The Disrupters: Lessons for low-carbon innovation from the new wave of energy pioneers.
30th September 2010

A building services manager for a local council. A Cumbrian hill farmer. A high-end concierge service. And a Bath-based leadership coach. These are not the people who you would expect to be pioneering solutions to climate change. Yet each of them is responsible for innovations that could put us on the path to a lower-carbon society.

We know that we need to reduce our carbon emissions drastically. The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show an acceleration in the rate of changes to the global climate. In October 2006, the Stern Report on the economics of climate change described it as ‘the greatest example of market failure that we have ever seen.’

Yet the debate about how to bring about a wider transition to a low-carbon society has hardly begun. Talk of wind farms, carbon offsets and hybrid cars often drowns out the bigger issues: we need to develop entirely different ways of building, travelling, shopping and even eating.

In short, we need disruptive forms of innovation – cheaper, easier-to-use alternatives to existing products or services from outside established players that target previously ignored customers. This means recognising the importance of wider forms of innovation, such as innovation in organisational forms and business models.

A small but growing cohort of innovators is directing their creativity and entrepreneurial acumen towards environmental goals. We call them the Disrupters. We profile eight of them in this report.

Reducing the UK’s climate change impacts is an important objective for government. But policies to support innovation have, so far, been poorly aligned with climate change objectives. As well as helping reduce carbon, reshaping our approach to climate change could reap benefits by making the UK a leader in the emerging global market for low-carbon innovation.

The work, funded by NESTA, is a partnership between Demos and NESTA.

‘Green firms facing incentive barriers’, Daily Telegraph , 17 July 2007. Read this story

‘The future is disruptive’, Green Futures, October 2007. Read this story.

Download the report here.

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