How can businesses operate more sustainably?
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Essex and Suffolk Water’s conservation and land manager Miranda Cooper discusses the importance of natural capital ahead of next month’s Innovate East conference.
How we as a society can continue to enjoy the benefits of modern living while also developing in a sustainably way is one of the big questions of our time and a key theme at a major innovation event to be held in East Anglia next month.
The three-day event, called Innovate East, has been organised by Essex & Suffolk Water in partnership with Anglian Water, who together hope to create a unique and exciting environment where attendees will be encouraged to unlock new ways of thinking.
The aim of the event, which is due to be held at Trinity Park Showground in Ipswich between September 10 and 12 2019, is to address some of the major challenges that water companies and other large organisations are facing, such as water scarcity, climate change, protecting the environment and delivering for customers.
Some of the most creative minds from industry and beyond are due to take part in a number of 'sprints' and 'hackathons' designed to brainstorm ideas and test if they are viable in the real world - all within a few days.
According to Essex & Suffolk Water's conservation and land manager Miranda Cooper, among the main themes at the summit, attendees will be invited to explore two areas relating to natural capital.
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Natural capital is a term used to describe the world's stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from this natural capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.
One sprint session will examine how society can balance modern life with protecting the environment for future generations? Another session will ask participants to ponder how we can define the relationship between agriculture, water and energy in the face of climate change?
Ms Cooper said: "For a long time modern life was disconnected from natural resources but in recent times there has been a growing realisation of the interconnectedness between how we live and the impact on natural capital. The recent outcry around single-use plastics is one example of this."
Both water companies are leading the way on protecting the environment and tackling climate change. Essex & Suffolk Water's parent company Northumbrian Water Group has already reduced operational emissions by 46% since 2009 and recently set itself the bolds targets of achieving zero avoidable waste by 2025 and carbon neutrality by 2027.
Meanwhile, Anglian Water's chief executive Peter Simpson has been outspoken on the need for organisation's to set themselves more ambitious carbon targets, in order to disrupt established practice, drive innovation, and significantly reduce costs and environmental impacts.
Ms Cooper believes technology has a big role to play in enabling society to move towards 'net-zero' carbon emissions.
She said: "Electric vehicles, for example, are already here and have the potential to have a massive impact on our transport system. Technologies that enable remote working are also becoming ever more sophisticated and are reducing the need to travel as well as benefitting people's well-being."
Ms Cooper continued: "I'd also like to see more companies committing to using bioplastics, which can be produced from renewable biomass sources."
As well as striving to reduce its operational emissions, the Northumbrian Water Group is the custodian of some nationally important landscapes including large swathes of the Norfolk Broads and upland peat bogs in the Pennines and Yorkshire Dales.
Ms Cooper says key to enhancing the natural world is the changing role of farmers and landowners.
She said: "We are moving towards a situation where farmers could receive grant payments for providing public goods, for example, leaving land that is uneconomical to farm to grow wild for the benefit of pollinators, or managing the land differently to preserve water supplies or for flood alleviation."
Ms Cooper added: "There are big challenges facing us with the varying demands on land use - sustainable food production is obviously vital but it is also clear we need to use land for biodiversity and sustainable renewable energy."
"Farming is at the heart of the economy in East Anglia, so it is great place to be having this event where we hope people can come together and learn from each other."
More announcements on Innovate East will be made over the coming weeks. You can register your interest in the event and find out more at innovateeast.org.uk