Opinion Piece: The future of sustainable development is in our hands


Martin Garratt, CEO of Cambridge Cleantech


This piece first appeared in the Cambridge Independent, November 24-November 30, 2021 issue.



Within weeks of Cambridge Cleantech celebrating its 10th anniversary, COP26, the biggest and most important climate-related conference on the planet, has taken centre stage. In the midst of many other announcements and agreements, the Prime Minister has launched an international plan to deliver clean and affordable technology by 2030. Over 40 world leaders, representing more than 70% of the world’s economy and every region, have backed and signed up to The Breakthrough Agenda.  So, what does this mean for Cambridge and the rest of the UK?


For over 10 years Cambridge Cleantech has been demonstrating the importance of cleantech solutions in the future of sustainable development and brokering opportunities between innovators, corporates and investors. We know that the goods, services and solutions developed by cleantech companies can have a very real positive impact on the climate crisis. If we encourage these companies and introduce them to corporates and developers looking for green solutions, we’re ensuring a triple win of creating clean growth jobs and export opportunities in the local economy; delivering better living standards for residents; and addressing the climate crisis.


Cambridge Cleantech works with a range of partners across the public sector, academic, corporate and entrepreneurs and with the support of our cluster partners across north west Europe we have been able to secure £26 million to be invested in low-carbon technologies over the last few years. We have introduced over a 100 corporates to innovative SMEs, including the likes of ARM, Anglian Water, Saint-Gobain and Johnson Matthey.


In Cambridge, we are currently working with First Base to introduce them to innovative sustainable solution providers for their new builds. Over 40 companies responded with potential solutions for the Devonshire Gardens site and First Base held one-to-one meetings with six of them at Cambridge Cleantech’s tenth-anniversary celebrations in October. These conversations will now be taken forward while planning for the site progresses. The First Base development on Devonshire Gardens is expected to be all-electric with solar panels installed across buildings onsite, and we hope that more carbon-friendly technologies will be adopted to ensure the highest standards of energy efficiency.




There are several barriers to the implementation of sustainable building technologies. Very often developers prefer to use tried and trusted methods rather than newer innovative solutions. There is also the issue of access to finance for companies looking to develop the solutions – Bill Gates insists, and we agree, that funding clean technology is the way to avoid climate disaster. Additionally, there is a requirement for return on investment. In commercial development, the developer or builder may have to pay extra costs for putting in PV units, which are capital costs incurred during construction, but the dividends in terms of lower electricity bills get passed on to the tenants.


In such a scenario it is heartening to see the efforts from construction companies in Cambridge to ensure energy efficient standards in construction. An excellent example is the Allia Future Business Centre, where we are based, which incorporates a range of innovative cleantech solutions to help make the building more sustainable, including greywater recycling and innovative double glazed PV units which double up as the building façade, the latter of which was developed by Cambridge-based startup and Cambridge Cleantech member Polysolar. There is no centralised air conditioning in the building, instead the vents in the atrium ceiling allow hot air out in the summer while the extra thick walls retain heat in the winter. As a result, energy costs for tenants in the building are far lower than one would expect.


Picture of Polysolar product


Cambridge City Council has a vision for Cambridge to be net-zero carbon by 2030, which it sets out in its Climate Change Strategy 2021 to 2026. A city like Cambridge, known for innovation, technology and advancement across sectors, must lead the way in reaching net zero, and cleantech plays a vital role in this. If we are going to stop burning fossil fuels, we will need alternatives such as decentralised energy storage, as well as charging infrastructure for the growth in EVs expected over the next few decades.


So, while we welcome the Breakthrough Agenda and the spotlight on cleantech, actions speak louder than words, and we’re proud to say that Cambridge Cleantech members are leading the way in helping to reduce net carbon emissions and improving living conditions for all.