Low Carbon Innovation Forum

Low Carbon Innovation Forum

A six-month programme designed for Lancashire Businesses seeking to understand the opportunities presented by the transition to a low carbon economy.

About the Programme

Eco-innovation is the development of any new and improved product, process or service which provides customer and business value whilst significantly decreasing environmental impact. 

Join this programme, along with like-minded Lancashire SMEs to realise the competitive advantages of rethinking business processes and embracing eco-innovation.

During the six-month programme, you will be given the tools and the platform to explore opportunities to create competitive advantage. Leading academics from Lancaster University and business experts will share the latest thinking and research on emerging technologies. Discuss global and local challenges and discover opportunities to join the low carbon economy in line with the UK Clean Growth Strategy.

Discover our testimonials.

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Who is this programme designed for?

This programme is designed to equip senior decision makers of Lancashire-based SMEs with the knowledge and tools to sharpen their business strategy whilst reducing environmental impact. Our last cohort ranged from food delivery and processing companies with high energy requirements, to providers of printing services, and innovators developing reusable healthcare products. However diverse, as Lancashire SMEs they share many of the same challenges and have used the programme to exchange ideas.

Programme Elements

The Low Carbon Innovation Forum programme includes sessions each month, taking place over 1-2 days. You’ll participate in a range of challenges, workshops and tasks to develop the tools and techniques to explore low carbon innovation for your business. All sessions are practical and interactive and designed specifically with SME owner/managers in mind.

An Overnight Experiential (two days, one night) at a Lancashire Hotel to build trust amongst the group.

Access to Masterclasses with inspirational world-class speakers.

Interactive workshops on: Eco-Innovation, creating a sustainable business model, and energy conservation and waste management.

Eco-Innovation challenge and company visit with a large regional business to stimulate ideas and discussion.

Examine today's innovation landscape with sample case studies and group challenges.

Gain a set of business development tools including the Triple Layer Business Model Canvas and Action Planning.

Get in touch

To discover more about the Low Carbon Innovation Forum, and how it could transform your organisation, please complete our enquiry form and we'll be in touch shortly.

The Benefits

There is real incentive for SMEs to dedicate time to think about eco-innovation within their business. The potential benefits include more efficient processes, cost-saving ideas and a competitive advantage through innovation development. You will draw knowledge from the strong expertise within Lancaster University, and learn the tools and techniques to take a fresh view of business practices.

Forum keeps Affinity ahead of changing priorities in the world of packaging

It’s been called the ‘Blue Planet’ effect. Society is finally waking up to the crisis of single-use plastics. As manufacturers of folding cartons, Affinity Packaging already provided the most eco-friendly alternative. Going on the Low Carbon Innovation Forum showed them how much more they could be doing.

This long-established Leyland business has been carving an innovative path since its MBO and turnaround in 2014 - providing bespoke packaging from initial design to unique cartonboard solutions. As their MD, Chris Dew, acknowledges, this has put them in a good position to benefit from changing attitudes to sustainability.

“I had already been on one of the University’s programmes – the Lancashire Forum – in Affinity’s first year, and that had helped enormously to set out a plan for growing the business,” he says. “So when the Low Carbon Innovation Forum came along, I thought it would be a great opportunity to look at our market from a new perspective.”

As well as refreshing Affinity’s value proposition for an evolving customer base, Chris hoped to learn about improving its carbon footprint. In this respect, particularly, the Forum exceeded all expectations. Reviewing his energy usage has led to him applying for a grant from the Chambers of Commerce to put in LED lighting, which promises to have further knock-on benefits. “I’ve looked into the payback on that and it’s very good, but it should also have a beneficial effect on quality of light for the people who work here. I wouldn’t have gone down this path if I hadn’t been involved in the Low Carbon Forum,” he says.

“It really opened my eyes to all the things that needed to be looked at around the factory, and how you go about doing it – including seemingly mundane things like compressors and biomass boilers, as well as getting ahead of the game with charging points for electric vehicles. It was very useful to make contacts on the programme who could come in and help evaluate the next steps for us to get a more energy-efficient site.”

This networking – formal and informal – is one of the Forum’s best features, Chris says. He was surprised and pleased to find that his peer group included several delegates who already used materials he produces and this has enabled some interesting new collaborations. “One company, a brewery, is being driven by the supermarkets to eliminate single-use plastics on their bottled beer packaging, so we’ve been working with them to develop a fully sustainable container that does away with the overwrap.”

“Because we don’t manufacture anything in plastic, our enquiries rate has been going up since David Attenborough made his programme and we’re proactively talking to people about alternatives.” With innovations in materials being pursued, to the point where it is now possible to contain liquid in cartonboard bottles, Chris is looking at taking Lancaster University up on the offer of postgraduate research – another offer from Lancaster’s Environment Centre. Meanwhile, in an initiative sparked by the Forum’s previous cohort, Affinity is helping the University itself to go free of single-use plastics on campus.

