COP26 BLOG- SMEs and the path to net zero

image at event
image of Lancaster student Sharad Ramsamooj (left) Serena Von Der Heyde of Victorian House Hotel (centre) CGE Business Partnerships Officer Claire Mather (right)

Arriving at Glasgow Central Station, there is a real hive of activity going on. ‘Welcome to Glasgow, the home of COP26’ blasts a tannoy overhead as people push past me on the station platform. It feels as though I am in another world as face masks are still mandatory in Scotland, unlike in England (correct at the time) and so these people all feel alien to me. But it’s exciting! This is the first time I have been able to travel anywhere in a long time and I’m thriving on the change of scenery.

Where it all started

A few months ago, I was introduced to Serena von der Heyde from Victorian House Hotel, based in Grasmere in the Lake District. I’m a business partnerships officer at the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation (CGE) at Lancaster University and Serena was involved in our Eco-I-North West, Cumbria Innovation Catalyst being run by Lancaster University Management School (LUMS). Serena worked with a cohort of keen, environmentally friendly food and drink businesses who collaborated to develop new ideas that the industry could trial to reduce their carbon emissions and promote more sustainable food and drink. Serenas’ group developed a low carbon travel package for visiting specific hotels in the Lake District, which has been a real success and forms a blueprint that other businesses in the industry can implement too.

Serena also wanted to encourage her guests to recycle in their boutique hotel rooms. I was able to offer her support an internship from a Marketing student,who developed a waste paper bin insert for different shaped bins to separate guests rubbish.

Serena’s passion for her business and the environment really shows and she was invited to attend the UK Hospitality event at COP26 as a representative of Small and Medimum Enterprises (SMEs) within the industry. Because of all the support she had received from the University through both the Catalyst and internship schemes, Serena wanted some representatives from the university to accompany and support her. So, myself and a student who worked with her during the Innovation Catalyst were asked to go.

UK Hospitality event

The UK Hospitality event was based in Glasgow city centre, where just days before, there had been huge peaceful protests from climate activists. At the venue we were surrounded by stands from large businesses and corporations in the sector but what was amazing was that the two businesses who were representing SMEs were both North West businesses who CGE and Eco-I have worked with -Victorian House Hotel and The Wellbeing Farm!

Our stand greeted attendees as they entered the venue and was next to the stage where all the talks for the day were taking place. I primarily work with SMEs, as mandated by [AC1] the ERDF funding supporting our work. So, it was really fascinating to hear large businesses like: Coca Cola, IHG, Burger King, Brewdog and Compass all talking about their sustainability goals and how they were going to achieve them. I was surprised as most of the things discussed were very generic and only seemed to be scraping at the surface of the problem and nothing was being pledged to be done quickly - dates like ‘2030’ and ‘2050’ were thrown around. There were also talks from The Zero Carbon Forum as well as The Shadow Minister for Business and Consumers.

Although SMEs were mentioned multiple times in the talks, it would have been fantastic if there had been a much bigger SME presence there as I truly believe that SMEs are the ones that will make the real changes in the industry. Yes, large businesses have the money to create change, however it is SMEs who can quickly test out new low carbon processes and products and can move, change and adapt quickly. Also, many SMEs are part of supply chains and have their own supply chains, meaning they have a wide network which they can influence and where they can create change.

Change can happen

The COP26 networking begins and there is a lot of interest at our stand. So many people are fascinated by the work that is being done in the North-West. Many of their businesses are based in London and some don’t even know where Lancaster is. Sometimes along this journey to Net Zero, it feels like the goal is just too overwhelming, but I truly believe that through national and international collaboration, and businesses of all sizes sharing ideas and their own experiences and supporting each other at events like these, change can happen much more quickly and efficiently.

As the day draws to a close, and I hop back on the train, I reflect on my experience and all I can think is that it's so rewarding to be able to support businesses along their journey to low carbon. My trip up to Glasgow COP26 has felt like a real adventure and is something that I know I will remember for years to come.

Author biography

Claire Mather is a business partnerships officer at Lancaster University’s Centre for Global Eco-Innovation and has an undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences and a Masters by Research in Chemistry. She works with SMEs across the North-West of England, providing University support to help them become more environmentally friendly.

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