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“The time for action is now,” this new economy is the greatest commercial opportunity of our age

South East LEP’S Clean Growth event highlights how we can be a pioneer in addressing climate change.

Renowned sustainability activist and writer Jonathon Porritt addressed the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP)’s event last week, South East Futures: What Does Clean Growth look like in the South East? and spoke about the LEP’s role to support the move from the old economy to a new one economy – with no fossil fuels—ensuring prosperity and securing jobs in the new economy, allowing communities to prosper and move towards net-zero with speed.

“The time for action is now, and at speed,” said Jonathon, adding that the most impactful course of action is to not get lost in the bigger picture, but instead focus on the basics of what we can do now. Specifically:

  • putting efficiency first—it is not enough to use sustainable energy if the assets are still inefficient;
  • switching to renewable energy, particularly solar for the South East, especially as costs decrease to make this source more competitive; and
  • electric vehicles, especially commercial fleets and investing in charging infrastructure to make this industry more accessible.

He set out how we can still achieve economic growth and progress for the South East economy through clean technology, new models of economic growth, investment and innovation.

The event also heard from Andrew Griffith MP, the UK’s Net Zero Business Champion, who praised SELEP’s “incredible track record in funding a wide range of innovative, sustainable projects to help businesses reduce their emissions”.

He highlighted some of the clean growth projects in the SELEP area, including LoCASE, supporting businesses to decarbonise their operations; and the Riding Sunbeams Solar Railways project, which received more than £2.5m in Getting Building Funding from SELEP in 2020, as part of the Government’s effort to combat the economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The actions of every single business will be central to the country’s successful transition to a low carbon economy,” he said. “It’s going to drive jobs and growth within the UK, but also open up large and attractive new sectors of the world economy, in which businesses who are based in the UK can take significant market shares.”

He gave three asks to businesses to take practical actions to become part of the green revolution, namely:

  • signing up to the Race to Zero campaign;
  • telling their supply chains and showing them what they’re doing to become greener; and
  • promoting their efforts so that they can be championed, to provide confidence and reassurance to other businesses.

Jonathan Withey, head of business development at sustainability certification body Planet Mark, gave great, practical steps that businesses can take to start their journey to becoming net-zero which included understanding where emissions are generated by their operations, how to measure them and how to get started and ‘make a plan’ to be able to reach net zero by 2050.

Planet Mark offers weekly seminars and workshops to support businesses on their journey, and Jonathan highlighted a message which is becoming increasingly loud: “This is our moment, a time for change and companies that have a strategy will be rewarded… The transition to net zero is creating the greatest commercial opportunity of our age.”

The event provided an opportunity to educate, inform and demonstrate how we can embrace this moment to recover and grow a future economy in a sustainable and considered way.

SELEP Chair Christian Brodie said:

“This event was an excellent way to bring together the South East’s key players in the realm of sustainability, clean growth and renewable energy during this crucial time, as the world’s focus is on Glasgow during COP26.

“As well as reiterating just how much SELEP has already done in this arena, it also highlighted the vast potential for our area. Our stretching coastline gives us prime opportunity to drive forward in areas such as tidal energy, as well as the potential for pioneering new ideas like floating solar on waterscapes, as mentioned by Jonathon Porritt in his keynote address.

“I would like to thank the speakers and all our partners who took part in the day, providing fascinating insight into key areas of this hugely important agenda. We must keep the momentum from this event moving forward in every aspect of our work.”

The event also featured a series of debate panels, showcasing existing activity happening in the South East to deliver clean growth and outlining where the future opportunities lie for the South East in this new economy. 

Links and further information for businesses

Following our expert speakers, four sessions were held exploring areas of clean growth in greater detail, namely:

  • Clean Growth and Business: In what ways can firms be supported to ‘grow clean’ and unlock new opportunities?
    • Chaired by Ana Christie, Sussex Chamber of Commerce, who was joined by Rob Robinson, LoCASE project; Sarah Niddrie-Webb, Opergy for the Clean Growth South East project; Simon Barnes, University of Kent Innovation and Knowledge Exchange; and Fergus Bailey, BEIS Net-Zero Public Engagement
  • Clean Growth in a Global Gateway: How can the South East lead the shift to low carbon transport and trade?
    • Chaired by Lucy Dixon-Thompson, Transport for the South East, who was joined by Tanya Ferry, Head of Environment, Port of London Authority; Mark Taylor, Acting CEO, Freeport East; Dr Conor Walsh, Environmental Scientist, University of Greenwich; and Robert Edge, Haven Gateway for TALE project
  • Clean Growth and Placemaking: How can the South East lead in the development of net-zero homes and communities of the future?
    • Chaired by Liz Gibney, Lee Evans Partnership LLP, who was joined by Tara Gbolade, architect, Gbolade Design Studio; Richard Davidson, Director, Willmott Dixon; and John Parsonage, Habitability
  • Clean Growth, Naturally: How can the South East use its natural assets to drive up growth and drive down emissions?
    • Chaired by John Taylor, Greater South East Energy Hub, who was joined by Frank Gordon, Director of Policy, Association of Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA); Ollie Pendred, Riding Sunbeams project; Andy Arnold, Accelerating Climate-Based Solutions project; and Dr Caroline Jessel, Local Nature Partnerships

The full recording of the event, slide pack and further details can be found on our website.