We’re all in this together: Science for the Green Economy 2016

Experts in science, technology, law and finance descended upon Cranfield last week for Science For The Green Economy 2016 (S4GE). This national debate took place on 13-14th January, and explored disruptive innovation, policy and regulatory environments in which new green technologies (and young professionals!) might thrive.

Our first external speaker was Ben Richie (Senior Investment Manager at Aberdeen Asset Management PLC) who spoke on maximising the value of the green economy. He stressed the need for long-term planning for sustainable growth in the sector, and that equity markets can do much more to support companies in R&D. Hayden Morgan then took to the stage (VP Sustainability and Green Impact at the UK Green Investment Bank) to present best practice environmental evaluation techniques prior to investment.

Herbert Smith Freehills LLP representative Julie Vaughan (Senior Associate) took us through the legal landscape for environmental reporting and impacts on large companies. Interesting to note that there is effectively no upper limit to fines for large companies who do not meet their reporting responsibilities!

Julian Richardson (CEO of Parhelion Underwriting Ltd.) reminded us of the outcomes of COP21 in December 2015. He believes that whilst Paris re-energised the process, the success of the Paris Treaty lies very much in the post-engagement and translation to the finance industry. We can all agree that there is still much more do to, and we can’t just expect success. We then were presented with a brief history of corporate responsibility from Professor David Grayson CBE (Director of the Doughty Centre). Looking forwards, he believes that as we move towards 2050, corporate responsibility is embedded in sustainable business, more collaboration and wider purpose.

Moving on to the debate – the session considered the issues raised in previous talks and the wider tensions between environmental technology and governance. Chaired by Professor Paul Leinster CBE, he kicked things off by asking: if the green economy is such a great idea – should government have a defined role in it? It was argued from the floor that there is a clash between long-term solutions, and policy makers who make the decisions having only a short term mind set!

The day ended with a Prestige Lecture from Alison Carter (Editor of The ENDS report). This talk was more aimed at us as early career researchers looking to make our next steps. Learning about job opportunities in the green sector was important – and Alison believes we should be following global markets. Having often thought about leaving the UK to pursue my career abroad – this was nice to hear. At present there is no hot water in my apartment… but I understand South East Asia is pretty warm this time of year.

Day two opened with a talk from Doug Wilson (Director of Scientific and Evidence Services at the Environment Agency). He talked us through the great technologies government is looking to invest in – Agritech being a pillar of this (hurray!). He also stressed that communication and translation between the amazing technology that comes out of our institutes and universities is paramount to implementing and building green growth.

We then moved to the early-career researcher showcase.. Starting with my friend and colleague Dr Mari Carmen Alamar Gavidia. Mari Carmen is a post-doc in the plant science laboratory, and she presented her paper on waste reduction through post-harvest storage of onion and potato. By combining understanding of genetics, biochemistry and physiology she showed us how preventing spouting in both crops will save many tons of food waste from going to landfill.

Other Agrifood research presented included Pietro Goglio, who taught us how we can account for greenhouse gas emissions in life-cycle assessments of cropping systems. Silvestre Garcia de Jalon also spoke about the amazing AGFORWARD EU project, and discussed the opportunities and barriers to the adoption of agroforestry in Europe.

I also presented a paper on vanilla sustainability where I discussed the origins of vanilla, the challenges faced by producers across the world and the prospects for agritech, molecular plant sciences and corporate responsibility to support the livelihoods of vanilla farmers. This seemed to strike a chord with the judges – and I ended up winning the S4GE trophy for best lecture! The conference proceedings also included a poster exhibition of early-career researchers. Agrifood struck again with Alaa Baazeem (PhD student, Mycology) winning the prize for his poster on colonisation of pistachio nuts by Aspergillus flavus!

All in all, the conference provided us with the opportunity to meet and discuss technology from the “other-side” to what we normally see in the laboratory – the business management side, investment, regulation, policy.. The translation of business jargon for our benefit is just as important as the translation of our science into something that is accessible for business leaders and policy makers to make informed decisions. After all, we’re all in this together.


Author: Siobhan Gardiner