Andrew Mitchell: Human ingenuity will save us – with your help

The Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation is housed in a building that has seen many a lightbulb moment down the ages. Picture: Contributed
The Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation is housed in a building that has seen many a lightbulb moment down the ages. Picture: Contributed
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FRESH ideas are needed to avoid climate catastrophe, and a competition may be the spur needed, says Andrew Mitchell

Nothing gives you more perspective on work and life than the loss of a loved one. I learnt this in the extreme last year when our six-week-old daughter died after an incredibly brave battle with a complicated heart condition. In my professional fall-out from this I made a decision to quit a very exciting role with Scotland’s Data Lab Innovation Centre, and committed myself to finding an entrepreneurial raison d’etre, even if that meant no salary or income this year.

I had collaborated with the Climate-KIC, Brussels’ core climate change innovation programme, since 2011. So I had much excitement and enthusiasm when an opportunity came up to bring Climate Launchpad to Scotland for the first time.

We have another baby on the way, due in October, and beyond the short-term concerns about health (all scans looking good, by the way) my major concern is what our planet will be like when she goes to school in five years time, is at college or university, and as she establishes a life and career in the decades ahead.

Despite political figures such as Ukip’s David Coburn protesting that climate change is some kind of academic conspiracy theory, we are seeing increasingly worrying evidence that the environmental, social and economic impact of climate change is accelerating. This explains “WTF” exclamations about snow on Britain’s green and pleasant cricket fields in May. If you are reading this as someone unconvinced by scientists, I reckon your view is going to be changed very soon by the impact in the pensions and insurance sectors caused by climate change hitting your pocket. Also by the formal views of chief executives from companies such as Accenture, BT, Hilton, IKEA, Kellogg’s, Lloyds Bank, Marks & Spencer, Nestlé and Unilever, who recognise climate change as a serious threat to our global economy and society.

I’m not doom and gloom about this predicament. I’m a firm believer in human ingenuity, and think that Climate Launchpad is a great catalyst for change. Climate Launchpad boldly presents itself as “the world’s biggest cleantech business ideas competition”. Which sounds like a big claim, but it is justified. Over the next six months, 31 European countries will collectively put forward one hundred business ideas competing for a €1 million prize fund to be shared amongst the top ten.

So are you Scotland’s Elon Musk? Musk is founder of PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla if you didn’t know. Are you working on the next big thing in cleantech? When we say “cleantech” and “environment” we mean anything that broadly relates to climate change and reducing emissions. So this could be renewable energy, energy efficiency, food and drink, agriculture, transportation, smart cities, behaviour change, digital and cleanweb, the sharing economy and the circular economy.

We are particularly interested in circular economy ideas, especially with the recent announcement from Zero Waste Scotland on a new Circular Economy Investment Fund. Everything from the decommissioning of oil rigs to reducing food waste falls in to the circular economy category. At least one third of food produced globally is wasted, and this represents almost 10 per cent of total green house gas emissions. The trade association, Oil & Gas UK, estimates that the market for decommissioning in the UK alone between 2015 and 2024 is £17 billion. How about both of these as Reduce, Reuse, Recycle business opportunities?

Whether you are an industrial engineer, an oil industry accountant, a city council pen-pusher, a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed undergraduate student, a genius post-doc, a serial entrepreneur, or a taxi driver with a radically disruptive idea, we want to hear from you.

The Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation and Climate Launchpad are here to help you become Scotland’s Elon Musk.

The ECCI’s building has housed individuals who have truly changed the world. It was a seat of learning for Sir Walter Scott. Joseph Lister, pioneer of antiseptic, worked there when it was a surgical hospital.

Far more interesting, though, are the people who dwell within these walls today; a mix of entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, investors, academics, students and policy makers. The perfect environment to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship.

Half a mile from ECCI, on the site of another old hospital, are the global head quarters of Scotland’s two “billion dollar” software startups, Skyscanner and Fanduel. I predict ECCI will be home to a billion dollar cleantech startup in the years ahead and invite you to start this journey by applying to Climate Launchpad. Submit entries by midnight on 9 May at www.climatelaunchpad.org

• Andrew Mitchell is Climate Launchpad’s national lead for Scotland