“Not a day goes by without something in the newspapers around this whole area,” he says. “The story of what we do is very positive – and as the Low Carbon Innovation Forum has shown us, this opens up opportunities to further differentiate your business. The key now is to market ourselves on that basis.”  

Chris Dew Affinity Packaging

Inscope Group realigns for a Low Carbon future thanks to Innovation Forum

When Stuart Pascoe, MD of Inscope Group, chose to go on the Low Carbon Innovation Forum, he expected just to learn about new ways of saving energy. Instead he found himself opening up new avenues for his business.

“We’re a family company - a team of professional building surveyors focused on building design and maintenance,” Stuart explains. “We cover a range of areas from education, to designing new homes and extensions, and commercial properties as well. More and more, since going on the Forum, this includes advising on energy efficient products, from lighting to boiler plant and insulation, and provisions for new energy such as solar panels, heat pumps and so on.”

“I’ve always looked at what’s coming over the horizon in construction,” he says. “That was one of my key reasons for going on the Forum. But what it has actually done is to broaden my horizon as well. Now I can see the wider issues we face - and it’s helped us find new ways to enter the marketplace.”

He gives the example of a new offering: a free energy appraisal that will be of particular benefit to local schools. Reducing energy use and costs in this sector is critical and Inscope’s current projects include one school that has embraced the opportunity to have its boilers and lighting renewed, as well as increasing roofing insulation. Two others are also receiving more efficient lighting and Stuart says that his company has even established funding to cover the costs of the work, to be repaid from cost savings.

He also makes special mention of the entrepreneurs he has met through participating in the Forum. After one of the monthly workshop sessions, the delegates were invited to attend a showcase event, organised by the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation, which enabled SMEs to display their ideas and explore the support available from the University. Here Stuart built informal business partnerships – including one with a fellow delegate - that he believes have really opened the door to the future of his industry.

Through his relationship with Dr Xiongwei Liu and Entrust Microgrid, he is now exploring the possibilities of next generation packages using Entrust Smart Microgrid with hybrid DC and AC networks and renewables. Inscope is already developing solutions, including one that enables students in a college building to run their laptops and other devices off a separate circuit – drawing their power from solar or other renewable sources. A further project involves designing affordable, high tech, social housing that combines renewable energy with innovative insulation materials that would otherwise be treated as waste.

“One of the massive plus points of going on the Forum is that Lancaster University are leaders in this field,” Stuart says. “Another is that the Management School is a good place to be if you’re a fairly new business.” He adds that he found the speakers inspiring, particularly Professor Nigel Lockett on entrepreneurship and the Opportunity Business Model. In fact, he says that he has adopted several of the tools introduced during the workshops to use in the planning and promotion of the business.

“It’s opened up so much more than I anticipated, really, and I’ve benefitted from the Forum in lots of different ways. Not just the low carbon aspects but across the business.”

Stuart Pascoe, Inscope Group

Low Carbon Innovation Forum gives Stephensons Dairy a taste of the future.

For Steph Stephenson, the standout experience of the Low Carbon Innovation Forum was the company visit to Lancaster City Council, at which the participating SMEs saw for themselves the scale of today’s plastic waste challenge. 

“Up to then, I felt we were really doing something,” she says, talking about how the Forum enables like-minded businesspeople to rethink their processes and seek out a competitive advantage.

Then came the visit to the waste transfer centre: “Suddenly I felt we weren’t doing enough - but it completely inspired me to go back and make sure we hadn’t overlooked anything else that was possible.” 

The idea of impact is at the heart of the Stephensons Dairy ethos. As the first dairy in the UK to provide Free Range Milk, they are committed to sustainability. Working with farmers whose cows graze naturally has a positive impact on these local businesses, on the environment and, ultimately, on the consumer. 

Steph went on Lancaster University Management School’s Low Carbon Innovation Forum with a view to making savings. “I was hesitant at first because I assumed – wrongly – that a lot of the things we’d talk about would be outside our reach, financially,” she says. “But actually the great thing is that it has shown me nothing is outside your reach, and that everything you do, no matter how small, has a positive impact.” 

Right from the start, the programme opened her eyes to possibilities for reducing both costs and carbon footprint. “One of the first things we did was to put our lights on sensors, so now as soon as deliveries have been picked up, the fridges and the buildings go back to darkness. Plus we’re looking at the practicality of having the same plastic strips on our vans as we have on our doorways, to prevent energy wastage.” 

