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COP26: the impact for startups, SMEs and climate tech

SSE Hydro COP26 Venue
Photo Credit: Circular Online
On 12th November, the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) wrapped up after lengthy negotiations between officials and climate change experts. As the world tries to unpack the promises and pledges made at COP26 the full implications of the conference are still largely unknown.
Even though one of the key themes of COP26 focused on youth and public empowerment, it is difficult to see how enough has been done to encourage community action as many were still excluded from the wider conversation.
Large corporations in the blue zone received rewards and commendations for their pledges and efforts, with Princes Charles advocating that big businesses are the only "real prospect" for tackling climate change. Meanwhile, startups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) appeared to be distinctly underrepresented outside of the green zone.
On the ground, many SMEs and startup leaders felt the blue zone (where many closed-door negotiations were taking place) would have benefitted from the perspective of those already working to reduce emissions and provide solutions to climate change at a community level, yet only a select few managed to secure a place there.
Bright Purple takes a look at what commentators have to say about COP26, how it will impact businesses, and what this means for startups, small and medium enterprises, particularly those in the climate tech sphere.

What does COP26 mean for businesses?

According to Mckinsey's 'What does COP26 mean for businesses' report on COP26, ‘the net-zero imperative is no longer in question—it has become an organizing principle for business.’
UK chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has reiterated this point, reminding everyone that the Treasury would require UK-listed companies to release comprehensive net-zero plans by 2023.
The Mckinsey report also suggests current net-zero commitments outpace the plans companies can make without addressing cross-sector approaches to reduce carbon emissions.
The report goes on to discuss how businesses and leaders can work towards net-zero and heavily recommends making a comprehensive plan to reduce carbon emissions where possible.
It also highlights some key areas for companies to focus on, including:
  • Taking a strategic overview of climate risks and opportunities for your company’s portfolio
  • Assessing the spending of transition capital required to reduce emissions, especially from existing emissions-intensive assets
  • Engaging with the public sector to set rules for net-zero transitions
  • Creating long-term plans for reducing emissions, including short-term targets for 2025 and 2030
  • Creating a program for building capabilities monitoring external conditions and deciding how your plan can be updated and implemented as situations evolve
  • Joining existing business coalitions, such as the Mission Possible Partnership and Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), or organizing a coalition where there is a gap for cross-sector efforts to reduce emissions
While plans take time and require funding, Mckinsey does acknowledge the need for improvement and advises that as net-zero plans become the norm more funding and initiatives will be created to encourage all businesses to implement these plans.
SMEs and startups already working within the climate tech sphere are in the unique position to offer services and solutions to larger companies and corporations looking to reduce their emissions. 
" net-zero plans become the norm more funding and initiatives will be created to encourage all businesses to implement these plans."
Many speculators including journalist Will Hutton have expressed that businesses will have to follow what their consumers and employees want as reducing emissions starts to settle into the public conscience. Prospective employees are looking to work with companies that are either already reducing their carbon emissions or those committing to net-zero plans.
With this change in attitude, businesses need to worry about more than consumer habits and ensure that their employees are also satisfied with net-zero policies, which is where climate tech startups and SMEs really come into their own.

Startups, small and medium enterprises are at the forefront of climate innovation

Many commentators suggest that SMEs, particularly those in the climate tech sector will be at the forefront of the net-zero movement. 
Firstly, SMEs are more agile and well-positioned to implement cutting-edge solutions, unlike their larger counterparts. Secondly, SMEs and startups have a unique perspective as they are usually more connected to their local community than larger businesses. And finally, SMEs and startups are more likely to take a multi-disciplinary approach to problem-solving.
Creating a net-zero plan is a long-term commitment to reducing emissions and understanding how climate disasters, the affordability of eco-friendly materials, and the pace of demand outstripping supply may create disruption as we progress through the next decade. 
"SMEs and startups have a unique perspective as they are usually more connected to their local community than larger businesses"
The issues surrounding the ability of larger businesses and corporations to implement net-zero plans will require unique skills and perspectives. Many tech experts suspect this will mean more collaboration with startups, SMEs and grassroots projects as focus shifts towards tailoring plans to suit communities, particularly those bearing the brunt of climate change.
Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) are a prime example of this. Showcasing their vertical farm at COP26 IGS’s agritech project is innovative with multiple implications. Their vertical farms were created to revolutionise the indoor growing market, but the possibilities are seemingly endless. IGS has created unique technology that delivers high-quality food without overconsuming energy.
The benefits of projects such as this are multifaceted, not only does this tech reduce emissions at its most basic level, but IGS’s climate control technology could provide those living through climate disaster with consistent sources of food. It is these broad approaches concerned not only with reducing our emissions but also with creating positive change in our communities that show why startups and SMEs are crucial to the net-zero movement.
IGS vertical farm at COP26
IGS Vertical Farm Demonstration at COP26. Photo Credit: IGS

The power of community action

Due to their nature, startups and SMEs are usually embedded in their local communities with a strong understanding of the unique issues facing their clients, customers and audiences. With this in mind, businesses will be more likely to look to these leaders to provide them with the solutions they need to implement net-zero plans.
Ahead of COP26, Bright Purple hosted our first climate-change hackathon in partnership with local enterprises The Melting Pot and Product Forge. Products for the Planet brought together five teams from across Scotland for a weekend of collaboration and innovation.
Designed to educate, empower and inspire action for climate change, Products for the Planet was a space dedicated to public action and innovative solutions to the climate crisis. 
The teams undertook our challenge to create products that addressed global climate issues at a human level, and their projects covered several areas including education, individual behavioural changes and community accountability.
The teams created for Products for the Planet saw unique products and services come together. Hackathon winners NoBlah focused on the importance of community accountability with their personalised emissions tracker, Good Neighbour also highlighted the impotence of community through a parcel collecting app targeting at reducing repeated deliveries, and Tech Tonicz made climate education fun with their digital learning platform. 
While these projects span multiple areas, one thing rang true through all of them, the key to change is community action. Through recognition and positive reinforcement, all of these projects showcased the importance of connection when it comes to changing our behaviours on an individual level.
And Bright Purple believes that this innovation and agility from the climate tech sphere holds significant potential for helping us reduce carbon emissions over the next three decades.
Products for the Planet group photo
Teams from the Products for the Planet climate change hackathon exemplified the power of startups, climate tech and community


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