DTI unveils fund for sustainability research in business

The Department of Trade and Industry has launched a new Sustainable Technologies Initiative (STI) to fund collaborative research on sustainable development. The Environmental Technology Best Practice Programme has also been re-launched as "Envirowise", with a remit now stretching beyond manufacturing.

The STI was officially launched in November with a first call for proposals and a DTI seminar. It will provide £15 million over five years for collaborative research and development aimed at improving the sustainability of UK businesses. Both the budget and duration of the initiative are greater than announced last year (ENDS Report 291, p 12 ).

The STI seeks to support the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development - in line with the DTI's new sustainable development strategy, launched in October (ENDS Report 309, p 5 ).

"Business must improve environmental productivity by designing waste out," said DTI Minister Lord Sainsbury at the launch. "Sustainable development is the most pressing issue we face?.Science and engineering are key to developing a sustainable future."

Applicants for STI funding are encouraged to address the following themes:

  • Developing criteria for industrial sustainability.

  • Sustainable use of raw materials, in particular where Factor Four or Ten changes in efficiency can be achieved.

  • Improved resource efficiency - through substitution, redesign or improved lifetime.

  • Reduction in hazardous material content.

  • Enhancing social inclusion via new products and processes.

  • Production of less waste and pollution.

  • New product/service concepts with recyclable or upgradeable products or patterns such as lifetime care or leasing.

  • Associated socio-economic/management research.

    A strong message is to avoid treating sustainability as an afterthought. There is an emphasis on proposals that integrate sustainability into design and production.

    The STI will exclude end-of-pipe or clean-up technologies. Projects must bring "fundamental changes in processes and products" while considering economic and social barriers to change. Incremental changes are likely to be insufficient to meet STI criteria, the DTI says.

    Speaking at the launch, Jonathon Porritt, chair of the new Sustainable Development Commission, warned against a "facile, euphoric, techno-optimism" which implied that society could achieve sustainable development without behavioural change. The STI programme will "genuinely do something in the right places," he believes.

    Funding will be delivered through a range of mechanisms involving the DTI and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, including an academia-industry "Link" programme. 1 Up to 50% funding is available, with the remainder to be met by industry in cash or in kind. Further cash of up to £60,000 per project is available under the Research Council's "Network" scheme.

    The Link programme will provide funding for R&D collaborations between business and universities working on pre-competitive technologies. Applicants lacking an academic partner can also apply directly to the DTI for grants, but will need to establish collaborative partnerships with, for example, research or trade associations.

    The initiative coincided with the re-launch of the Environmental Technology Best Practice Programme, now renamed Envirowise. The programme's Fiona Williams described the old name as "tired". With a new name and web site - www.envirowise.gov.uk - it aims to provide a more user-friendly service.

    The re-launch, with £32 million of funding over five years, follows the Government's favourable five-yearly review of the programme (ENDS Report 287, p 37 ). The programme claims to be achieving £100 million of savings per year for businesses.

    Envirowise plans to extend its advice beyond manufacturing industry to target sectors such as retail and hotels and catering.

    It has also launched a waste assessment service called Fast Track. An adviser will estimate potential savings.

    Ms Williams says that Envirowise also hopes to work more closely with local business groups and environmental clubs. "Cleaner design" workshops are planned.

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