2021: The year the alarm went off (but will we wake up in time?) By Angus Cunningham, CEO Scotscape Group

13 December 2021

Looking back on 2021, it’s extraordinary to think we’re already at the end of the year after the year that brought COVID-19. Remember in 2020 when everybody was speculating about how much longer it would last? April was the conservative estimate. Summer seemed more likely. Yet here we are, at Christmas, still in the grip of this shape-shifting virus.

Every cloud has a silver lining and in this case the resounding benefit has been the widespread reconnection with nature. Lockdown definitely sparked a greater awareness of our natural world and the mental health benefits of being amongst greenery.

That has been a big plus for what we’re trying to do with urban greening and using it to encourage biodiversity into our urban places, although getting hold of plants was a nightmare earlier in the year because demand was so high.

Our population is growing and residing in our cities. Cities drive the economies and we need to make them more sustainable and healthier places to live and work. It’s plants that make the world a better place.

Catching the mood of change

And that brings me on to the even bigger issue of climate change, brought into the spotlight last month with the arrival of COP26 in Glasgow. We were there with three major installations and I was able to gauge first-hand the mood in the camp.

Among the businesses displaying their wares in the Climate Action Innovation Zone, there was a great feeling of positivity and a sense that things are moving in the right direction. This was in contrast with the government policy makers, who seemed to have come armed with ifs and buts and maybes and a disappointing lack of commitment.

But whilst I understand the challenges faced by our politicians, they are never ones to fully commit until they know the outcome and can then nail their colours to the winning mast. Perhaps we can take heart from that and assume that, for all the caveats and conditions, proper efforts are now being made in the corridors of power.

Entrepreneurs and the environment

Meanwhile, it looks like it’s down to private enterprise to take the initiative. There were some ingenious concepts on show at COP26. One that sticks in my mind was a filter that produces pure water from waste oil and uses the residue as fuel, reducing CO2 emissions and pollution. Clever stuff!

There are lots of clever ideas, not least our own LivingPillarTM, which attracted a lot of interest at COP26, but it’s now a question of money. Most of the enterprises coming up with these solutions are SMEs, not large corporates, and they often need funds to develop their concepts.

Our LivingPillarTM has been four years in the making with plenty of ‘hard yards’ along the way. We have spent a healthy 6 figure sum in achieving proof of concept, developing the technology and patent and introducing to the market – all out of our own cash …not to mention making time during our day-jobs! With funding, we could have developed it in half the time.

Matching solutions with money

But despite the popularity of the concept, we have had only one Company, Smart DCC, approach us with a…“We hear you’re doing great stuff, can we lend a hand?” We can’t afford to employ people to go looking for pots of money. The same must apply to countless SMEs that have brilliant sustainability solutions in development. There needs to be a way to marry up these businesses with the money being pledged by governments and the large corporate sector.

Deloitte’s, EON and MottMac popped on to our stand at COP26, which suggests that it’s at expos that these crucial relationships will be forged. Maybe there should be an annual sustainability expo in the UK, where it’s free to exhibit and those Chief Sustainability Officers, who are desperate to find bona fide “green” enterprises in which to invest corporate responsibility cash, can come and see what’s out there.

We were lucky enough to be given our stand at COP26 for free – a perk from the work we were commissioned to do there – but had we had to pay the going rate we would not have been able to exhibit and the same must go for hundreds if not thousands of other businesses like us. The financial barriers need to be removed as soon as possible.

Getting the message through

Another benefit of an annual convention would be the collaborations that arise from like minds coming together. For example, we got chatting to an EV charging point company that was very keen to work with us. It’s an example of how the LivingPillarTM concept can be applied to more than just lampposts and street signs. Supermarkets can use it in their car parks to advertise their offers. Some are exploring the idea of vertical farming with our technology – all ways of bringing green to urban environments, combining renewable energy with biodiversity, nature with technology.

This is attractive to Borough Councils, who are recognising benefits beyond the environmental. Urban greening is bringing footfall back to high streets, and that is an important consideration for Local Councillors and BIDS after nearly two years of closures for shops, pubs and restaurants and the ever-present competition from e-commerce.

Earlier this year I had a meeting with one of the London Borough Councils in which we completely turned the mood around in the space of an hour. Initially they could not have been more sceptical when we went in. By the end, all were on board and were throwing out ideas as to how the LivingPillarTM could be deployed.

So whilst it’s the younger generation really banging the drum for biodiversity and helping drive the marketplace, I do think the older generation are getting the message. And I think the Councils like the fact that we’re doing something practical about the problem; we’re not just consulting and theorising.

Looking forward with optimism

It’s almost as if Covid was a wake-up call for the bigger issue of nature and climate change. It’s got the plate on top of the pole and now we’re spinning it. I’m feeling good about next year. There’s a load of potential energy out there and it’s exciting watching it develop.

We’ve got some innovative new developments in the pipeline for the coming months and, whilst the hard yards have been hard, they have helped us develop a first-class team that are agile, motivated and committed.

The fact that the wider benefit of our work is being more universally recognised is the icing on the cake.

My team and I wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Angus Cunningham

Founder and CEO

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