Highlights from Venturefest WM 2022: Zero Carbon As A Business Opportunity


  • Alan Carr, SWM and VIT Lead for Zero Carbon
  • Abe Tiling, NatWest
  • Paul Hodgkinson, Keele University
  • Neil Whittaker, Energy Systems Catapult
  • Kiran Mahta, Mercia Asset Management

The British Business Bank, supported by Sustainability West Midlands, convened a session with businesses on how both entering zero carbon markets and reducing carbon emissions can lead to economic growth opportunities. It was Chaired by Sophie Dale-Black from British Business Bank.


Abe Tiling began by discussing NatWest’s aims of carbon reduction, stating that they have already achieved net zero and purchase only renewable electricity for all their branches, offices and buildings. He then explored NatWest’s future aim to offset their carbon footprint and even become carbon positive! But how can other businesses even begin to consider such ambitious aims?

Alan Carr, from SWM, explained how all businesses and companies are on different paths, and that carbon reduction can become a priority which will benefit businesses on all their different journeys. Alan suggested even using LED lighting is an example of positively impacting the carbon footprint of a business and SMEs may often have to start in the simplest way. What is defined is ‘innovation’ often depends on the nature and status of the business.

Neil Whittaker, from Energy Systems Catapult, expanded on this by discussing the challenges of reducing a business’s carbon footprint, and listed the criteria that must be present in order for this to be successful, including gaining awareness of the challenge, business innovation, a skilled workforce and measurement and monitoring tools.


Kiran Mahta, from Mercia Asset Management, began the next part of the discussion by highlighting that there needs to be a balance between sustainable credibility and the commercial representation of sustainability. However, over time the challenge of balancing these two aspects will decrease and they will somewhat become interrelated and move together.

Abe Tiling emphasised that current barriers to business growth are not necessarily net zero related and are, instead, born from higher perceived priorities such as increasing costs to the legacy of Covid lockdowns. As such, many businesses are not even thinking of sustainability or net zero at the moment, but he did reemphasise that there are many opportunities that becoming a more ‘sustainable business’ can realise to help with overall business growth.


A discussion on challenges inevitably led to a focus on the present funding landscape, which it was universally agreed needs to adapt to support businesses. Alan Carr lead to speak about the difficulties that businesses, especially SMEs, have of even knowing what funding opportunities are out there and locating them, let alone then having the capacity to apply for them.

He explained how there is a lack of clarity for businesses about funding options and that there needs to be more visibility and transparency; providing funding options that are both accessible and easy to access is key to this. One of the core aims of SWM is to try and help distil available opportunities, through our communications and networks such as the Innovative Zero Carbon Working Group.

Paul Hodgkinson, from Keele University, continued the conversation by emphasising the need for businesses to engage with the support that they have locally, specifically universities. He explained how universities are huge drivers of low carbon and net zero, and that there a range of ways in which higher education can support and fund businesses and be a broker to the wider sector.


The offsetting of carbon goods was briefly discussed by Abe Tiling as he illustrated that, technically, offsetting does not exist, but it is definitely needed! However, for it to emerge connections are needed and effective collaboration and communication is paramount. Markets also need to be created, in which businesses and organisations can offset together.


The Chair asked Kiran Mahta, from Mercia Asset Management, and Paul Hodgkinson, from Keele University, for their take home messages

Paul Hodgkinson, from Keele University, emphasised the importance of obtaining independent advice in order to set your business on the best course of action. He highlighted the significance of making informed decisions and making the most of your investments.

Kiran concluded with the thought to ‘just get started in whichever way that you can!’ He stated, “you don’t have to change the world – it’s the little things that count.” A message that we should all relate to.

Author, Alan Carr

Virtual Innovation Team Lead, Zero Carbon; Sustainability West Midlands