Michael Saxton’s Cleantech Blog

where social media meets sustainability

Smiles all round for Low Carbon Vehicles

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The commercialisation of fuel cell vehicles took a significant step forward this week through a joint venture between Suzuki Motor Corporation and British company, Intelligent Energy.

The two have cemented an alliance that first started in 2006 by creating a joint venture company called SMILE FC System Corporation to develop and manufacture air-cooled fuel cell systems for a range of industry sectors. The joint venture also includes a non-exclusive license agreement that gives Suzuki access to Intelligent Energy’s class-leading fuel cell technology for its next generation of environmentally friendly fuel cell vehicles. Under the terms of the contract, both companies will take a 50 percent stake in the joint venture.

The agreement arguably represents good value for both parties. It provides Suzuki with cost-effective access to Intelligent Energy’s advanced fuel cell technology through partnering and licensing, thereby avoiding the higher costs associated with in-house development. Intelligent Energy will benefit from Suzuki’s production expertise and the emerging Japanese supply chain to jointly develop the next generation of automotive standard air-cooled fuel cell systems.

The two have a solid track record in working together, which augers well. This includes the development of the Suzuki Burgman Fuel Cell, which received Whole Vehicle Type Approval from the European Union, allowing the scooter to be sold across all EU member states. The cell runs on electricity produced by an air-cooled polymer-electrolyte fuel cell located under the passenger seat and a hydrogen tank located along the bottom of the scooter’s frame. The fuel cell generates electricity, which charges a lithium-ion battery, while producing water as its sole emission. Suzuki claims a range of 217.5 miles at a constant speed of 18.6 mph from the cell with a fully charged battery and a 70 MPa high-pressure hydrogen tank. The cell is expected to enter full production by 2015.

The two companies also collaborated to produce the Suzuki Crosscage concept which was unveiled at the 2007 Tokyo Motor Show.

Intelligent Energy technology has been also been used to power a London taxi and the world’s first manned fuel cell aircraft.


Written by Michael Saxton

February 9, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Economic woes are no excuse to ignore sustainability

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Get ready to meet ‘the Sustainable Generation’.  According to a survey by Sky, a new generation of business leaders are emerging from university and graduate schools that are determined to place sustainability at the heart of business.

Dubbed ‘the Sustainable Generation’ because they have grown up with issues like environmental protection and social responsibility as a constant feature in their lives, this new generation describes itself as knowledgeable about sustainability and confident in what they will do in the future to address it.

These young business leaders are also sending a clear message to HR directors about the importance of sustainability credentials to their own career plans. In Sky’s survey, 34% of respondents see creating social and environmental value as an overall career goal, just 1 percentage point behind earning personal financial rewards.

However, despite their drive towards embedding sustainability into business, they have mixed views about how the current crop of corporate leaders are faring. Just three per cent believe UK businesses are succeeding in their efforts to integrate sustainability.

Their views are hardly surprising in this respect. There seems to be an awful lot of announcements by organisations about their intentions, but far less comparable evidence of of concrete achievements. When the best example of a UK business walking the walk, talking the talk remains M&S with Plan B, that’s really not good enough, is it?
May be it’s just the general appetite for climate change and sustainability-led issues. Certainly, as the national newspaper and broadcast media coverage of Durban, has shown climate change is no longer front-page news. It’s not even page seven. Al Gore has made it his mission to make Americans treat climate change as a priority. What does that mean in real terms? To make it a top ten issue. Right now, it’s nowhere near. For example, more than half of Tea Partiers do not believe in man-made climate change. So much for sustainable generation on that side of the great pond!

UK future leaders, however, are a more certain and ready to lead bunch if Sky’s survey is to be believed. 70% agree that sustainability can create new opportunities for business. And the despite the woes of the economy, 68% believe that it should not be an excuse for businesses to ignore sustainability.

The Sky survey raises questions about the quality and quantity of sustainability training provided by business schools and businesses. Just over a third of the 750 graduate trainees, middle-managers and MBA students polled do not believe that their employers are providing adequate levels of training or education on sustainability. For many current MBA students dedicated tuition on sustainability does not feature significantly in their business courses.

Yet despite all of this they are optimistic because they feel that the business case for sustainability cannot be ignored, and with much of the groundwork (in the area) being tackled by today’s leaders, they are confident that they will be able to go much further themselves. In this latter respect, the sustainable generation has a ‘five-point plan’ to go further than their predecessors in integrating sustainability when at the helm of the UK’s businesses. This plan includes collaborating across industry to share best practice; taking more responsibility for supply chain sustainability credentials; integrating sustainability into values and decisions; using new technology to improve business performance on sustainability; and improving employee engagement.

