Lancaster University: Cumbrian firms showcase innovations to make county greener

As world leaders gather at COP26 in Glasgow, a group of Cumbrian businesses will also come together today to showcase new ideas, products and services they’ve devised to make the region greener.

Eight businesses from Cumbria’s food and drink sector joined forces at the beginning of summer to be part of Lancaster University Management School’s (LUMS) Innovation Catalyst pilot– a brand-new concept designed by LUMS to address challenges posed by the Net Zero Carbon agenda.

Unlike anything the Management School has run before, the Innovation Catalyst – which is being run as part of Eco-I North West, a £14m research and development project for North West businesses – is designed to create the space, freedom and environment for organisations to connect with one another and generate effective and sustainable solutions to the big issues that affect their organisations, region and environment.

Together they identified priority areas to tackle, and collectively created solutions which will be shared with some of the county’s leaders today in Brathay Hall, Ambleside in a bid to get more organisations involved.

During the event today (8 November), guests including fellow businesses, Cumbria Tourism, local authorities the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership will hear from all of the businesses about the projects which are addressing the net zero agenda. This will include a group of Cumbrian hoteliers who have already implemented new initiatives to offset guests’ carbon footprint through tree planting schemes, and are incentivising guests to travel to the area by public transport.

Serena von der Heyde who runs the Victorian House Hotel in Grasmere explains: “We want to run more sustainably and have found the Innovation Catalyst to be extremely beneficial in helping us tackle our carbon impact. Alongside others in the region, we now proudly offer a carbon neutral stay for our guests, and help to showcase the Lake District as a carbon zero destination, to ensure that Cumbria can be enjoyed by generations to come.

“Through working with Lancaster University and the Eco-I project, we have also produced a prototype for an innovative waste bin insert to help hoteliers tackle the 1kg of waste that tends to be generated by each of our guests. By allowing hotel guests to separate recyclable items we hope to cut in-room waste by 50% per guest, per night – saving an awful lot from landfill.”

Serena’s waste bin insert was developed into a prototype then progressed to the stage of manufacture with the support of a Lancaster University student as part of an internship, funded and set up by Lancaster University’s Centre for Global Eco-Innovation. Once enough inserts are produced, Serena plans to use them in her hotels and if they prove successful, aims to produce them for wider industry sales to save tonnes of landfill collectively.

After sharing the prototype and details of her Make Cumbria Greener zero carbon guest stays with businesses and agencies in Cumbria, representatives from Lancaster University will accompany Serena as she takes up an invite to display her solutions for world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow.

The Innovation Catalyst group also identified food packaging and land management as a big problem for sustainable business in Cumbria. Together the group are set to trial new food packaging later this month and, one of the businesses involved, Lake District Farmers, is also implementing a new methodology on a selection of farms within their supply chain, designed to stop ploughing which will in turn reduce carbon.

Dan Austin, Managing Director of Lake District Farmers, explains: “The Innovation Catalyst has been the inspiration behind a huge amount of positive change within our business, and will in turn will be the catalyst for a huge amount of positive change within our supply chain.

“Now, with a government grant, further support from Lancaster University soil experts and with the backing of a multi-billion global catering giant, we are in an exciting position and anticipate that some of our farms could be carbon neutral within a 12-18 month period.”

After finding that small businesses are often overwhelmed by the move to sustainability, the Innovation Catalyst group also created a free toolkit for SMEs, guiding them through each step towards a Carbon-free business model. This is available from Cumbria Action for Sustainability and is already being used by others across the country.

LUMS’ Angela Moore supported the business leaders through the Innovation Catalyst pilot. She said: “The Innovation Catalyst has completely surpassed our expectations. The energy and passion from the group towards the cause has been tremendous. As a result, we’re already seeing innovative products and solutions be brought to market, and we are witnessing this powerful eco-system grow, with more organisations hearing about the progress being made and wanting to get involved.”

Professor Claire Leitch, Interim Dean of LUMS, said: “As an anchor institution, our Management School is in the perfect position to bridge the gap between academia and the front line of business to make a real difference – not only to the businesses themselves, but to our region’s economy and environment.

“The Innovation Catalyst is unlike any programme we have run before. It is not a content-led workshop concept, but rather something more unique. We create a stimulating environment for carefully-selected business leaders who have the propensity to innovate and a desire to be at the forefront of creating an environmentally sustainable future for their region. We let them drive the content, but bring relevant stakeholders and other experts in at key points to inject new knowledge, fresh ideas, stimulate thinking, challenge and share the latest research – which helps facilitate and accelerate innovation. In the space of a few short months we were seeing an ecosystem start to form of businesses, industry experts, academics, and support service providers which, in time, should have the resilience and ability to solve both individual and shared challenges.”

The Innovation Catalyst forms part of Eco-I North West, a £14m research and development project for North West businesses led by Lancaster University’s Centre for Global Eco-Innovation in partnership with the universities of Central Lancashire, Cumbria, Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores and Manchester Met. Through Eco-I North West, businesses can access support for low carbon innovations via student internships, help with commercialisation, student research projects and support with accessing grants for new eco-products and services.

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