Environmental science investment enriches the UK economy

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Taking science beyond the scientists helps businesses benefit from science based solutions, smarter regulation and lower costs.

The economy and the environment are indispensable, invaluable and inseparable. Whether providing materials, producing energy or disposing of waste, natural resources deliver many benefits shared by every business and consumer across the country. Environmental damage, deterioration and degradation, meanwhile, come at a real economic cost, ultimately carried by us all.

About the projects

Extending the reach of science beyond scientists has always been a guiding principle for the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and our community, helping to define our objectives and shape our operations.

A priority is to ensure that environmental science generates ideas and understanding that start the creation of new businesses, at the same time boosting the resilience, productivity and profitability of existing ones.

We encourage partnerships, foster collaboration and nurture understanding between our stakeholders in business and academia. This is a powerful process that drives business innovation.

Impacts of the projects

Agriculture, farming and fishing

Agenda-setting research led to a ban on marine use of the chemical Tributyltin (TBT). This triggered a surge in shellfish production that gave a £331 million boost to the UK industry and £718 million in wider environmental benefits between 1987 and 2014.

Manufacturing

Major manufacturers are among 4,500 UK businesses cutting costs, reducing their environmental impact and meeting regulatory targets using the NERC co-funded CCaLC (Carbon Calculations over the Life Cycle of Industrial Activities) software. CCaLC is a NERC co-funded software tool that provides cradle-to-grave carbon footprint estimates for commercial products, helping users identify optimal reduction strategies and to find process efficiencies. Designed to be used by non-experts, Kellogg’s have used CCaLC since 2010 to estimate the carbon footprint of their entire product range. CCaLC has resulted in estimated climate mitigation gains in excess of £450 million.

Energy

NERC science has enabled the UK to lead the world in offshore wind energy and enjoy its benefits – lower carbon emissions, clean growth, job creation and better energy security – while protecting key marine species and habitats. The sector has grown more than ten-fold in the last decade and is a key plank in the government’s plans for delivering net zero emissions by 2050. Research has also been key to assessing the safety of wave energy turbines, the effects of wind turbines on coastal erosion and the feasibility of a tidal barrage.

Technical services

More than 300 organisations use the Flood Estimation Handbook, developed by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH), on a daily basis. It helps them design and assess structures that could be affected by flooding, and provides up to £30 million a year in benefits.

Transport and storage

NERC science helps protect infrastructure from natural hazards, enabling significant cost savings and reducing disruption. For example, airlines have saved millions of pounds thanks to a model that warns airports about severe winds, minimising flight diversions.

An air-turbulence forecasting algorithm has meanwhile revolutionised the ability to predict invisible clear-air turbulence, improving comfort and safety on billions of passenger journeys. NERC-funded research, spanning support for PhDs through to discovery science, has also enabled theoretical atmospheric research that has delivered real-world benefits. Since 2015, the US National Weather Service has used an algorithm developed by the University of Reading that has improved comfort and safety for an estimated 2.5 billion passenger journeys. It has also delivered significant savings in emissions by reducing unnecessary diversions. The researchers are now working with Airbus to ensure aircraft design can accommodate increased turbulence expected due to climate change.

Video credit: NERC.
On-screen captions and an autogenerated transcript are available on YouTube.

Finance

Improvements in catastrophe modelling led to reductions in losses of £62 million to £130 million a year for the insurance industry. The modelling helps estimate the potential impacts of events such as storms and floods.

Wholesale and retail

Pioneering research has enabled leading supermarkets and telecoms companies to adopt carbon benchmarks that provide clear targets and standards, driving efforts to cut carbon emissions.

Investing for the future

By listening carefully to the needs of the people and organisations we work with, we help businesses:

  • access the best scientists, data and skills
  • translate existing knowledge into new solutions
  • co-design research and innovation that is focused on real-world challenges.

Current NERC investments include:

Regional Impact from Science of the Environment (RISE)

Rise is a £12 million programme driving regional economic development by bringing together research organisations, businesses and policy bodies.

Centres for Doctoral Training

Centres for Doctoral Training are fostering a new generation of experts to deliver solutions in priority areas identified by NERC and our partners, for example:

  • renewable energy – £11.9 million funding with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
  • soil science – £2.3 million funding with Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • risk and mitigation – £2.5 million funding with ESRC
  • smart and autonomous observation – £2.5 million funding with EPSRC.

Tackling plastic waste

NERC and Innovate UK have led a coalition that aims to make the UK a leader in sustainable plastic packaging and reduce its environmental impact. This coalition spans industry, government and the research base and involves a £60 million investment through the third wave of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Find out more

Read Cleaner Seas: From ban to benefits – NERC science boosts UK economic growth by reducing pollution.

Find out more about NERC Centres for Doctoral Training.

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