Championing the journey to net zero

Features Posted 11/01/22
The Coastal West Sussex Partnership is connecting SMEs with some of the leading voices in sustainability. Zoë Fryday chats to director Caroline Wood to find out more

From 31 October to 12 November, COP26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) took place in Glasgow, bringing together world leaders, climate experts and campaigners to agree coordinated action to tackle the climate change crisis. After 13 days of intense negotiations, the Glasgow Climate Pact was reached, which will set the global agenda for accelerating action on climate over the next decade. 

The mission to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5C continues, and it’s clear as day – there’s no time to lose. We need to act now. The UK has a legally binding net zero by 2050 target, and the UN-backed Race to Net Zero campaign is rallying leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions and investors for a healthy, resilient zero-carbon recovery.

To coincide with COP26, Coastal West Sussex Partnership hosted its ‘Race to Net Zero’ online conference via Zoom. It set out to connect businesses with the leading voices in sustainability and start a conversation around the subject – exploring what can be done to reduce businesses’ impact on the environment and how they can capitalise on new opportunities. 

The conference was chaired by James Dempster, managing director of Brighton marketing agency Fox & Bear, who was joined by a panel of business leaders and environmental campaigners from across the region, including Andrew Griffith, MP for Arundel and South Downs and the UK’s Net Zero Business Champion; Steve Read, director of environment and public protection at West Sussex County Council; Sam Zindel, managing director of Propellernet and founder of Low Carbon Leaders; and Zoe Osmond, director of Clean Growth UK.

Caroline Wood, director of Coastal West Sussex Partnership, was responsible for organising the conference. She explains: “We had good attendance. It was a lively one-hour meeting – a great start to the conversation. According to research from Microsoft, 59% of UK businesses are unprepared to meet the government’s 2050 net zero target. We’ve got a long way to travel. This is an opportunity to get our business community thinking a bit differently. They need to start to think about what they can contribute to net zero now, and there’s a lot of support available to help them throughout this journey.”

Coastal West Sussex Partnership brings together leaders and senior officers from business, educational institutions and the public sector to work collectively to improve the economy of the coast. “We do this by trying to influence policy and investment decisions that our local authority partners and stakeholders would make,” says Caroline. “We create networks. We’re a connector of individuals – a collaborative voice for the region that unites local businesses and local authorities for the benefit of all.” 

I ask Caroline what inspired the decision to launch the ‘Race to Net Zero’ conference. She explains that in March 2020, the partnership interviewed a number of its members and produced a White Paper that identified some of the economic priorities for the coast. In March 2021, they revisited the paper – bringing into focus the challenges and emerging opportunities for the coastal economy as the county comes out of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Many priorities remained the same – namely surrounding digital and physical infrastructure, skills of residents, future skills for the business community and promoting the area as an area of opportunity – but what really came to the fore was sustainable growth and the climate change agenda. “This was something that hadn’t been picked up before,” reveals Caroline. “That’s where it all started.”

In response to the White Paper, Caroline and the Coastal West Sussex team sought to identify some of the sustainability champions from across the region. They established relationships with the likes of Sam Zindel and Zoe Osmond, and started to compile resources for local businesses to learn from. “There’s lots of interest and noise on the topic of net zero and plenty of information and support to help SMEs pledge their commitment,” says Caroline. “You’ve got national resources and organisations, including the government’s UK Business Climate Hub, Carbon Trust and Zero Carbon Business, alongside fantastic local opportunities like Low Carbon Leaders and the Clean Growth UK platform.”

Businesses can also be galvanised by the growing levels of green activity in the West Sussex area. Across the region, a clean hydrogen economy is being facilitated and Shoreham Port recently received environmental accreditation for becoming a member of the eco ports network, sites Caroline. She also points out that more and more local organisations are going through B Corp Certification, which is proving extremely beneficial – not only for the environment but for attracting and retaining staff. “We’re showcasing these businesses to inspire other organisations to adopt similar policies and begin their own race to net zero. Our younger people are looking for companies that are looking to give back to the community and environment. The opportunities are infinite.”

I ask Caroline what Coastal West Sussex Partnership’s top piece of advice to businesses is. She explains: “We would encourage businesses to reach out to other businesses and talk to other people who are on the journey to net zero. It’s wonderful how collaborative our business community can be. If you’re looking to start the process, it’s also a good idea to reach out to your supply chains to find out what they’re doing to reduce their carbon emissions.”

Following the success of the first online conference, Coastal West Sussex Partnership is launching two further events – one on December 8 and another in January – and will be rolling out a broader events programme in 2022. “Alongside this, we’re carrying out Q&A interviews with the leading voices in sustainability and putting their advice to businesses on the Coastal West Sussex website and social media channels,” says Caroline. “It’s easy to feel confused by the overwhelming amount of information that’s out there surrounding net zero. We hope people will engage with these interview pieces and learn from others in more of a conversation style. We’re always keen to hear from our business community. There’s always an open invitation to get in touch. We’re encouraging businesses to be part of that conversation to really make a difference to our coastal community.”

National resources

Local resources

Have you started your journey to net zero yet? What plans does your business have in place? We’d love to hear from you. Email zoe@southeastbusiness.com. 

Originally published as part of South East Business’ December/January edition

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