Thursday, January 31, 2008

Their starter for...

I make no apology for printing this in full: Join the debate on a low-carbon economy

Note: Post event Addendum added below.

It looks like they could do with a bit of a kick-start is all.

Huge Issue. Top quality paper. One of the most significant blogs. Multimillion, if not billion NGO.

So far, no input as far as I can see. Maybe most emailed direct, as that seems to be what was asked. I am not so shy. Also, it's a shame not to see the questions posed in open forum. Leads one to suspect that those chosen might be edited for suitability first.

Post your questions for the Observer's science editor and the Carbon Trust
January 29, 2008 11:00 AM
On Thursday January 31 at 11am, guardian.co.uk will be hosting the first of three web chats exploring how Britain can create a low-carbon economy.

The Observer's science editor, Robin McKie, will be joined by the Carbon Trust's director of innovations, Mark Williamson, to discuss what is in store for low-carbon technologies in 2008 and the innovations we can expect over the coming year.

Topics for discussion include:

What technologies are being developed (photovoltaic solar cells, micro-CHP, wave and wind powers) and how are companies/scientists/engineers improving on existing technologies?

Can these technologies help the UK meet its targets?

Who needs to take the lead in implementing new technologies?

What are the most exciting developments happening in low-carbon technology?

Is 2008 the year for these technologies to really start to hit mainstream, or are we still a few years away?

You can find out more about the Carbon Trust here, and more details about the chat here.

Email your questions for Robin and Mark to carbontrustinnovation@guardianunlimited.co.uk and log on at 11am on Thursday to follow the debate

'Last night I was honoured to be a co-speaker and panellist at The Centre for Sustainable Design - http://www.cfsd.org.uk/ - in a session entitled 'Resourceful Innovators', where the main topic for discussion coincidentally revolved around the level and quality of support for ideas and entrepreneurs developing low carbon solutions.

Without speaking for the College or those present, it seemed agreed that almost all focus of support was on big-ticket, high profile, hi-tech, but not necessarily that great ROI or often even enviROI+ initiatives.

Also that vast sums seem to be going into logistics, administration and comms budgets of those tasked with doling out funding, but a possibly less than healthy percentage was getting from taxpayers' pockets to those doing the most good (especially seeking to become self-sustaining without ongoing subsidy as a business model), in the most cost-effective and planetary beneficial ways.

So a couple of top-of-mind questions to pose are:

Why are there so many bodies tasked with forking out the money to help such private, and possibly highly worthy initiatives, why do so many overlap, why are they so 'big system driven' and what are the actual breakdowns involved in getting say, £100M from UK taxpayers to amounts tangibly provided to money in hand for things that might actually help their families' futures?

Just in round figures.

It's also a pity not to see more of the possible questions that may be posed in open forum here on the site as there is that option.'

However, there is is opportunity here, and you need to work with what is on offer. hence I hope this may push the right kind of buttons and may stand a better chance of being embraced:

'On a more proactive and pragmatic front, what more can be done to matchmake those with good ideas with the necessary business skills to bring these to self-sustaining, and soon profitable market. This country abounds with innovators, and by all accounts we are also well served with the service sector and business brains that know how to make money. In few cases are these two skill sets complementary within one person (save, perhaps, a Dyson or Baylis). And possibly in the area of the environment it may be further complicated by the driving forces being often at odds. Great inventions can often be driven by a desire to make money, yet more often than not they are more idealistically inspired. But one thing I have learned early on is that to have any chance of success in pushing the business case, the priority you outline is much more 'IT WILL MAKE OODLES OF DOUGH..' first, with '... and will also serve the future of this planet and those on it well' very quietly, and last, at the end. It is almost as though a desire to do right by next generations is seen as a negative in the macho universe of the Masters of the Business of Administration. A curse of denigration by Dragon. Which is a pity.

We are in a much more complex world, with many realities that need to be faced. And high amongst them is that most successes need teams of complementary talents to shape a concept, especially a new, left field one, and bring it to market. So in management, especially financial, one would have hoped for more forward thinking and indeed a desire to recognise and pleasure in seeing potential, and then building the necessary structures around it to make it happen. Not expect... or demand... a fully fledged done-deal from the off. Were it only as easy as ploughing in dosh and lighting the blue touch paper. There are people to meet, deals to be struck.... consumers to convince. Few can do that and make magic in their shed, too.

With the wealth of contacts across the board, and indeed in boards, could not more be done at official level to bridge the gap that I believe exists between those business minded creative souls that do have the talent and belief to think in terms of the next generations of products and services that can serve the environment, and the hopefully creative minded folk in business who can see potential in such ideas, and are looking for a legacy that is not just measured in pounds, pennies, Lears and Flaming Ferraris. Readers of this paper who do appreciate the environmental lead, but are not so interested in spending their money any longer on an advertised weekend trip to an Eco-lodge in the Maldives, and more on being part of a method to help mitigate the chances of the azure waters lapping higher than desirable.

