On 23 March, the Edinburgh Sustainable Innovation Conference was held at McEwan Hall. It was hosted by the Buchanan Institute, a student-led think-tank at the University of Edinburgh.
The event bolstered enthusiasm for clean energy and the reduction of carbon emissions in the UK, featuring a wide range of speakers and solution-focused workshops. Innovators, businesses and politicians were brought together at the conference to discuss how society can achieve the ambitious climate targets laid out by the Scottish government.
The conference aimed to explore the key challenges and opportunities that accompanied a zero-carbon energy system, as well as market conditions, policies and incentives that would be needed to move forward this system.
Two organisers from the Buchanan institute, Sam and Juliette, opened the events with hopeful words on the future of sustainable development, urging those present to recognise the importance of including young people in key issues on climate change.
Collaboration across barriers was clearly crucial to the event organisers. Optimism was a steady undercurrent during the welcome address.
Siri Pantzar, a committee member of the 2050 climate group, followed this opening with equal enthusiasm, stating: “The world will change regardless of what we can do, all we can do is decide what that change looks like.”
Pantzar further echoed the importance of cooperation between younger and older generations, also emphasising that climate change and sustainability are both issues young people were born into, and are always conscious of. This shift in perspective, she argued, was part of why young people could provide unique innovations in tackling climate change.
Following Pantzar was the conference’s first keynote speaker, Paul Jordan, from Energy Systems Catapult, an organisation set up to foster innovation in energy development by Innovate UK.
He began by acknowledging that a whole energy systems approach is necessary. The current energy system is not only problematic in technology, but also in infrastructure and community engagement.
Jordan followed this by acknowledging the opportunities that come with the new systems being pushed by climate change, particularly acknowledging the opportunity presented to global markets, and how many entirely original systems would be needed. Overall, he urged a shift from the old, centralised and safe approach to energy to a new, flexible and multi-vector system.
Jordan further acknowledged the role of the consumer in sustainable innovation. He attributed this to modern technology, pointing out the ease with which consumers can now access the energy market and information on it.
After this, some statistics were provided, proving the importance of investing in sustainable energy.
For instance, the price of electric vehicles is estimated to fall below that of conventional vehicles by the mid 2020s, and electricity demands are projected to grow between 40 and 100 per cent by 2050.
Following Jordan’s address, a five person panel began. The panel focused on specifically addressing the challenges and opportunities of achieving a zero-carbon energy system. It began with each panelist addressing their own priorities in sustainable energy, as well as their hopes.
Whilst some individuals seemed to be focused on problem areas in energy such as heating, which currently makes up 33 per cent of UK carbon emissions, others wished to draw attention to the consumer and how to make sustainable energy appealing. Among these incentives were health, cost, and economic growth.
The panel was followed by a talk from Ewan Swaffield, who works with Transport Scotland, which enthusiastically followed recent efforts in decarbonising transport in order to improve air quality and fight against climate change.
During the event, 12 workshops were held in different rooms within McEwan Hall, with a diverse range of presenters working to gain new insights and disseminate information to the attendees.
After a break for lunch, accompanied by exhibitions from groups such as SHRUB, Zero by 2040, and ENG for Change, the event reconvened around a talk from Jeremy Oppenheim from SYSTEMIQ, who drew attention to currently set sustainable development goals, and how to work plans and ideas proposed by those in attendance into actual company policies.
After another round of workshops, a talk from Dr David Beeton of Urban Foresight was delivered, who shed light on the role of urban design in sustainable development, along with another panel focusing on fostering the right conditions for sustainable development.
The event concluded with a drinks reception.
For more information on the Buchanan Institute, visit: https://www.buchananinst.org.
Image: Elina Turner