How businesses can help make north Derbyshire more sustainable

This month’s round table, organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, discussed how the pandemic has impacted the town’s drive towards Net Zero and what can be done in the current financial climate to encourage businesses to make the town more sustainable.

By Business Writer
Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 2:00 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th June 2022, 2:03 pm
The debate took place via video conferenec
The debate took place via video conferenec

The UK has committed to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which will secure 440,000 well paid jobs and unlocking £90 billion of investment.

Locally, Chesterfield Borough Council aims to be a carbon neutral council by 2030 and to be a carbon neutral borough by 2050 at the latest. D2N2 LEP also has ambitious plans to change the region from one of the worst for carbon generation in the country to one of the best.

Driving best practice as well as opening up opportunities for business and residents, Destination Chesterfield launched the Sustainable Chesterfield campaign in 2020. Supporting the town’s ambitions to become carbon neutral by 2050, the marketing campaign also aims to attract low carbon and green businesses to the town.

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The rise of the conscientious consumer coupled with rising fuel and energy costs has pushed environmental, economic and social sustainability further up the agenda as businesses and residents look for lower cost energy and fuel alternatives.

However, with budgets already stretched and the economic recovery ongoing from the pandemic, is becoming carbon neutral by 2050 still a reality for the UK and Chesterfield?

This month’s round table, organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, discussed how the pandemic has impacted the town’s drive towards Net Zero and what can be done in the current financial climate to encourage businesses to make the town more sustainable.

Take part were:

JM – Josh Marsh – Destination Chesterfield Coordinator (Chair)

IB – Ian Bates – Sector Forum and Representation Manager, East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire)

PF – Paul Francis – Business Development and Bid Manager, Woodhead Group

MN – Mark Needham – Head of Operations, Superior Wellness

MT – Michael Timmins – Director, Water Ports & Power North, AECOM

PH – Phil Hurley – Managing Director, NIBE Energy Systems Limited

NB – Neil Beaumont – Senior Development Manager, Custom Solar

To what extent has the drive towards Net Zero been impacted by the pandemic at a local level?

IB –The pandemic has shown that changes can be made and there has been a rise in the conscientious consumer, ethical investments and the demands that are being driven through supply chains as well.

Businesses are having to look at tightening their waistbands at the moment, but the issue isn’t going to go away and those that don’t get involved in this could potentially get left behind. This could be an opportunity for businesses to refocus resource efficiency and look at a circular economy approach whereby they reduce and reuse.

MT - AECOM’s carbon footprint has plummeted because the office has been empty, and people have been working from home. Even now it’s open, we’re running a hybrid model and people are in for about half of their time. We’re now looking to install solar panels and electric charging points.

READ MORE: First Derbyshire restaurant with robot staff – after hotel invests in £10,000 automated waiters

PF – The pandemic gave us an opportunity to pause for thought on how we could address becoming carbon positive. We’re very much a local company and social value has always been a huge driver for the business. We now aim to be carbon positive by 2030 and we’ve made strides to get to that point already.

PH – Over the last two years during the pandemic, our business has grown. A lot of people have seen opportunities to upgrade their home heating systems driven a lot, I think by Boris Johnson’s announcement we need to install 600,000 heat pumps by 2028 and over a million by 2030 if we’re going to achieve our carbon targets.

PF – We have to look at the whole picture when it comes to homes - improving insulation, air tightness and more, before looking at technology. We’re building to the Future Homes Standard 2025 now and are looking at what the next steps are.

PH – I agree. You need to insulate before you generate heat. Energy efficiency should always come first.

MN – During the pandemic we grew four times over because everyone wanted a hot tub but now, with the energy prices rising, people are thinking about turning their hot tubs off. We’re already importing heat source pumps but are also looking at production in the UK, potentially offering a lot of jobs in the local area. With the high shipping prices from China, manufacturing in the UK will also enable us to offset some of our carbon footprint

NB – We found that some businesses paused their renewable energy programmes. That’s understandable as a lot of businesses had to focus on survival. Since coming out of the pandemic, however we’re seeing a lot of businesses flourishing and their carbon targets moving further up their agenda. We are also seeing a number of SMEs introduce carbon targets.

MT – Just before the pandemic, we launched a Sustainable Legacies Programme, meaning we only bid for projects that meet our environmental, social and governance criteria. This has been driven by customers but also by shareholders too. Also, our own employees want to work for a company that is making more of an impact on its local area.

