Interview with Todd Holden, of GM Chamber of Commerce, July 2012

Q: Can you tell us a little about your role at the GMCoC and when and why it got setup?

Well the role of low-carbon policy and programming has existed for almost two years now and the main rationale behind it was that the Low carbon economy is growing all the time and in terms of its scale it is growing faster in the UK then any where else in the world. At at time when most parts of the economy aren’t growing we want to get behind it. There are lots of issue going on around Manchester around climate change and low carbon and the city is doing quite well in terms of developing and getting behind it and so it seemed like a very good time to have a dedicated resource. Not just from a policy point of view but from a practical perspective in terms of helping our members and developing projects and helping that happen in reality as apposed to just words on paper.

Q: How much influence does the GMCoC have over its members in terms of influencing policy?

Well, I think there are two sides to the policy influence- there’s working with national government and the British Chamber of Commerce in terms of what we can do with policy. We have 5,000 members in GM whilst the national chamber has got 100,000 within it. So we have a large policy team which looks at legislation that is coming through and the practical aspects of the policy, we’ll also talk to our members about their major concerns and issues and then we’ll take that to government. So the policy upstream nationally is quite clear. I’m also seconded into the GM Environment team a couple of days a week so we can influence the policy and procedures coming out of AGMA to make sure it’s appropriate. What we all want is to maximise the value of the low-carbon economy for GM businesses and make sure that the people have the right skills and opportunities.

Q: Do you think that there are ways to have a growing carbon economy without using up more and more finite resources?

I think there is a clear need for us, as we go forward, to de-couple the use of resources and resource/energy-efficiency programmes are a good way of doing that. They have significant implications for the bottom line of businesses and they also reduce their environmental impact. In terms of the wider economy, we can grow in a more sustainable way than we are at the moment so it’s about how we adopt those best practices and how we change the way we consume, and how we move from a consumer-led society to one which is more service-focused where we don’t own as much stuff, so we don’t throw away as much stuff so that’s the big move we need to make.

One example I have been using recently is that I own a washing machine because I want clean clothes. But if I could hire a washing machine, it would be a completely different washing machine that isn’t designed to fail in the next five years and I’d be able to change the panels to whatever colour I wanted, I could be more efficient with the water, it would be easier to repair – so that machine would probably last me for life. So it’s about moving to that service-based approach that is less intensive in terms of resources. I think that’s the way we will go. When you have population growth and a growing pressure on finite resources and rising costs, the only way we will be able to afford the lifestyles we have now is to go towards services.

What do you think about the concept of a Steady State Economy?

The Sustainable Development Commission did a really interesting report called ‘prosperity without growth’ which was looking at growth, issues around GDP, social wellbeing and social values. I think the challenge around steady-state is that it is almost impossible for a single geographical location to do it on its own without facing the economic penalties for doing it and the problem with that is that it has social consequences. I think the idea that there is even a small part of the economy that is not growing is really difficult to achieve in reality without a lot of social inequality. That’s not to say that’s isn’t possible or desirable – it’s just very difficult to achieve right now from where we are.

Q: Back in March, it was announced that a ‘Low Carbon Hub’ would be established in Manchester. Could you update us on what has happened so far?

The low carbon hub was announced as part of the Deal for Cities by the government and at the moment AGMA is working with them to define what that will be and what their priorities will be. So the Hub is moving quite well. Its only been 6 weeks since it was announced so it’s doing well and GM is keen to make it work. The low carbon economic area will also migrate to the the low carbon hub work.

Q: What are the biggest barriers in your work?

I think the biggest barrier is that there is nothing that makes these companies do these things – there is no tipping point. It is fairly easy to get companies to sign up to legislation and they are very good at complying to legislation. Nothing makes them take up good opportunities if they are not high up on the agenda. So what we try to do is give companies soft tipping points and get them to agree to change things within certain frameworks. It’s not about finding the savings – that’s relatively easy to do and there are lots of opportunities for saving money by increasing efficiency without much disruption to services- it’s getting them to actually take up our recommendations. The numbers really add up but getting them to do it is a challenge. Something more pressing will come along and we will just slip down the agenda.

Businesses who see the green economy as an opportunity will work with it as an opportunity and it will be an opportunity. Those who see it as a problem or a risk or a challenge – well that’s all it every will be to them; something negative. But if they see it a growing market to take part in and differentiate themselves from the market, then it will be something more positive. Pretty much all businesses can save money by looking at the way they use energy and making some changes. And at time when circumstances are difficult and performance is everything it’s absolutely essential that they take up this agenda. When you look at the savings that the average company could make, this really is a massive opportunity with no capital involved and they can start seeing the pay-back straightaway.

Q: How can councils and people influence businesses and help encourage environmental policies?

