The DE-Carbonise Programme has been created to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) increase their sustainability and save money by reducing energy costs and carbon emissions. The project is a collaboration between the University of Derby, Derby City and Derbyshire County Councils that is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF, 2019-2022) and follows the successful D2 Energy Efficiency/Low Carbon project (2016-19).
The Programme has three strands. SMEs can access grants to support energy and resource efficiency measures, low carbon product development consultancy and support to decarbonise operations and supply chains in order to improve environmental performance and grow the low carbon economy.
The energy audits provided by the Council team advise companies about the investments or behavioural change needed to deliver the largest energy savings, and further technical consultancy is available to help companies develop a detailed specification if required. If an SME is interested in applying for a grant the team guide them through the application process. Installations have included LED lighting (often with occupancy and daylight controls), efficient heating systems, insulation and glazing, compressed air improvements, process equipment and solar PV.
Bespoke research, development and technical consultancy, that includes life cycle analysis, energy assessments, low carbon production, processes and project design, new product development and prototyping is provided via the University of Derby Institute for Innovation in Sustainable Engineering (IISE) and engages academics from a range of disciplines from design and manufacture, to supply chain management, environmental science and ecology.
Initially, the third strand of support offered by the University of Derby Business provided a range of business development provision to help SMEs accelerate business growth in the low carbon sector. In Phase 2 of the programme, the focus shifted towards more targeted support for SMEs to decarbonise their operations and develop sustainable supply chains through business process improvements. This includes the Smart Factory project that aims to provide corporate style diagnostics to SMEs with small factory sites, by installing energy, light and air quality monitors linked to a smart ‘live’ data dashboard. One prototype engineering company saved £29,000 in operational costs in the first year, whilst also improving productivity.
The Programme aims to leverage the positive experience of energy saving improvements to encourage businesses to continue to make further environmental improvements. Many businesses engage with the Programme initially to access a grant, sometimes for just one aspect of improving efficiency, such as LED lighting, but continue to work with University staff on product innovation or to decarbonise their operations or supply chain.
Over 300 businesses were supported to reduce their carbon emissions during the first phase of the programme between 2016-2019. This included both financial and non-financial support from all three delivery partners. By the end of Phase 2 (Nov 2022) over 600 SMEs will have engaged, with over 80 in Phase 2 receiving focused support through a combination of grants, consultancy and/or research and development.
In addition to specific emission reductions for SMEs (listed above) an Independent Evaluation by Carney Green (2019) acknowledged the range of specific benefits for individual SMEs created through their engagement with the programme. These included: better understanding of energy usage and resource use; identifying measures to improve energy efficiency; reduced operating costs; reduced carbon emissions (through advice on carbon reductions associated with specific equipment, use of raw materials, waste, recycling, transport, and employee behaviour change); implementing energy efficiency improvements (using the grant scheme); identifying financial cases for making energy efficiency improvements; improved working conditions resulting in enhanced workforce wellbeing and productivity; access to specialist support; production of working prototypes. This highlights the wide ranging support needed to respond to the varied needs of SMEs over the duration of a 6-year programme.
Gathering and managing data throughout the Programme, commissioning and reporting on an independent evaluation, alongside the ongoing involvement of University researchers has been an important source of insight that has translated to academic outputs as well as Programme improvements.
Building positive relationships across the partner organisations has also been a crucial success factor for the programme. Inevitably, over the duration of a six-year programme, things are not always smooth. Collaborating in a climate of trust and honesty, with a real commitment to listening and responding to the interests of the different individuals within the teams have been important foundations of our work. This is something we have all had to work at over the years.
However, most crucial is the commitment to listening and understanding the needs of SMEs that have an infinitely varied set interests. This is best done in a context in which SME leaders anticipate clear benefits from their involvement with the Programme. Through this, the Programme builds a strong reputation for delivering on the pragmatic needs of SMEs over time and continues to engage companies over its 6-year duration.
Carbon savings delivered.
Cost savings for SMEs.
Number of energy audits performed.
Amount of funding granted.