Challenges and opportunities in region’s drive to net zero highlighted by event

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Carbon-reducing projects and green innovation in agri-food, construction and other key sectors have been highlighted at a Clean Growth for Business conference organised by New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership.

Lift-sharing, sustainable crop production and training in sustainable construction were just some of the initiatives showcased to demonstrate how Norfolk & Suffolk is rising to the net zero challenge and in some cases leading the field.

However, high levels of freight on our roads and the rural make-up of the area pose a particularly stark challenge, with Transport East highlighting how 48% of our transport carbon emissions involve journeys to or from rural areas.

The scale of the task ahead and the opportunities presented by the need for clean growth were set out during the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership event at the King’s Centre in Norwich on Wednesday 15 November.

Speakers explored carbon reduction in four key areas – energy, mobility, agri-food and land management, and construction – and fielded questions from delegates. Organisations that contributed to the debate included Swedish energy company Vattenfall, Sizewell C and Transport East.

A series of webinars looking at issues including green finance and supply chain emissions is also being held as part of the Clean Growth for Business programme and to coincide with COP27.

Kate Dixon, Head of Innovation & Marketing at malted ingredient and malt manufacturer Muntons, based in Stowmarket, told delegates how the business had developed “growers’ routes” and worked with fertiliser companies to drive up the production of lower carbon barley. That had led to proactive trials and partnerships, and it was now involved in regenerative agriculture and working towards carbon negative barley.

She said: “That all sounds really impressive and innovation can be so exciting and so the latest innovation, the one that’s going to change the world for us… is the radish!

“One of the things we are looking at in the latest trial is growing it as a cover crop. By doing that, we have our malt and barley, then we plant our winter cover crop which traps carbon in the soil and improves the habitats that we have. Not only that, if you crush it and roller it, that actually goes into the soil which makes it more friable, which means it is easier to manage so you are using less energy, it absorbs water and again it gives more carbon back.

“From the research we have done so far and the preliminary trial results, we are generating net negative carbon in terms of our overall results, which phenomenal when you think all you are doing is planting an additional crop over winter.”

Pete Joyner, Chair of the Norfolk and Suffolk Clean Growth Taskforce established last year, said the group’s purpose was to help business understand the impact they can have in reducing their carbon emissions and give them the tools and skills to act.

As well as the environment, businesses also stand to benefit from carbon reduction. Customers and clients are interested in companies’ green credentials, job seekers are likely to favour employers with green policies, and carbon-reduction initiatives can reap financial gains.

“There are genuine savings to be made if you can find a more sustainable way to heat your office or place to plug your electric vehicles because in time businesses will be penalised for their over-consumption and over-emissions of CO2,” said Mr Joyner.

“That has got to be a real driver for any business that wants to be successful in the future and manage its cost base and hopefully grow.”

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, taking part via a video link from Westminster, told delegates she was interested in a practical stance where inward investment to the region can be encouraged to ensure the transition to greener industry preserves and creates opportunities.

“As you have discussed already many times this morning, the green jobs or roles that contribute to preserving or restoring the environment can be working in traditional sectors such as manufacturing or construction or in a new emerging green industry such as renewable energy,” she said.

“And as our economy becomes greener some industries will need help adapting their products and processes to reduce their emissions. Others are working on green technology outright, for example electric vehicles and LED lighting, and some will be working on completely new green activities to tackle climate change.

“Now all of this is creating exciting new job opportunities. That is very good for individuals; for the person at school looking for the career of their future or for a person currently working in one of those established industries who will be looking for reassurance about their role in the present.

“In uncertain times people do need confidence that the talk of net zero will work for them – and I think these opportunities are firmly within our city’s and our region’s grasp.”

Closing the event, Chair of the LEP C-J Green (pictured), said: “The LEP undertook a study in 2019 looking at the impacts of climate change, and the results were worrying. For us as a region, it can feel overwhelming knowing where to start to make a difference. The answer from our room today… just start something. The resolution will be one step at a time!

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