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Sustainable development and Innovate UK

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Sustainable development is at the heart of Innovate UK’s strategy and purpose.

At Innovate UK we think about the future and what a future economy will look like. A sustainable economy is one that delivers growth while operating within safe environmental limits and providing social value.

We cannot predict the future of the economy, but we do know the major trends driving its development, for example

  • digital revolution
  • ageing population
  • resource constraints
  • food and energy security

These factors shape markets, disrupt business models and shift the political landscape. As well as presenting risks for business they also reveal global market opportunities for entirely new solutions.

Sustainability challenges shape our innovation funding


Innovate UK has used these major drivers to shape a challenge-led programme to accelerate innovation in the major markets of the future.

  1. Our Energy strategy seeks to support low-carbon, secure and affordable energy generation and supply technologies.
  1. Our Manufacturing and Materials programme responds to the challenge of volatile resource supply and an upward trend in commodity material prices.
  1. Our Agrifood programme seeks solutions improve to the productivity of the food and farming industries, while decreasing their impact on the environment.

These, and other programmes, place the UK in the leading position in seeking commercially viable solutions to tackle global environmental and societal challenges with large emerging international markets.

Building sustainability thinking into decision making

Horizons tool
Horizons tool

Innovate UK has developed the Horizons tool for building sustainability thinking into decision making, which is used to develop innovation strategies and competitions. This tool has been published to help the businesses we work with to incorporate sustainability thinking in their own business development programmes.

Government policy sets direction for innovation opportunities

Government policy can play a significant role in setting an early direction for innovation opportunities and building confidence in markets. This is why Innovate UK works closely with government departments to help align regulation and policy.

For example, we are helping to deliver Digital Built Britain, the industrial strategy for the construction sector. This programme helps develop the industry framework required to enable digitally driven design, build and maintenance of the built environment.

Government as a key customer is able to include mandates for these standards and processes in procurement and this has led to the UK being world leading in implementation of such approaches and has saved the UK government billions already.

Outcome-focused national policies can bring industries together

At a national level, policies should be outcome focused and technology neutral. Policies that do not specify how a problem is to be solved provide more space for innovative solutions that may lead to businesses and markets of the future. Such policies can bring entire industries together to develop a roadmap for change, innovation challenges and implementation plans.

Effective sustainable development policies need long-term vision

To be effective, such policies must also be stable over the timescales needed to effect the change. Unless policies are consistent in the time it is expected to take industry to develop new solutions, bring them to market, recover costs and deliver growth, business will not invest.

The timescales required for change vary from policy area to policy area, and must be incorporated in the policy options. A good example of a ‘patient’ policy is the implementation of European tailpipe emissions standards that have driven innovation in the automotive manufacturing sector.

Some sustainable development areas work better on regional level

In some areas sustainable development is better delivered through devolution of policy to regional or sub-regional levels. This is particularly the case where the challenges faced required integrated action across a number of areas.

An example is the need to tackle health and care issues in an integrated way, and the devolution of control of these systems in Manchester. Cities are increasingly at the forefront of sustainable development because they face the immediate impact of sustainability challenges, and they can use their control of many of the key systems to tackle the challenge in an integrated way.

Sustainable cities pull together various policy areas

Internet of Things city demonstrator

Cities are the place where many of the separate threads of policy come together, and where the opportunity exists to develop integrated solutions.

Our Urban Living programme seeks to accelerate the development and demonstration of the cross-system solutions cities need from industry to keep growing their economies, improving quality of life for their citizens and increasing their environmental resilience.

As well as Horizons, innovators should look to the UN Sustainable Development Goals which are an important direction for policymakers. The innovative businesses that succeed will use sustainable development as a lens to understand what future markets will look like.

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  1. Comment by B,S.Kumar posted on

    I am the Inventor of :
    1 ) Radial Reaction Wind Turbine Engine / Power plant and
    2 ) Buoyant Synchrony Actuated Inductance AC Generator
    [ Wave Energy Converter ] / [ 'Perpetual' Battery Charger for
    Electrical Vehicles ]
    How do I get help to develop and market my innovations ?