Even businesses with small carbon footprints can benefit from Lancaster University’s Low Carbon Innovation Forum.
“We’re not massive carbon emitters as a business,” says Peter Charnley, Managing Director of Lancaster-based estate and letting agents Mighty House. “But going on the Low Carbon Innovation Forum showed me how we could make important changes.”
A conscientious recycler at home, Peter was interested in seeing how his business could be greener, both for its own benefit and out of a sense of environmental responsibility. “I felt I had a duty to take it seriously,” he says. “So when I saw the Forum promoted at a business masterclass at Lancaster University, it ticked the right box for me.”
From the start, the Forum challenged his expectations and his thinking. “We’re not manufacturing industrial products, so there isn’t an obvious big change we can make to our carbon footprint, but that was blinding me to all the changes we could be making. Mike Berners-Lee’s session on creating a sustainable business model was particularly enlightening there: seeing the far-reaching impact of our everyday activities.”
Another highlight was the chance to build connections and learn from his fellow delegates on the programme, as he says: “The sharing of ideas and little snippets of what the other people had done… you think ‘I can park that, because I know I’ll be doing something similar in the future’. The whole peer network was very beneficial, and still is.”
While he found the experience personally motivating, one of the first things Peter learned was that he also needed to get his staff on board. They held meetings to discuss what could be done, from going paperless – including telephone notepads and Post-It notes – to walking to viewings if possible. Soon Peter had introduced a cycle-to-work scheme and ordered two hybrid cars. He is now looking at the option of electric bikes.
“It opened my eyes to new possibilities, 100 per cent,” he adds. “A part of my job is refurbishing houses and, as a direct impact of the Forum, I massively improved the amount of insulation we put in. Plus, I’ve actually cancelled orders for gas supplies to properties: we shouldn’t be using fossil fuels, we should be using renewable energies, which means going electric.”
Peter has written to his local MP and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to press for changes in the way energy efficiency is assessed and certified in properties, and says: “I said you’ve got to reconsider the recommendations to install gas, which are no longer relevant in light of climate change.” Having received a favourable hearing, his suggestions are now being raised with the relevant Government departments.
Insights gained in the Forum can work both ways: influencing his business and helping him to influence others. He gives the example of the lettings managed by his student accommodation arm, Mighty Student Living: “Come the new academic year, we’ll be heavily promoting the green agenda – even if they’re okay at recycling, students can be bad at managing their heating bills! But at the same time, hopefully they’ll like the fact that we’re serious about that. It might even help to make us stand out as a business.”
Peter is also teaming up with another cohort member to explore the possibility of implementing more efficient control systems across all his student properties: perhaps enabling automatic control of heating, en-masse, over the holidays. It is another example, he says, of what you can achieve if you go into the Forum with an open mind: “It’s all about setting you on a path – now I feel like I’m helping to shape things for the better.”
The Low Carbon Innovation Forum is a six-month programme for Lancashire based-SMEs, part of Boost Business Lancashire, and funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The next programme is due to start September 2019, email [email protected] to find out more.