Can we shift people’s attitudes of the Gatwick area so that they see it as a centre for green innovation rather than focusing on the environmental effects of the airport?
I recently hosted a workshop looking at how we can accelerate the green transition in the Gatwick area. We brought together key influencers from business and local government in the towns around the airport – in West Sussex and East Surrey – to get their take on the issue.
Understandably, Gatwick airport dominated the conversation, just as it has a significant impact on the regional economy. But the talk wasn’t just about the airport as a polluter. Local leaders saw it as playing a key role in tackling climate change – as a centre for innovation. The airport by default may not be an eco-friendly environment, but it can help in developing best-in-class green practices for itself and the surrounding area.
So, how do we shift attitudes of the Gatwick area and drive change?
There’s already a huge amount being done across the stakeholder ecosystem in the region. For example, the Surrey Climate Commission has been established as a collaboration between local business, educational institutions and preservation organisations. The task now is to identify how we take things to the next level.
Here are the key pointers I took away from the workshop:
- Changing mindsets: recognising the opportunity
You can’t take climate change and treat it in isolation. It needs to be built into every decision that’s made by government, businesses and individuals. That means we face a hugely complex web of issues, which is exacerbated in our region by the presence of the airport.
If we’re going to drive change, local stakeholders need to shift their mindsets. That means seeing green investments in terms of creating environmental and social opportunity, not focusing purely on the risk of environmental degradation. It means viewing the airport and its surround as an innovation hub and starting to capitalise on that. And it means recognising the urgency of the situation.
- Financing the green transition: a warmer welcome for inward investment
Acting with the necessary speed will require us to focus our efforts and investment where it will have the greatest impact. That’s going to take a forensic analysis so we can understand where the most significant emissions are coming from – if that’s transport or housing, for example.
With a plan of action in place, we’ll need money to make it happen. And that won’t just come from the public sector. We’ll need to look to the private sector too. Success will largely come down to how welcoming we are of the right type of investment. That requires the development of a more coordinated infrastructure around inward investment, including investor aftercare.
It will also be helped by removing red tape wherever possible. We can’t wait six months for landlord approval for solar panels or for an electric vehicle charging point to be installed.
- Green innovation: creating an innovation ecosystem
Innovation will be key to tackling climate change – and the area has a ready-made innovation laboratory in the form of the airport. But more needs doing if we’re going to create an innovation ecosystem where small, fast-moving businesses can flourish and drive forward the green transition.
In particular, the area does not have a University to provide a ready source of new talent with the associated spin outs in the clean tech sector. The announcement of the Innovation centre on the grounds of Crawley College is a step in the right direction. Attracting that talent is vital as it’s people who make the innovation happen. The task here is to tell a stronger story about why this is a great area to live and work. For a start, we should make more of the region’s areas of outstanding natural beauty – the North and South Downs, the Surrey Hills, the High Weald – to draw talent to the area – “Great place to work Great place to live”.
The clock is ticking: time to act with urgency
Taking action to mitigate climate change is an imperative for the region. Just consider what one of our workshop participants said about a recent community event in the area. Local people were asked how the area could be improved as a place to live. The younger participants were unanimous: solve the climate crisis. Fail to do that and all other priorities are meaningless.
Increasingly, investors, customers and employees are going to demand that organisations work sustainably – or else they won’t invest in them, buy their products, or choose to work for them.
A big thank you to everyone who took part in our Gatwick workshop and contributed to such a lively and insightful discussion.
The workshop was one of five that took place across the UK, bringing together key local influencers to have their voice on how we can drive the green transition in our towns and cities.
You can find out what they had to say in our new report: Voices of Place: The Green City.