Launching the Guildford Sustainable Business Network
Find out how we set up the Guildford Sustainable Business Network and captured the enthusiasm and energy of local organisations to reduce their carbon footprint.
In 2021 the Surrey Living Lab team undertook HEIF-funded research to ascertain the need for, and potential interest in, a Sustainable Business Network (SBN) for the Guildford area. The report concluded that, surprisingly, no such network existed in Surrey, although several other networks did offer some support and guidance to businesses on sustainability interventions, and that, crucially, there was significant enthusiasm from a wide range of organisations to establish an SBN, with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) being the main target member group.
Fast-forward 12 months and Surrey has partnered with ZERO Carbon Guildford to set up the Guildford Sustainable Business Network. Funding was secured to provide short term staff resource to work with ZERO to get the project off the ground, establish governance and plan events during the pre-launch phase between May and July 2022.
To better understand the challenges faced by SMEs, a baseline survey was also undertaken and despite a vast majority of businesses wishing to take steps toward decarbonisation and improved sustainability, the resounding feedback was that SMEs simply do not know where to start. The SBN will therefore aim to cut through the noise that can sometimes accompany such strategies, to help businesses focus on their main sustainability objectives, and highlight the most impactful ways to achieve these.
In line with the results of the Living Lab’s feasibility report, the SBN has four main objectives:
- Providing pathways for businesses to reduce their emissions and increase their sustainability through interactions with University of Surrey researchers, sector experts, grant-makers and each other
- Make Guildford an appealing place for sustainable and innovative enterprises and start-ups to flourish
- Platform the work already being done on sustainability by local businesses, inspiring others to follow suit whilst creating a collaborative network of motivated businesses
- Provide a convening platform for University of Surrey staff to conduct knowledge exchange with businesses, research labs, and the Institute for Sustainability.
To start building momentum whilst the baseline survey was being undertaken, four events were held during this pre-launch phase:
- Two events took place as part of the global ‘Pint of Science’ science festival; ‘What lurks within’ (delivered by Dr Dany Beste, Prof Dan Horton, Dr Joaquin M Prada and Dr Martha Betson) and ‘Is Sustainability, the only way forward?’ (delivered by Dr Chris Jones, Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe, Prof Ian Walker and Prof Birgitta Gatersleban).
- The third event was co-hosted by ZERO, the University and the Surrey Energy Partnership (SEP) and included an introduction to the SBN, what the network can offer SMEs and how they can get involved, a presentation by LoCASE on funding for business sustainability initiatives in the south and east of England and updates from SEP.
- The fourth event, ‘Procurement – Sustainability in the Supply Chain’, heard Prof Angela Druckman share practical advice on where SMEs can usefully start when measuring their carbon footprint and what to consider when appointing suppliers. Representatives from the NHS and Surrey County Council shared their experiences on greening their supply chains, their challenges, and progress to date against targets.
These four events attracted over 150 attendees and demonstrated a huge appetite amongst the SME community for more such events.
On 14 September 2022, the SBN officially launched to a full capacity crowd in the ZERO community space. The University of Surrey’s Dr Stelvia Matos talked about how to avoid some of the pitfalls and unintended consequences of innovation and introduced TCOS analysis, and Sky’s Fiona Ball, Group Director - Bigger Picture, outlined how Sky is already carbon neutral, with plans for net zero emissions by 2030. The SBN team then outlined the programme of activity for the next 12 months and the support available for SMEs, including the University of Surrey’s SME Innovation Scheme. Of course, network engagement is only one metric to measure progress, so the SBN team will be working with SMEs to develop sustainability plans, implement sustainability interventions and monitor their impact.
With over 50 SMEs already engaged with the SBN since its inception, this initiative, supported by the University of Surrey, is going from strength to strength.
This collaboration is part of Surrey’s work to support the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:
8 - Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
9 - Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
17 - Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development