Net zero: doing well by doing good

People with placards and posters on a global strike for climate change

Accelerating the adoption of both old and new net zero solutions, rolling out successes, sharing brilliance, and inspiring people and places to embrace change.

The UK is leading the world in net zero ambition. We were the first major economy to enshrine a 2050 net zero target in law, and in recent months we have added additional stretching targets, including meeting a 78% reduction in emissions across the economy by 2035.

This is no small ask, and will require changes in the products, services and consumption of all the systems that underpin society:

  • food
  • health
  • education
  • energy
  • transport
  • others.

The government’s independent advisory body on net zero, the Climate Change Committee, has set out the sort of shifts that might be necessary, and has identified that while some are purely technological, a majority also involve some form of social or behavioural shift.

Working with what people really want

There is nothing scary or magical about behaviour change – behaviours voluntarily change when people’s needs are met in a better way than they were before. We all still want and need to travel, but we no longer do so by horse because quicker, cheaper, safer, more accessible solutions were developed.

Woman covering her face with a paper showing a question mark

Credit: Getty

The ongoing development of mobile phones and high-speed networks has changed behaviours across all aspects of our lives, including:

  • education
  • entertainment
  • travel
  • work

This is because we can access the services they provide in ways that are more convenient for us.

So, we need to generate desirable net zero solutions that encourage behaviour change, and we need rapid mass-market uptake of them across the UK.

This human-scale change requires us to operate at human levels with every place and every person playing their part, and we have been looking at where Innovate UK can bring business innovation to bear to support that.

Barriers and lessons

Our recent work with Urban Foresight on the ‘innovation gap’ between places and innovative businesses shows us that there are a number of key barriers and lessons for each, which are covered in two of my previous blogs:

1. Bridging the innovation gap
2. Helping places to prosper from net zero

It shows us that places can’t always articulate challenges in a way that businesses can understand and respond to, and that businesses frequently can’t explain how their solution solves a real need for a place.

This is a major challenge to net zero, and to help address it we have created a framework of challenges that a place faces in getting to net zero, which is broken down through logical levels into actionable elements.

It is not designed to be perfect, and will change through time, but it can help businesses and places work with one another better, and it helps us identify where we could be focusing more support to drive innovation in emerging new solutions, and in enabling the deployment of net zero solutions.

Understanding the real needs across society

We are also using this work, and an additional forthcoming report on net zero business models for a just transition, to direct a programme of business innovation designed at understanding the real and varied needs of citizens across society, and then helping businesses innovate to meet those needs in a net zero way.

What is clear is that whilst some new technology is needed in some areas, for many of the net zero challenges we face, the solutions already exist. We don’t need more tech, but we do need what we have to be adopted faster and more widely.

Helping places understand what they need and how to find it, and helping businesses answer those needs in appropriate ways that help people meet their needs better can drive the massive uptake in net zero solutions that we desperately need, driving behaviour changes that make all of us happier and more content in the process.

Having committed to getting to net zero, as we must, and as more and more of the rest of the world is doing as well, we currently have an incredible opportunity. Not only can we be at the forefront of developing the solutions that are needed, but we can demonstrate how the shift is an opportunity to strengthen and level up places, to allow all of them to understand their individual challenges and maximise the opportunity to their citizens.

Put people at the heart of net zero

Net zero can enhance the culture and individuality of places, and it can stimulate skills and education. It can redress inequalities and it can ensure that the move to the net zero future we have committed to is just and fair for all.

It can do all these things and, with an estimated global market size to 2050 of $24 trillion, drive huge UK business success and innovation at the same time. But to achieve all this needs an approach with people at its heart, and to harness the pull and the engagement of the many.

We need to equip all our local authorities with the tools and skills to diagnose and develop detailed, actionable, sustainable net zero plans that encompass all of their opportunities and all of their citizens, so that they know what to demand of business, and we need to support our businesses to innovate to better meet that demand.

We think that there is no time to lose, and we can help net zero driven innovation make life better for all citizens, and put UK businesses at the forefront of this global market. We would like to hear what you think.

Top image: Credit: Getty Images

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