In light of the rising energy costs and the local and national move to reduce carbon significantly, what could we do locally to make the move to green energy more attractive to businesses and homeowners?

IB – We have those businesses that are on board, those that we call cautious adopters and a small proportion of businesses that don’t get involved. As a Chamber, we look at where we can attract funding that supports decarbonisation, we do webinars on carbon foot printing and much more. The phrase that always comes to mind is ‘perfection shouldn’t stop progress.’ Work on it, see where you are and reduce.

MN – It is the small incentives that get the ball rolling. Before we started our sustainability journey, the small wins helped people see they we were heading in the right direction, and they were keen to know what we were doing next. Incentives help, particularly with SMEs, to get them looking in the right direction.

MT – The move to self-generated green energy is quite a significant investment for a homeowner or a business. When you’re fighting a cost of living crisis, trying to see the payback period over the next few years when you’re looking to the end of the month can be a very difficult thing.

PH –The biggest challenge is with the 26 million existing homes we’ve got. A good percentage of those will need upgrading. What incentives will we give homeowners and businesses to do that. There are some schemes out there but, for private homeowners and businesses, there really isn’t anything at the moment for energy efficiency.

MT - Removing obstacles such as planning permission and permits, can incentivise businesses and home owners to make their buildings greener. We need to try and make it as easy as possible for people to move over to green energy.

PF – One of the key things is education. We’ve implemented projects in the past, measuring energy use in a building and educating people how it could be improved. We’re looking ways we can share the knowledge to show people what is possible and the benefits it can bring. This will keep the bills down; that’s what everyone’s looking at right now.

NB – The financial payback of using solar energy has never been better and we need to help, support and educate businesses to show them how it can work and overcome any concerns.

NB – There’s so much demand for Solar PV, but the biggest challenge we have is the availability of labour.

PH - We have got a skills shortage in the sector, but there is an opportunity to get really high skilled jobs into this arena. We need to make these jobs attractive to younger people.

IB – One of the issues for colleges is making it financially viable to put on courses. It’s a problem that’s never really been solved but, if a number of companies require a certain skill set and it makes it viable for the college putting on that course, it can work. We have seen a lot of businesses setting up their own academies because they just can’t get what they need from the education system.

Is Chesterfield and its businesses ready for electric vehicles and does the vehicle charging infrastructure meet the needs of local people and businesses now? If not, what needs to be done ahead of the Government’s ban of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030?

MT - There are some good early signs for EV driving in Chesterfield but, the number of people driving EVs has risen through the pandemic. I now have to queue to plug in at the supermarket.

IB – The electric vehicle infrastructure is improving and there is an understanding of the capacity issues, which are getting dealt with.

MN – EVs are not affordable at the minute. I’ve looked at EVs and we have charging points at work, but it’s cheaper for me to run a three-litre diesel than lease one. That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, but with the energy prices rising and cost of living, you’ve got to look at your own pockets.

MT - It’s important to note that we need to generate the power for electric transport.

IB – I’m starting to hear chatter about hydrogen vehicles as they solve some of the issues with recyclability of batteries and other less green components associated with EVs.

MT – We need to careful we are not ‘greenwashing’. Hydrogen vehicles use batteries too. We’re on the cusp of new battery technology. Energy densities are increasing massively and we are making things in a much cheaper and more environmentally friendly way.

IB - I think we should be discouraging people to use cars. As soon as some people get a driver’s license, they never really use public transport again.

PF – If there was a better public transport system, perhaps people would be more inclined to use it. A lot of public transport services have disappeared since the pandemic.

MT – Public transport needs to be green too. If there was a greener, more efficient public transport service that may more attract young people to use it.

What can businesses in Chesterfield do to play their part in ensuring the town meets sustainability targets and encourages people to work together to create a greener town?

MT - Sustainability is about social, economic and environmental factors, so we have to look at them all as a package to have a truly sustainable town. It’s not just about greening up everything, we’ve got to do it so it benefits the social community, whether that be through jobs, education or improvement to neighbourhoods. All of that is what will make Chesterfield a sustainable town.

PF – Community engagement is key, bringing people together. We need to demonstrate to people the benefits of sustainable practices and do that across the town.

PH – Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire have a rich history in technology. It’s an opportunity for the town to be a future leader in sustainability.

NB – All stakeholders need to pull in the same direction. It’s about planning and putting incentives and support in place for people.

PH - Communities and local authorities to come up with a plan together and make decisions based on sustainability.