• 7/1/2024
  • Reading time 5 min.

Global discourse series “One Topic, One Loop“: Alyssa Gilbert

Promoting climate innovation alone is not enough

How can universities integrate sustainability into their infrastructure and daily activities? In the global discourse series “One Topic, One Loop”, we present the perspectives of four universities from four different countries. Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Innovation at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College London, answers the question posed by Werner Lang, TUM's Vice President for Sustainable Transformation.

Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Innovation at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College London, at a discussion. Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment
Alyssa Gilbert on sustainable activities at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment. Christine Nellemann, Dean of Sustainability at the Technical University of Denmark, answers the next question.

Imperial College London is an invigorating place to work on climate change and environmental challenges. The Grantham Institute sits at the heart of this work, bringing together academics from across the university to create interdisciplinary research and to combine and translate their work into accessible information, activities, products and services that can deliver change. Our Undaunted initiative encompasses this work across climate innovation; a key aim in my role as Director is to help investors and budding entrepreneurs create solutions that can improve our relationship with our planet.

As a world-leading technical university, much of our work is focussed at the very earliest stages of innovation, and our suite of programmes is designed to create and inspire climate entrepreneurship. We already teach innovation as part of our Master’s programme on Climate Change, Management and Finance, and we are welcoming the first cohort of students onto a new Master’s in Cleantech Innovation in October 2024. In addition to building talent to deliver climate solutions, we are also searching for research that can help us to tackle climate change. Our new Climate Solutions Catalyst programme is diving into the research literature and connecting with academics across the UK to find research with the potential to deliver new climate solutions. We are also identifying the interventions that can help transfer that academic work into a startup environment. 

Over 180 start-ups out of the Greenhouse Accelerator

To take these ideas closer to commercial application, we run a business accelerator programme. The Greenhouse accelerator, which has been running for 12 years, has taken over 180 start-ups from tested concept through to their first investment. Our expert team spends a year helping them build their business model and proposition, communication skills and technical products. 

Nurturing solutions that can deliver real change is a great part of our work, and each of the small businesses we see coming through our programmes is interesting and inspiring. Some ventures focus on circularity, with companies like Angry Monk and The Wonki Collective tackling food waste. Others – such as Carbon Cell, Adaptavate, and Decarbonite – manufacture greener materials for the buildings and packaging sectors. Some of the startups are creating solutions that can replace unsustainable and non-biodegradable materials: Notpla has developed an algae-based plastic replacement, Fibe and Fiiba are developing cotton replacements from waste potatoes (Fibe) and bananas (Fiiba). Other innovators are helping us become more resilient to heat stress (Epicue) or water stress (Deploy Tech). 

Bringing climate startups and politics together

On the energy front, we’ve supported a range of solutions that are already having real global impact. Naked Energy has rolled out renewable energy systems on high-profile buildings, and announced exciting partnerships in and beyond Europe. KrakenFlex, formally Upside Energy, was purchased by Octopus Energy for its flexible demand-side management tools. 

We’ve also supported exciting technologies in agriculture and food tech, including Multus, which is developing a special growth media for alternative proteins, Phytoform creating resilient plants, and Flybox, cultivating insect protein for animal feed. We have many solutions in the heavy industry sector too, such as Seratech, a carbon-negative cement alternative, and Deep Meta whose technology improves the efficiency of steel making by over 30%. 
Early support is not enough to propel these entrepreneurs to success. We know that these solutions are often too innovative for the markets that they land in. To help, we take climate founder voices to decision makers through our roles in Cleantech for UK and the ClimateTech Policy Coalition, as well as working closely with our policy engagement team at the Grantham Institute on its broader activities across the policy space. We also work directly with corporates and actors in key sectors to try and identify and solve systems-level changes, for example in the built environment through our Better Futures Retrofit Accelerator programme. Ultimately, it is collaboration that will help us propel these solutions to success.

With a renewed focus on sustainability on our own campus, we are also finding ways to test these innovations across our university. I am interested in knowing how others in the academic sector make sure their actions match their other activities – so I look to Christine Nellemann, Dean for Sustainability at Technical University of Denmark to see how she addresses that challenge! 

Global discourse series "One Topic, One Loop"

Four people from four different countries and four different universities discuss a current topic in research and teaching. The series begins with an initial question to which the first person responds and asks the next person another question on the same topic. The series ends with the first person answering the last question and reflecting on all previous answers. The topic of the first season was Large Language Models and their impact on research and teaching. In the second series, we look at how universities can integrate sustainability into their infrastructure and daily activities.

Our authors are: Werner Lang, Vice President for Sustainable Transformation, Alyssa Gilbert, Director of Innovation, Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial London, Christine Nellemann, Dean for Sustainability, Technical University of Denmark and Sarah Billington, UPS Foundation Professor and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.

Further information and links

Technical University of Munich

Corporate Communications Center

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