Written by Michael Saxton

January 26, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Government reveals Renewables Investment and Jobs Map

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Biomass and wind projects emerged as the renewables technologies that received the lion’s share of investment in 2011.

DECC has published research showing that between 1 April – 16 November 2011 companies announced plans for almost £2.5 billion worth of investment in renewable energy projects in the UK. If all of these planned projects go ahead, they would create 12,000 jobs across the country over the next few years.

A regional map (see below) provides a breakdown of where the projects and jobs are taking place, or slated to take place. A handful of projects make up around a quarter of these new schemes. These include:

  • Two 299MW biomass plants by Drax Power in Yorkshire, which will create up to 1500 jobs.
  • 49MW biomass plants by Air Products in the north east, up to 750 jobs.
  • A £600m investment into 299MW biomass plant by Anglesey Aluminium Metals Renewables in Wales, creating up to 700 jobs.
  • Vestas is planning a wind turbine factory in Sheerness in the south east, designed to create up to 2000 jobs.
  • Energi Coast – an alliance of 19 north east businesses – is aiming to create 2000 new jobs.

Against this background of green investment and green jobs, the Energy Secretary Chris Huhne and Chancellor George Osborne have seemingly been at odds over the contribution of the renewables sector to Britain’s economy for much of 2011.

Osborne has blamed green taxes for high energy bills. At the Conservative conference in the autumn, he said: “We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business.”

Mr Huhne struck a different note yesterday. He said: “Renewable energy is not just helping us increase our energy security and reduce emissions. It is supporting jobs and growth across the country.” However at the same time he also sounded defensive, almost apologetic, perhaps not wishing to inflame Mr Osborne, when he added: “Our renewable target is less demanding than other EU member states”. Less demanding in the sense that Britain has set itself a target of sourcing 15 per cent of all energy from renewable sources by 2020. The EU-wide target is 20 per cent.

Britain will need to play catch up fast to meet the 15 per cent target. Although the government yesterday pointed towards an increase on the previous year in energy sourced from renewables, it still only accounted for 3.3 per cent in 2010. Various industry experts believe that a minimum of 4 per cent will need to be achieved for the current financial year (2011/2012). Given the economic problems that have beset the country and the fudging of legislation around the RHI and Feed-in Tariffs that target may be optimistic – and it will need to climb to around 7.5 per cent by 2015/2016.

DECC’s statement of 29 December 2011 can be found in full by clicking here.

Written by Michael Saxton

December 31, 2011 at 10:22 am

2011 trends in cleantech: energy efficiency comes out top

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Energy efficiency has emerged as the hottest sub-sector within cleantech, with a 19% share, according to data published by the Global Cleantech 100. This was followed by Solar (14%), Water & Wastewater (12%), Energy Storage (10%) and Biofuels & Biomaterials (9%). The list revealed that broader cleantech and resource efficiency solutions are becoming more important and it is not just renewable energy generation that dominates the industry.

Energy efficiency also saw the highest number of deals in 2011, with a total investment of $223 million. While solar was the most attractive in 2010, energy efficiency technologies have been steadily attracting more investment and deals in 2011. There has been a clear shift in cleantech investment strategy in 2011. Many venture capitalists for example are moving away from high-risk, capital-intensive investments in solar and are favouring technologies that are likely to generate more predictable returns such as energy efficiency projects.

So let’s have a look at a few of these energy efficiency companies that are leading the way:

Novacem produces carbon negative cement which absorbs and stores more CO2 than it emits. The cement is based on a non-carbonate raw material and uses a low temperature production process. Novacem cement reduces CO2 emissions by up to 850kg compared to ordinary cement.

Project Frog designs and manufacturers smart, modular buildings that are energy efficient, sustainable, fast-to-build and cost effective. These “kit-of-parts” buildings typically cut energy costs by 25% compared to conventional buildings. They use materials that provide high levels of insulation, make maximum use of natural light and conduct real time energy monitoring.

Climate Well has developed an indoor climate solution that stores thermal energy using salt and converts hot water for cooling and heating without the need for electricity. This technology can be used to heat and cool residential, commercial and industrial buildings, saving energy and reducing electricity bills. Through using Climate Well, an average family can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 15 tonnes per year.

