The Debrief: Creative Innovation in the Race to Net Zero

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We look back at our recent Creative Innovation in the Race to Net Zero Leadership Breakfast, centred around a roundtable discussion with Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng and Minister for Innovation, Amanda Solloway MP.

Our Creative Leadership Breakfasts are designed to provide a monthly forum for CEOs and Senior Directors within our membership to convene around thought-leadership topics and influence policy. These topics span across our People, Place and Planet priorities, with discussions aligning with our strategies around policy, campaigning and impact.

Our Creative Leadership Breakfasts are often spearheaded by prominent guests and aim to inspire united thinking and coordinated action on key areas where the Creative Industries would like to see change. Guest lists are drawn and curated from our membership, as well as our prospective partners and collaborators, calling on thinkers and doers from across all nations, regions, subsectors and backgrounds.

We look back at our recent Creative Innovation in the Race to Net Zero Leadership Breakfast, centred around a roundtable discussion with Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng and Minister for Innovation, Amanda Solloway MP.

Topics covered by guests and attendees around Creative Innovation in the Race to Net Zero included seven key areas:

  • Creative innovation in practice
  • The circular economy
  • The start-up landscape
  • The scale-up landscape
  • Collaborative approaches
  • Science-based targets
  • Spurring action through narrative


  1. Creative innovation in practice

The group discussed what creative innovation looks like and noted that according to DCMS

data and the OECD’s OSLO manual, over half of the Creative Industries have undertaken innovation in the past three years. Over half (55%) also already undertake R&D – significantly higher than the economy at large.

There are myriad forms of green creative product innovation: from the development of new sustainable materials to reduce plastic such as seaweed membrane and pineapple leather, to the decarbonisation of raw materials used in global fashion supply chains.

Creative enterprises are also at the forefront of innovative design and technology. We see organisations such as Aardman using the same fluid dynamic software that British Aerospace does in fighter jets – and productions like Harry Potter driving significant technological advancements for all industries, due to the level of innovation required to aptly depict the creative scenes while filming. With the right investment, there is incredible potential for the Creative Industries to become global leaders in sustainable creative materials and technologies, and to contribute directly towards the Race to Net Zero.


      1. The circular economy

A circular economy will bring global emissions down by 39% and the Creative Industries have the potential to be a key enabler of a circular economy. Organisations such as Jimmy Choo offer a repair service for their garments, and an increase in the Net Zero mindset has led to the introduction of innovative rental clothing start-ups all across the UK.

However, at present, the market conditions favour the production of new raw materials and products, rather than a circular economy based on the recycling of existing goods. It is therefore vital that government incentivises UK businesses to reduce their carbon footprint and work more sustainably.

This could be achieved through two ways:

      • Investment into the production of at-scale materials, which sequester more carbon than they admit.
      • Investment into recycling infrastructure, and clear public direction as to why recycling is essential in the Race to Net Zero.

Industry is extremely willing to work with the government to change the mindset around recycling and the circular economy, as evidenced by projects such as Architects Declare – an open letter declaring a climate emergency, which invited UK architectural practices to make a commitment to positive environmental action.

Our roundtable attendees called on the government to set clear, science-based, near-future targets in collaboration with industry (expanded in point 6 below).


      1. The start-up landscape

The Creative Industries landscape is dominated by freelancers and microbusinesses. In fact, 95% of Creative Industries businesses employ five people or fewer. The Creative Industries are extremely collaborative and large firms such as Channel4 bring in extraordinary numbers of creative SMEs and freelancers from across the UK into their supply chain. It is therefore vital that government incentivises and supports these businesses to innovate their working models and lower their carbon emissions.

SMEs often have fewer resources to incorporate sustainability into their working models, so small grants, clear direction, and more targeted support are essential in helping businesses innovate. This support must come from those with expert knowledge of the intricacies of the Creative Industries and should be coupled with infrastructure to encourage low carbon travel, such as access to green public transport across the whole of the UK. Investing in and supporting start-up creative businesses will not only propel the Race to Net Zero forwards but will also encourage entrepreneurialism and levelling up across the whole of the UK.

During Covid-19, Innovate UK opened up a flexible sector-agnostic Fast Start challenge. The Creative Industries secured four times as much of the investment as Innovate UK expected, resulting in the follow-on Creative Industries Fund which came from the emergency COVID-19 budget. This fund has been incredibly successful and has empowered creative businesses from Cornwall to the Hebrides to innovate. It is vital that moving forwards, investment funds are positioned for the future and incentivise the entrepreneurialism and innovation taking place in the Creative Industries.


      1. The scale-up landscape

Innovative creative start-ups are already beginning to devise much-needed solutions in the Race to Net Zero. Larger businesses, including Jimmy Choo and Versace who were represented at the roundtable, are keen to work with these innovative businesses to address the challenges that are being faced, such as reducing carbon emissions within the supply chain.

Dax Lovegrove, Global Director of Sustainability at Jimmy Choo & Versace explains: “The fashion sector must act this decade and include the lion’s share of the footprint – Scope 3 emissions – to keep 1.5C alive”

However, a market failure exists. While innovative small businesses are sometimes able to provide the sustainable solutions needed by larger firms, they are not yet able to provide their solutions at the scale and level of affordability required. For businesses to operate sustainably, it is imperative that government improves the landscape for innovative creative start-ups to progress to a scale-up level.


      1. Collaborative approaches

In areas such as Scotland and Manchester, policymakers are working directly with creative and cultural practitioners to navigate the best possible solutions for climate change. This is due to the recognition that the Creative Industries have an incredibly strong convening power and are uniquely placed to help both government and the public navigate a confusing and complex landscape.

There is a greater role for interdisciplinary research and industry-led initiatives, as it is important that sectors are not siloed but instead work collaboratively with each other and the government towards a critical shared goal: Net Zero.

There is also an opportunity to position the UK as an international thought-leader on this issue, by capitalising on international interest from organisations such as Columbia University and expanding projects such as  BAFTA Albert, which sets standards of green production.


      1. Science-based targets

Our roundtable participants expressed the urgent need for tangible actions that have meaningful measurement processes attached. While setting goals for 2030 or 2050 is not unwelcome, it is vital that government and industry work together to set and achieve goals within the next five years.

The Creative Industries are ready and willing to act radically to reduce carbon emissions, however, innovation is being stifled so an ambitious set of incentivised, science-based targets is essential. These targets should be coupled with systemic framework changes, such as new legislation, reforms of VAT, a Future Generations Act and/or a Law of Ecocide.


      1. Spurring action through narrative

David Attenborough stated that “saving the planet is now a communication challenge, not a scientific one” and the Creative Industries are ideally positioned to communicate the challenge that will inspire collective action.

Creative practitioners have always been thought-leaders – take science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, for example, who invented the idea of geostationary orbit. This is just one instance of how creative businesses create the impossible every day, employing innovative technologies such as XR and green screen CGI. With the right investment and support, this storytelling power could be utilised for communications on the climate crisis, heightening public engagement and consciousness around these critical issues.

With COP26 in mind, there is a key role for creative businesses here, to play across myriad platforms in communicating a coherent and emotive story around climate change, sustainability and Net Zero.