Collaboration, transparency and innovation are critical enablers for a more sustainable built environment. Every quarter, UKGBC convenes its innovative start-up members with representatives from different sub-sectors for its Innovative Start-Up Forum. Alongside peer-to-peer networking, discussions focus on sustainability challenges being faced by each sub-sector, how they engage with start-ups and innovators, and the most effective methods of collaboration.

On the 10th January 2023, UKGBC’s Innovative Start-Up members were joined by four of our local authority members, and key learnings from this discussion are detailed in this deep dive below. The panellists were:

  • Alastair Mumford – Corporate Energy Manager, Devon County Council
  • Gillian Dick – Spatial Planning Manager, Glasgow City Council
  • Hannah Smith – Sustainability Programme Manager, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
  • George Simms – SMART Hub Lead, West Midlands Combined Authority

The conversation was chaired by Gilbert Lennox-King, Founder & CEO of Construction Carbon and member of the UKGBC Innovative Start-Up Forum Advisory Group. Questions came from a variety of our Innovative Start-Up members in attendance., Natasha Boulding another member of the UKGBC Innovative Start-Up Forum’s Advisory Group, reflects on some of the key discussion points:

What legislative changes do you see impacting the authorities and start up members over the next 24 months?

The panel explained that there are four separate legislative frameworks over the United Kingdom, however, Scotland is trying to align with Europe and the UNSDGs. The new planning framework that went through Scottish parliament on the 11th of January, which was approved, focuses on looking more innovatively at retrofit and reuse of buildings. They are also starting to look at how the construction of new buildings is changing to make them better designed for reuse in the future. Other trends in legislation include better heating of buildings and reducing those costs. Gillian mentioned that in Scotland building regulations are running behind planning regulations which promote more innovation or sets a higher standard.

How do innovators start actually accessing opportunities to supply?

Our panellists agreed that the best way to access opportunities is to research how to get into frameworks as local authorities rarely work with individual suppliers for products. This is because   local authorities will buy an outcome (which could for example be a warmer home that costs less to run) and that outcome is going to require a wide range of technologies or products. George Simms highlighted that integration of these elements would make start-up innovations more desirable. Innovators would need to prove they are unique and under a single supplier route for local authorities to want to work with them directly. When it comes to trialling new things, local authorities can be quite conservative as they have to think about resident interests. Trials are therefore often likely to be small scale but it’s something that might be introduced through a framework provider or an existing contract which is therefore the best place for start-ups to target if they want to get involved with local authorities.

Hannah agreed that getting into the supply chain of businesses that local authorities are already using is a good approach.. Knowing where innovation is happening and having an understanding of areas that are more open to piloting on a smaller scale is also useful.

Alastair also added that it’s important you talk to the supply chain from contractor to designers to make them aware of your products/services.

Who is ultimately responsible for net zero strategy across different buildings in local authorities?

Gillian noted that there is not one single person that is responsible for net zero within a local authority. There are multiple different teams working on net zero in different sustainability areas and for different building types. The chief executive along with the political and professional lead of the council are ultimately responsible but there will be different individuals responsible for certain things.

Hannah mentioned that they have an overarching green plan for the council and under that there is for example a climate change action plan, biodiversity action plan, circular economy action plan etc. These are all set within different areas of the local authority and will have their respective net zero plans.

What are frameworks and how can a start-up get into frameworks?

A framework is a tool to streamline procurement which supports the buyers with evaluation etc. It’s a group of suppliers that have been chosen through a tender process.  There are  dynamic purchasing systems in which organisations can continually join, others are locked for a period of generally 4-7 years . Exemption requests can be submitted if the team want to use a product that’s not in a framework, however these vary depending on the local authority.

Alastair Mumford mentioned that every council’s procurement policy should be on their website and if it is not you can request it.

Have any of you experienced modern methods of construction (MMC) and how do you speed up MMC adoption?

The panellists identified that modern methods of construction (MMC) are not being widely used, however, the Government is investigating this. Hannah Smith noted that across the UK, retrofit will need to scale up as it is increasingly going to become more important. MMC will also help with reducing waste from sites as well as reducing the disruption to residents.

Gillian Dick added that the legislation mentioned previously will make developers look into circular economy and the carbon footprint of the works being carried out. Gillian also mentioned that Scotland will start to look at the lifecycle and carbon footprint of wood as there is a push to use this as an alternative sustainable material. 

Would accreditations help start-ups get onto a framework?

Our panel mutually agreed that an EPC rating is important to have to progress with key authorities. Although, they also went on to explain that making connections with organisations within the supply chains within the frameworks is what will be the most beneficial. 

George Simms said that if the West Midlands are successful with their SHDF (Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund) Wave 2 bid, they have a consortium of 15 housing providers they are working with and are looking to have a “meet the buyer” event where the more innovative start-ups could attend. This will be an opportunity to showcase products and speak to social landlords. This will also give people a flavour of what is out there and what is possible in the market. Although this may not result in a buy from any housing association it shows them what they can put in specifications. George also added that it will make sense for start-ups and SMEs who target a small corner of the market to collaborate on how they engage with local authorities. Local authorities tend to target outcomes rather than specific products, so it’s about showing how a product or service can help achieve those outcomes. If the burden of engagement and raising awareness is shared between multiple start-ups then it might start to find its way into those specifications more easily.

Hannah added that potential partnerships can help to meet the objectives of any live funding opportunities. She mentioned Innovate UK who tend to have a lot of funds that encourage partnership work between local authorities and businesses.

Gillian Dick also noted there is a community hub called Connecting Nature Enterprise Platform with various companies for green building, health and wellbeing, water management, sustainable forestry, smart tech, councils etc. In this community, opportunities and competitions are being posted and helpful webinars are hosted as well.

UKGBC is continuing to run our Innovative Start-Up Forums throughout 2023, if you are interested in finding out more about these and UKGBC’s wider work on Solutions & Innovation, please get in touch.