Written by Michael Saxton

December 14, 2011 at 3:06 pm

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The cleantech investment Gap

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A recent survey by Ernst & Young revealed that an investment gap of $22.5 billion in the renewable energy and cleantech sectors will emerge by 2015 across ten of the world’s major economies. This could even reach up to $45 billion if the eurozone debt crisis worsens. The report shows the funding gap is most pronounced in Spain, the UK and France, with a gap of more than $5 billion.

Juan Costa Climent, Ernst & Young’s Global Climate Change and Sustainability Services Leader said, “The enormous projected funding gap revealed by this report suggests continuing economic uncertainty is pushing a low carbon economy further out of reach.”

The report was released just prior to the COP17 summit in Durban. The summit, which ended on 11 December, saw mixed reactions with ministers reaching an agreement to negotiate a legally binding treaty by 2015.

As well as the political and regulatory risks that private sector investors have to consider, there are also financial risks associated with renewable energy projects. According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) the renewable energy sector must improve risk management to secure investment and reduce the funding gap.

Agostino Galvagni, CEO of Swiss Re Corporate Solutions said, “Additional investments into renewable energy are needed to achieve the transition to a low-carbon economy, and risk management measures such as insurance will be key to encouraging further private sector investment.”

While this paints a rather bleak picture for the cleantech industry, 2011 actually saw an increase in total investment in renewable energy, with $6 billion being invested in offshore wind. In 2010, investment was less than $3 billion after a 70% decrease on 2009 figures.  To reach a low carbon setting in the UK it is estimated that at least $200 billion of investment is needed this decade. To come anywhere close to this, it is essential that uncertainties related to national regulatory policy and support frameworks are resolved and risk management is improved.

Whether COP 17 goes somewhere to help this remains somewhere to be seen. Abyd Karmali, Head of Carbon Markets at Bank of America in London was optimistic, describing the Durban deal “is like a Viagra shot for the flailing carbon markets” and may boost prices today.



Written by Michael Saxton

December 14, 2011 at 3:00 pm

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Responsible business: The Fire Station

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The Big Society: I first remember hearing David Cameron talk about the concept on the Today programme – and boy, did he struggle to explain it.

But now two, nearly three years on, the idea of creating a climate that encourages people and business to take an active role in their communities feels like one of the smarter moves to create jobs and drive growth.

The Fire Station is a pioneering partnership between the private, public and third sectors that mines this potentially rich vein by helping disadvantaged individuals develop skills and find work.

Set up by PwC, which restored an old fire station building as part of its office development in More London in Southwark (historically one of the capital’s most deprived boroughs), The Fire Station also involves the likes of Dragons Den success story chef Simon Boyle, the School for Social Enterprise, Blossoms Healthcare, Social Enterprise UK and De Vere Venues.

Set over three floors, the building aims to fulfil a number of purposes, from providing workshops to apprenticeships in the hospitality and catering industry through Boyle’s Beyond Food Foundation, through to business consultancy and training from PwC volunteers, as well as a level of healthcare support to those working at the Brigade, the aptly named kitchen team run by chef Simon.

Although The Fire Station opened its doors in September, Global Entrepreneurship Week (17 November) provided the platform to showcase the partners’ ambitions.

Through a scheme called Freshlife for example, Simon Boyle aims to engage around 500 homeless and disadvantaged people in short-span food workshops. Of this number, it is hoped that nearly a third will participate in work experience. Establishing seven full time apprenticeships is the modest but manageable yearly target.

Blossoms Healthcare has embraced the idea of the social enterprise culture of The Fire Station by providing support to the businesses that come through it. And The School for Social Entrepreneurs and the separate body of Social Enterprise UK are aiming to carve out opportunities within the business environment where social enterprises can thrive.

PwC in the Community has a hefty involvement in the venture. It has committed the firm to establishing The Fire Station as a centre of excellence that will power a new breed of social entrepreneurs. PwC’s people are expected to play a significant role in delivering the services through the firm’s volunteering programme.

“We’re never short of volunteers for mentoring and supporting in social enterprise. The principles of business remain the same but the challenges, and the scale are different. It’s a real eye opener for many of our people who could have spent 10-15 years in a big corporate environment,” says Gaenor Bagley, PwC head of people.