So, of course, we are now in a world driven by bean counters, and hence we need them to work, and to work with them. But if more and more are counting beans and fewer and fewer making them, soon there will be no beans for anyone to live off.

Can we do more to free those who this country's unique systems and institutions still inspire to create great and unique ideas, from the all too crushing constraints of being things and personalities that they may not be best suited to deliver? Can we not seek ways to identify those areas that do have potential at an early stage, and then marry them and their creators with the now necessary skill sets to produce the business plans, P&Ls, forecasts and other instruments (though often, it seems that are mainly backside covering, and hence highly speculative 'best guesses'. It is my experience that an innovator, whilst passionate, may tend to be honest enough to say I haven't a clue' when asked to provide market forecasts for the next decade, which often does not tick the right boxes in more 'correct financial procedures concerned' cultures. Mind you. ... Dome? Wembley? Olympics? Nulclear? Some Alt. Energy schemes?) that are indeed necessary and essential to bring solid business concepts to fruition and profitable, socially serving reality?'

ADDENDUM:

Well, I think it's over. Actually was a bit hard to say. Probably me being an IT-numptie, but I did not find the 'process' that easy. From the original site link (at the top/start) it was a bit of a kerfuffle getting 'registered', and then I was none too sure where I was once 'live'....

Here... or here.

So, how was it for me... you?

I'd say, at best, an 'interesting' experiment in communication at best. Though I dipped in and out that was 1 and a half hours of time, and really what Q&A result was there? Especially as to pressing enviro issues involving the lives millions of folk and billions of £.

At least some my question sets did get posed, and by the editorial taboot. Not sure I got many answers, mind. It was all very... general. And this from a chap whose title is Director of Innovation, and if you click on the link to his bio he sits amongst a bunch of other 'Directors of..' who I doubt very much are on expenses only. So still no clue as to how a £100M in funding get carved up before the public sees any money going to 'doing' vs. 'talking' or 'doling'. And I do have to note one medium that is the beneficiary of a lot of this comms largesse. But at least they allowed me to pose my question, so big up there.

Not sure how the other questioners felt, either. As I indicated, we are talking via one of the more significant online news entities, with a definite interest in things green, involving senior editors with a high official in a hugely-significant green quango... and between the options I attempted, would be hard pressed to see much more than, what, twenty involved?

Not sure what it says exactly, but it doesn't seem that encouraging, really.

I doubt I'll be investing such time or effort again on this basis in a hurry. Which considering the importance of, and sums involved in such an issue, is a worry.

2 comments:

Dave said...

Well said - I couldn't agree more - all your points desperately needed to be stated. But methinks you pose questions that none will care to (or perhaps, can) answer.

Interesting to note that there are, as yet, no other posts whatsoever.

Peter said...

Yes, it does seem strange. The CiF brigade are no usually so reticent. As I indicated, it may be because of the rather confusing (well, to me) submission instructions. Maybe the rest are just looking to discuss in camera. Which explains quite a lot of where we've been, are and will doubtless continue.

I recall the Climate Change conference I was kindly sponsored to attend by the Tesco Director having whinged about the cost keeping out those who might have a contribution to make.

Main sponsor was Shell. 7-series Beemers at the door. The great and green from major brands, LAs and Gov all agreeing that something must be done. A load of money flying about, and mostly either going up in hot air or on major industry lobby, subsidised pet projects. Or activist hobby-horses that ticked boxes, looked cute in the green media, but didn't seem very practical or a decent enviROI in site. And none talking to the commmon wo/man.

I'm at a crossroads. Today is a first in a series of VC runs.

I'm nervous, but hopeful. It can't be any worse than to date, and maybe I have been too addicted to the cosy funding and support routes presented so far. And other than getting me to match fund and then drop as soon as they can once it's all been signed off, where has it got me, the businesses... or planet?

I have a queue of consultants round the block who will take my money to tell me what to do, many sent my way by those in authority. None actually seem to do anything themselves, with no risk consequences on what they are paid to suggest, and bail the moment their fee dries up.

It's time to DO, and as I know there are things I cannot or am not equipped to do myself, I need to devote more time and effort to find the necessary partners to just get on with it... together. Shared risk, shared rewards.

One of my fellow panellists, a very respected and successful entrepreneur, listened carefully to most of what was said and then, when asked what he thought, simply said 'I find it amusing that government and entrepreurship are ever put together in the same sentence in this country'.

Everyone laughed, I guess in agreement. But what about the sheer amount of money poured down green holes in the name of this very notion?