Steph has also been inspired to reduce fuel bills. “Because we know where our milk comes from, we aren’t hauling milk from one end of the country to the other, so we already had an eye on our transportation impact. We analysed specific customer needs and put some on a different delivery schedule to reduce vehicle use. And now, thanks to the Forum, we’re looking at other ways to reduce our footprint – be that the vintage electric milk floats we use for our doorstep rounds or, longer term, the new generation of non-diesel refrigerated HGVs. Those are out of our financial reach now, but the Forum has taught me that things change, costs come down, and you have to keep those big goals, even if you’re working towards them with smaller steps.” 

It is the hot topic of plastic waste that remains at the forefront of her thinking – particularly now her customers and consumers are taking an interest. “We’ve had customers say they’re trying to give up plastic as a New Year’s resolution, and we’re looking at getting their milk delivered in glass bottles. We’re also moving forward with supplying customers with pergal machines, so we can stop delivering 2L containers. And we’ve had four vans modified to take trolleys, to avoid shrink-wrapping deliveries for customers who don’t need it. It all adds up, and I’m keen to carry on looking at alternatives.” 

Steph adds that the Forum has really her cemented her belief in people working together to come up with new ideas – and says that having access to the support from the University has been fabulous. “It’s great for a small business – a real positive impact!”

Steph Stephenson

Empine Print discovers the real benefits of Low Carbon Innovation

For Anthony Taylor, co-founder of Empine Group, the Low Carbon Innovation Forum has not only helped him make changes inside his own company but has also changed the way it does business in the world at large. “As a commercial print management company, we knew this was a bit of a hot topic,” Anthony says, explaining why he decided to participate in the six-month programme.“We wanted to get on the back of that and see how we could improve our processes – as well as how to pass that knowledge on to our clients and suppliers.” 

He says that he learned a lot more than he thought he was going to on the Forum. “The most shocking thing was the visit to Lancaster City Council’s recycling plant, which really brought home the damage people are doing and the changes that need to be made. But actually the most impactful session was the one introducing the Business Model Canvas. This tool really allowed us to dive down and identify all the little aspects of the business that could be changed: how we deal with suppliers, how they deal with us, how jobs get delivered... and who actually takes responsibility for each of the processes.” 

“Say I’m buying a job from a printer down south. What impact does that have on the big picture – on costs and carbon footprint? Where are they getting their paper from? What processes are they using? And is there a way that we can use our buying power to influence them to change things for the better, even though we’re just the customer?” 

As a result of the Forum, Anthony’s business has looked at making many changes, from electric delivery vans and pool cars to an increased environmental aspect to their specialist educational offering, which includes a free print review service. They are looking into sustainable inks, becoming FSC certified, and various options for increasing recycling. These innovations will help them prepare for their own growth as they build up their production facility, and can also be passed on to suppliers. 

“But the biggest change is to the offering we put in play,” he says. “Because whereas, when we started, our main motivation was to get the best price for each product on behalf of our clients, now we – and they – are mindful of where the print is coming from.” 

He gives an example of how this shift in emphasis is helping to define and differentiate Empine Print in the marketplace. “Not long after one of the sessions, we went down to a client in London and one of their main questions was ‘What’s your environmental policy?’ – and we had been looking at exactly that on the Forum! Nowadays bigger companies have a responsibility to look out for that kind of thing, so if you’re a company that’s offering a better service and you’re also offering this environmental awareness as well, then it definitely sets you apart from other competitors.” 

Having derived real benefit from the Low Carbon Innovation Forum, Anthony is now participating in a sister programme, the Lancashire Forum. “Getting the chance to sit down away from the business and assess what you’re doing. It was great on the environmental side, so I could see the benefit of doing the same for the rest of the running of the business,” he says, adding: “We’ve got a good mix of businesses in there, including some with production facilities, so it will be great to learn from them as we grow - and hopefully get it right first time.”

Anthony Taylor
Business people

"For SMEs, achieving a sustainable business model has never been of greater priority. What the Low Carbon Innovation Forum offers is access to the bigger picture: the chance to become part of a powerful network for sharing challenges and opportunities, supported by up-to-the-minute ideas, tools and assistance from the academic community.” Angela Moore, Programme Manager


This programme also forms part of the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation. The Centre provides a route for innovative SMEs to undertake research and development with the expertise, resources and facilities at Lancaster University and at partner institutions.

Learn more

Costs & Apply

This programme is fully funded, and available to European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) eligible businesses. Businesses must meet the ERDF criteria as below:

  • Based in Lancashire
  • Employ fewer than 250 full-time employees
  • Has an annual turnover less than £40 million
  • Has received less than £160,000 of publicly funded support in the last 3 years

For more details or to apply for our next start in January 2018, please get in touch with us.