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COP 26: Burnley College students grill our businesses

COP 26 in Glasgow has been one of the most talked about events and students at Burnley College have used it as an opportunity to grill East Lancashire businesses about what they’re doing to reduce their impact on the environment.

Several students spanning courses such as humanities, economics and accounting came together and asked hard-hitting questions about carbon net zero commitments and why they should work at a company that didn’t take climate change and the environment seriously.

Burnley.co.uk listened into the conversations at the Burnley College COP 26 event and below is a concise round up of some of the discussions that were had. We joined Jacob Wheeldon, 17, studying Geography, Economics and History A-Levels and Abdullah Sarwar, 16, studying Geography, Economics and Accounting A-Levels to see what they had to ask the businesses.

Burnley College students at the COP 26 event with East Lancashire businesses

Jacob: So, what are the biggest challenges your businesses face when it comes to the commitment to carbon net zero?

Gareth Metcalfe, Schofield & Associates Financial Planning: For us its educational and where our clients choose to invest money. Ethical investments are still misunderstood but the more money that gets ploughed into ethical funds, the better. You can make a 27 times bigger impact on your carbon footprint by investing ethically, the share prices of companies that are doing the right thing are rising.

Chris Knight, Green Shield Group: Green energy is cheaper, so the financial business case is there, we now just need pressure from shareholders for businesses to make that move. People are looking into companies and where they invest so they cannot ignore this issue.

Brian Windle, Safran Nacelles: For us and many in the aerospace sector, it’s about making a product that people want at a high quality but at the right price. It comes down to competitiveness. If some of the big players in the industry make their move, then all will follow. One huge challenge is that making an aircraft lighter and therefore more energy efficient, via carbon fibre, is a very energy-intensive manufacturing process.

Paul McShane, Pipeline Induction Heat: Quite simply, the biggest challenge is the risk of extinction for companies such as ourselves that supply the fossil fuel industry. In the future, it could be said that fossil fuels will become worthless and so there is an essential need to diversify. By 2050, Europe could be supplied by a hydrogen pipeline.

Mark Williams, Greenbank Technology: There needs to be a move away from burning fossil fuels to make coatings. The price of fossil fuels is the highest it’s ever been. A major hurdle is that changing operations at such a scale could see investment required at each plant of around £10 million.

Neil Welsh, PM&M Solutions: From our perspective, we need to ensure clients are working efficiently. Offsetting is better than nothing, but if all we do is plant trees we’ll soon run out of space. True improvements need to be made.

Frazer Durris, Businesswise Solutions: It’s our job to lessen the burden for businesses who need to transition. We run a lot of green and sustainability teams for businesses and it’s huge progress as in 2018 sustainability wasn’t on boardroom agendas. The peer pressure wasn’t there.

Paul McShane, Pipeline Induction Heat: But are the economics there at the minute? If not, the cost just lands on to the customer. We need to ensure the capacity is there to build the new infrastructure that is required.

Mark Williams, Greenbank Technology: Greener machines are more expensive. When it comes to creating packaging for fizzy drinks, for example, this could be a significant increase in the price that customers would have to pay for the end product.

Chris Ridehalgh, Green Shield Group: That’s where we can help, we can tell businesses exactly what the cost will be every year which gives them that business security.

John Marsden, VEKA: But is solar power the right choice for a Northern power solution?

Chris Ridehalgh, Green Shield Group: When businesses switch energy, you can demand green energy. You could split that 100 per cent into 70 per cent of offshore wind farm and 30 per cent solar panels on your roof. COP 26 has been fantastic free advertising for green businesses like ourselves.

Leon Calverley, Door 4: I also think tenants at business premises need to all come together and put that pressure on landlords to switch to a more sustainable energy source.

Abdullah: What can young people like ourselves do to help businesses be where they need to be?

Mark Williams, Greenbank Technology: Colleges and students such as yourself have an important role to play in developing the new skills and technology required to help bring costs down.

John Marsden, VEKA: It’s so important that students are taking part in conversations and events like this. Events like this wouldn’t have been happening 12 months ago to the scale they are now, the agenda just wasn’t there. At the end of the day, it’s young people like yourselves that will be running green projects and shaping the future of them.

Burnley businesses at the Burnley College COP 26 event

The attendees heard from Lianne Smith from The Senator Group and Nick Butcher from E&R Group, who both presented on the challenges faced by their businesses and what they’re doing to make inroads into their carbon net zero commitment.

The Burnley College students then had a chance to delve further into what Lianne and Nick had to say.

Jacob: Can you please expand on what you’ve just spoken to us about?

Nick Butcher, E&R Group: It’s consumers that will make COP 26 successful. For our group, the business model has to adapt if we are to become a 90 per cent exporter. Brexit, COVID and sustainability is a triple whammy. The UK has a huge reliance on abroad and this presents us with a great opportunity to take back control and create the skills and jobs here. For example, at E&R, we could make solar power technology into rolls that you can plug in rather than have it on your roof.

Lianne Smith, The Senator Group: Now, if you’re bidding for a government contract that’s over £5 million, they ask for your carbon net zero plan. There are 15 very in-depth categories that have to be responded to. Scope 3 will always be a moving target as it’s about engaging your supply chain. But quite simply, businesses that aren’t willing to change won’t be around in ten years.

Burnley.social was also at the event, and they interviewed some of the students about their thoughts.

“I wouldn’t expect them to be at net-zero right away,” one student said. “That would be unrealistic. With that in mind, they have to show that they are at least making the effort and that they are implementing some kind of a strategy.”

Another student explained how she would “simply not work for a company if they didn’t have a sustainability policy. It’s that simple”.

Ruby Whittaker, a geography student aged 16, said: “I was surprised at how the businesses were not just focussed on the money. Before going into this, I assumed that sustainability issues were an after-thought, but I was actually impressed at how much they cared.

“I also appreciated how much these businesses work together and use collaboration as a means of improving. I’ve definitely taken away some important lessons today.”

A big congratulations to both the students for not holding back when questioning businesses, and also the business leaders for being so open and honest with their answers.