Science and business - the critical partnership

Alex James: I have been to two very different events in the last week, each reflecting different areas in my own professional development and interests. The two also got me thinking about the types of innovation we need to achieve sustainability and how science and business need to work together in this.

I have been to two very different events in the last week, each reflecting different areas in my own professional development and interests. The two also got me thinking about the types of innovation we need to achieve sustainability and how science and business need to work together in this.

The first was ‘Can Accountants Save the World’, a day long symposium at the ICAEW last Friday and was run by the Sustainable Business team at the Institute of Chartered Accountants. Accounting was my first career and so it was great to see the strides the profession is making in rethinking the role of business, and accountants in particular, in building a sustainable future.
As you might expect, a lot of the focus was on the corporate world and on typical accounting roles such as reporting, quantifying and measuring impacts, assurance and improving business performance through improved environmental and social performance. All very much in the arena where Brite Green works and the sort of areas where we seek out enhanced value for our clients.

As a reminder of my past, it was also great to see a few people from H.W. Fisher, the firm I trained with, who have really committed to the sustainability arena.
And, as usual, there were also lots of Imperial College CEP alumni there and it was good to see some familiar faces and also meet a few more of the environmental technology mafia. In particular Ilana Taub, formerly of the B&E option, was one of the Sustainable Business team at the ICAEW who organised the event.

Before turning to the dark side of finance I was a chemist at university and the  other event I went to was at theSociety of Chemical Industry, on Monday at their HQ in Belgrave Square. This was the first in their series of evening lecture series and was given by Dr. John Emsley on the subject of 2050: Sustainable UK.

This was also an excellent event but quite different to the ICAEW event, of course -  much more scientific and with a major focus on technological innovation, especially in the chemical sciences. The lecture itself gave a good high-level overview of the steps required for the UK to be sustainable in terms of food, energy and built environment and highlighting the role of chemistry in this process.

The thing that linked these two events for me, apart from my former careers, was that they pointed up the importance of innovation, in science and in business, if we are to have a sustainable future.

Technology and science-based industries are obviously going to be critical in changing our society onto a sustainable path in the next few decades. Climate change, resource depletion, growing population and water scarcity will require innovative and scalable technology to solve, or even to mitigate the worst effects.
A similar process of innovation in business models and organisations will also be crucial to moving society beyond the current linear model of ownership based consumption and waste towards an ecosystem approach to resource. Disruptive ideas like leasing over ownership, zero waste the environmental P&L, as published by Puma.
Innovative business will also be the vital link between scientific advances and wider society, bringing new technologies for market and providing the backing for inventors and entrepreneurs to capitalise from their ideas.

The only missing piece of the jigsaw at the moment is the right incentives for firms to invest in sustainable business and new technologies. Chemists and accountants are bringing some creative thinking to these problems – perhaps investors and policymakers can raise their game too?

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