Bristol and Bath Enterprise Network (BEN) is a network for the technology business community based around Bristol and Bath. They hold a series of events designed to foster profitable connections between individuals and companies in the region.
I was recently lucky enough to attend one of their events in Bristol: Green Profits.
The key question for this event was: can commercial and environmental success be aligned? To help answer this question two case studies were presented.
Linda Farrow talked about how her innovative architecture and design practice, White Design, allowed them to develop a new building module, Modcell, for the rapid construction of sustainable (and even carbon-negative) buildings. The Modcell is a brilliant idea: a prefabricated flat pack wooden frame is assembled and filled with compressed straw bales before being coated with lime render to form a wall panel. I was pleased to see that Modcell have a granted UK Patent GB2457891B of a broad scope and are moving forward with protection worldwide. This will help ensure that they can adequately capitalise, from a commercial perspective, on the (literally) years of design and testing that went into the product. Both White Design and Modcell are a fine example of the kind of technological and commercial thinking that can help address the seemingly intractable problems of climate change and dwindling resources. Also being a Somerset lad, I am always glad to see straw used in novel ways. Take a look at White Design’s website for examples of the kind of buildings where this technology may be used in the future. If you are familiar with Bristol and the South West you will probably recognise their structures.
Linda was followed by Griff Holland of Friska Food, a take-away/restaurant/sandwich shop on Victoria Road in Bristol. Griff offered a different perspective on sustainable business practices. Even though food is a rather low-tech industry, Griff had important lessons on how to make clients and customers feel good about themselves by incorporating sustainable (or “green”) thinking into the heart of the business. An illuminating example was how customers liked to sort their recycling; at first allowing this would seem somewhat counter-intuitive – surely customers do not want the extra burden? However, what Friska observed was that customers had become used to sorting recycling from their homes and felt good about making some contribution, however small, to offset their impact on the world. A similar example was provided with fridges – by having doors on the fridges much electricity was saved and customers were happy opening and closing the doors (as opposed to open fridges), especially if they were told their slight inconvenience was good for the environment. Friska had big plans for growth over the coming years; more outlets like them are only a good thing for a sustainable UK.
The case studies were followed by a presentation by Amy Robinson, Network Director of Low Carbon South West (LCSW) who explained the myriad of accreditations and organisations to support (and somewhat confuse) business in the South West. LCSW are a trade association with a mission to promote growth in environmental technologies and sustainable services in the South West of England. They are the recent offspring of what was Bristol Environment Technology Sector Initiative (BETS) and a Low Carbon group from Bath University. Amy explained how LCSW are happy to offer assistance to individuals and companies as to how to navigate this confusing landscape and gain the right advice and services from the right people.
A lesson that emerged from the presentations and resulting round-table discussions was the need for long-term thinking and investment coupled with effective client/customer communication. Laying the groundwork for a sustainable business unfortunately often involves higher initial investment (and possibly higher product cost). However, this investment may pay off several years down the line when you find the market shifts and your business turns from fringe player into market leader, with your competitors struggling to retrofit their own practices to keep up. In a way this reminded me of Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, wherein the disruptive innovation may be sustainable practices. Effective communication then becomes important to attract and maintain early adopters in the market that are may be better placed to afford the initial green /cost trade-off. A given example was that of the premium hotel market – they were prepared to pay a little extra for sustainable printing as this paid off in terms of better marketing for the hotel.
The next BEN Event is a free allday event: Investability at HP Labs Bristol on 29 March 2011.