West Midlands leads the way on road to Net Zero

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2041, paving the way for sustainable business growth.

In March, the board of the WMCA gave its backing to the first Five-Year Plan to invest in the creation of a resilient low-carbon economy. The authority is now calling on companies across the 18 local authorities to put sustainability at the heart of their operation by taking The West Midlands Net Zero Business Pledge.

The West Midlands has set itself an ambitious target as it strives to lead the green revolution and secure a more sustainable future. Engineering professional services consultancy WSP has produced the region’s first Five-Year Plan (FYP), setting out the projects and policies required to meet its 2041 goal.

Success in meeting the goal will depend on buy-in from the regional business community and one of the WMCA’s key priorities is to persuade regional organisations to make The West Midlands Net Zero Business Pledge. Administered by Sustainability West Midlands (SWM), the initiative promotes the agenda and provides practical support and guidance around emissions reduction.

The WSP report states that the region needs to achieve a carbon reduction of 33% by 2026 against a 2016 baseline to stay on track. It will require a concerted effort from all key stakeholders but presents a unique opportunity to help combat climate change and reposition the West Midlands economy. According to WSP, the net zero drive could create 92,000 jobs by 2041, mostly in sustainable industries and technologies.

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Electric bus in Coventry. Photo credit: National Express West Midlands

Key priorities include retrofitting homes, accelerating the manufacture of electric vehicles, developing an infrastructure for renewable energy, and providing training and skills to support a green economy. The report estimates that approximately £4.3bn of investment will be required to support the net zero transition over the next five years, rising to a total of £15.4bn by 2041.

Our planet is in the midst of a climate emergency and there is no time to waste in investing in a more sustainable future. Failure to address greenhouse gas emissions will see global temperatures increasing by between three and five degrees Celsius by the end of the century, with catastrophic consequences.

Yet the key to getting business on board is about more than appealing to their conscience. We must demonstrate the effect sustainability has on their bottom line.

By helping drive what the Government refers to as our “Green Industrial Revolution”, business can unlock huge opportunities. Its Ten Point Plan is all about positioning the UK as a global leader in renewable energy, sustainable transport, and cleaner technologies. Being an early adopter also helps business prepare for new environmental regulation and gain a competitive edge as customers and supply chains become more environmentally savvy.

West Midlands manufacturers who sign the Net Zero Business Pledge can access support from a variety of sources. SWM’s Sustainable Business Support Hub promotes the work of sustainable businesses, provides links to local green business networks and highlights funding opportunities. The West Midlands Innovation Programme, another WMCA initiative, aims to drive up levels of demand-led business innovation across all areas of the region, by delivering integrated and targeted support to business and helping access more national innovation funding.

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Cllr Ian Courts WMCA portfolio lead for Environment and Energy and Leader of Solihull Council.

Cllr Ian Courts WMCA portfolio lead for Environment and Energy and Leader of Solihull Council said: “We aim to make the West Midlands a leader in green enterprise and our #WM2041 plan will provide businesses with many commercial opportunities such as retrofit, clean transport, forestry and carbon capture. The sooner we get businesses on board the closer we will get to achieving a greener, healthier, more prosperous region.”

He added: “Our transition to net zero will present its challenges, but the sense I get is that people are beginning to see the opportunities it presents. Capitalising on the initiatives that we are already taking in transport, technology and manufacturing the West Midlands is perfectly positioned to emerge as a major driver in the exciting new green economy.”

Meanwhile, the region’s universities have an impressive track record in helping manufacturers exploit new avenues for sustainable growth. That could involve anything from developing new processes with the University of Warwick’s SPIN (Sustainable Product Innovation Network) at WMG, to finding ways of benefiting from the circular economy with Aston Business School’s Advanced Services Group.

WMG’s Innovation Manager, Helena Simmonds, commented: “SPIN brings together like-minded companies to discuss why sustainability is good for business. The online events have attracted over 120 attendees so far and for those who want to work on projects, we have started our cohort programme. Our SPIN cohorts come together to gain knowledge, implement change, and grow their business.”

The West Midlands has set a target to hit net zero nine years before the rest of the UK, yet with a strong support network in place, regional business can enjoy a head-start on the journey to sustainability.

Sustainability consultancy, Wylde Connections, is one of the founding SME ambassadors working with WMCA and Sustainability West Midlands on promoting the net zero message.

Managing Director Dr Denise Taylor said: “The sooner businesses of all sizes embark on their sustainability journey, the better. There really is no time to lose and businesses should be drawing up their action plans now and putting sustainability at the heart of strategic decision making. There is a very strong business case for doing this and the earlier businesses make the transition, the greater the competitive advantage.”

To take the WMCA Net Zero Business Pledge go to:  https://www.wmca.org.uk/what-we-do/environment/west-midlands-net-zero-business-pledge