Well one way to influence businesses is through regulation and tax breaks which is what national government does. Another way to influence businesses is through demand. The local authorities have quite substantial buying powers so the use of public sector money is a very powerful mechanism. Keeping the money within GM and making it work harder for the region is probably one of the big ways of influencing businesses. Also if you want people to follow then you need to get your own house in order pretty quickly. That ability to act as an exemplar whether that is in your travel policy or your energy, you need to have your own house in order before you talk to others about taking it up.

As individuals we can also influence our employers to get involved in things and take up opportunities to save energy. Also if individuals see something they don’t like they should speak to their MPs and councillors – talking to these elected members to raise your concerns is a really good way to taking action and we’ve found that it tends to be quite effective.

Q: As we’ve reported in MCFly, the Environment Commission’s implementation plan for their Climate Change Action Strategy has been delayed for several months. Could you shed some light as to why?

The strategy has been out for a number of years and about six months ago we looked at developing a high level implementation plan which will take to 2015 and that includes a long list and shortlist of projects. We were hoping to agree the plan pretty soon but within Manchester there is the Greater Manchester Strategy which is the overall strategy for GM. At the moment that is going through a refresh – not in terms of its headline objectives but how it will achieve these.

So, two things. This is a great opportunity to influence the GM strategy in terms of climate change and it would be premature to launch an implementation against the current GM Strategy because in four months time that will be out of date. So the implementation plan will be out of date. So we thought we’d park the implementation plan for the moment and when we release the action plan it will reflect the revised GM Strategy and so it will have a longer lifetime and it won’t be out of date as soon as we’ve released it. So that’s the rational behind that.

Also, some of the projects listed in the implementation plan are quite sensitive and are still ideas that don’t have planning permission yet so clearly how that information is managed is quite a tricky thing to do. So that’s part of the reason for the delay – the main thing is the GM Strategy as it was just too good an opportunity to miss. It’s only a matter of a few months and it’s not stopping anything in terms of getting on with things. None of us are sat around twiddling our thumbs.

Q: Could you tell us about the work of the Carbon Reduction Group and the Green Economy Group at GM’s Chamber of Commerce?

Well the carbon reduction group has been going for years but we don’t have that now. What we had previously was the carbon reduction group and also the Transport and Environment group so what we did was merge the CRG with the environment element of transport to make the Green Economy Group. The low carbon economy isn’t just about low carbon goods and services so we put those groups together to reflect the way that the agenda is developing. What we are actually doing with the Green Economy staff is working with other groups and dealing with issues that are arising such as any issues around retrofitting and also the Green Deal and so we are working with them to resolve any low-carbon economy issues. We link with everything.

But it’s also a two-way process. Because the technology companies have a great understanding of where legislation is around that technology. So it’s key to speak to them about what issues they see arising, what are the barriers, what conversations are they having with local authorities and the government. To be able to collate that and get that market intelligence is really important. We then work with our members to deal with these issues, and overcome barriers whether that be through training or policy support.

Q: I understand the chamber of commerce is also looking to develop low carbon supply chains. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Yes, we’re developing a low carbon framework. We recognise that one of the barriers in terms of accessing support is that companies don’t necessarily know what they want or if they do, they don’t know if they support that they are getting is reliable. If you were a businesses thinking about generating some of your own electricity, you would quite easily find people who say you need a PV system or you need a wind turbine. What you wouldn’t find is somebody will say that actually PV isn’t appropriate and what you need is this – there’s no independent source of information.

So the idea of these of these frameworks is to collate a list with all the providers from everything from insulation of buildings to retrofitting to getting your boilers and other technologies. So it’s about giving people confidence about the providers, that they are legitimate and that they have controls in place and the final part of the process is getting people who will fit the technologies in situ. So hopefully that will be up and running in the next 6-8 weeks.

Q: Back in February we spoke to the programmes director at Enworks, Samantha Nicholson, who said the funding situation for the organisation was precarious. As the Director, could you tell us where Enworks is at in terms of funding?

Well we’ve got European funding and we’ve got some regional development agency legacy funds that mean that at the moment we’ve got funds to work with all size businesses. That’s working with them in terms of understanding their environmental risks so that’s everything from compliance down to supply chain and product risks. The majority of that work is around energy and resource-efficiency and decoupling and identifying opportunities to save money in their businesses and supporting them to do that.

At the moment we do that for free but we are currently talking to DCLG [Department for Communities and Local Government] about how we can access their funding – so there will be support for smaller companies and SME’s but larger companies will be asked to pay a fee. The average saving through the programme is £65,000 so it’s really worth it and it’s just convincing the companies to invest as a lot of companies have lots of time pressures and there really isn’t a time limit on when they can carry out this programme. It’s not like paying the staff or getting that invoice sent in, it’s always seen as something that can be done tomorrow or the day after.

And that is becoming harder now as companies are laying off staff and are becoming much more efficient in terms of staff and so they don’t have the spare capacity to be able to dedicate staff to this. The timelines that they are working on are also shorter so people are focused on what they need to do today and are less interesting in investing in something that will pay off tomorrow or the next year.

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