and reformulating are complex and time consuming tasks but they are essential and work really well for keeping things relevant. Don’t be afraid to ask the ‘silly’ questions and talk to the ‘wrong’ people! It’s all a big learning experience and your activity will be better for it! Communicating about it is also vital and a great way to do this is by writing one of these case studies or making a video – you can check out the project’s YouTube channel here, to see more about what went on.