“I firmly believe people learn more on the job than you do in a classroom. Volunteering your ability to explain a concept, build teams and relationships, get results – all the things we value in our people. It accelerates the way you learn, gives you a much broader perspective, and is personally very rewarding.”

John Laughlin, HR senior manager at PwC is mentoring a graduate from The School for Social Entrepreneurs. He became involved in mentoring having completed a coaching diploma a few years ago. “I liked the idea of tapping into a whole new sector that I didn’t know a lot about and working with someone who does something very different to what I do,” he says. “I want to get a broader perspective and a new way of looking at things and of course I hope that I can help my mentee develop his organisation for his benefit and for those that he’s working to help.”

On the ‘client’ side, Alistair Wilson, Chief Executive of School for Social Entrepreneurs, is equally enthusiastic: “I’m really excited to see what will come out of The Fire Station – I think it will be an incubator space for some really big and interesting social enterprise ideas.”

Playing for good?

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The Carbon Lottery claims to be the world’s first online voluntary carbon offset platform that allows users to purchase a lottery ticket and offset their carbon footprint simultaneously, giving them a chance to win real prizes – up to €4,000,000 for a £2 a ticket.  £2 offsets 100kg of carbon dioxide, roughly the amount of emitted during an average bus ride. The proceeds go towards approved and verified community based projects. These are high quality VCS and Gold Standard projects based in India, Brazil, Guatemala and Turkey.

The initiative was developed by Sterling Waterford Securities  in response to the low take-up of carbon offsetting among businesses and high levels of confusion about the role of offsetting for consumers.  The Carbon Lottery founders believe that in order to change behavior one needs to incentivise the consumer to do so. Social media, particularly Facebook, plays a major role in spreading the message and driving engagement.

The Carbon Lottery is encouraging companies and their employees to get involved. It is primarily focusing on large consumer brands which need to offset the footprint of their various product lines. I guess they are thinking of the likes of Unilever and P&G, brand owners of global scale that have also made significant commitments and strides towards sustainability.

The Carbon Lottery claims that these types of brands will benefit in a number of ways. First, by providing a fun online consumer-led offsetting solution. Then, by creating a new customer marketing tool. Third, by giving brands access to a potential new revenue stream (by selling tickets to staff and their clients), and finally, by providing the brand with added presence in the social media space by encouraging players to share their lottery experience with their Friends. In other words, they’re hoping you will brag about your carbon offsetting to your mates and potentially form syndicates to increase your carbon lottery spend and thereby offset more carbon.

The Carbon Lottery is some way down the line in attracting corporate clients. It’s using the hook of the big jackpot prize to encourage staff or clients to buy tickets. It also offers a revenue share to B2B partners, giving them a chance to become a single large lottery ticket purchaser or to ‘white label’ the concept to clients. The benefits reward responsible behaviour; in the company’s words by offering players ‘the dream’ – a large jackpot prize, currently up to €4m. Players can track the offsetting projects that their tickets are supporting at all times via The Carbon Lottery website and, of course, they can Facebook it.

Ultimately, The Carbon Lottery is confident that the initiative will take off because it makes carbon offsetting more social, and in particular, because it converts something that could be described as dull and worthy, into a game.

There’s no doubt that the company has integrity. The carbon offset projects are thoroughly verified and screened. At least three of the projects that ticket sales currently support were developed in collaboration with Eco Securities. The Carbon Lottery is licensed and regulated in Malta and falls within UK jurisdiction. The large prize is funded by insurance contracts (brokered through Lloyds of London) and the website is useful and informative. The Carbon Calculator is a useful tool for HRDs. It shows just how many tickets an employee or the company as a whole needs to purchase to offset their footprint.

Carbon offsetting is not to everyone’s taste. Although as a strategy it cuts carbon dioxide emissions and raises awareness of climate change, there is a danger that offsetting can undermine practical efforts that individuals and companies take to reduce their footprint. However, helping to reduce carbon by buying a lottery ticket is a simple and easy to grasp concept, and creating an internal market among staff or using it as a reward / incentive scheme seems like a no-brainer.

The Carbon Lottery is relatively new and lacks a profile that is commensurate with its ambitions. It has placed a lot of value on social media to engage players, but its own presence in the space is low. What it must be hoping for are a couple of things to accelerate its awareness: a large brand to take plunge and to create the first Euro millionaire from offsetting carbon. Now, that really would put The Carbon Lottery on the map.

Written by Michael Saxton

December 7, 2011 at 9:36 am