Chesterfield Champions

Champions Round Table

2020 is making us rethink our lives.

Once again a Covid-19 lockdown has caused businesses across the country to close their doors and adopt the home working model for their workforce.

Video conferencing has become the norm with business meetings, events and even university lectures being held online. This has led to a decrease in road traffic, which in turn has led to a fall in carbon emissions.

The UK has a legal obligation to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Prior to the Covid-19 this may have seemed impossible, however the pandemic has shown us that we can transform the way we work and behave. We have learned that the health of our economy, our people and the environment are closely linked.

But has the pandemic made us more aware of our carbon footprint? Are businesses now more or less committed to sustainability? These were just some of the questions we asked our expert panel at this month’s round table.

Organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, the round table was, once again, held remotely using video conferencing technology.

AM – Anna Melton – Director, In the Works PR (Chair)
JM – Jillian Mitchell – Director, Lomas and Mitchell Architects
EK-S – Emma Knight-Strong – Sustainability Adviser, Green Arch Consulting
IB – Ian Bates – Sector Forum and Representation Manager, East Midlands Chamber of Commerce (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire)
GS – Gary Sucharewycz – Development Director, Custom Solar
FP – Fred Paterson – Associate Professor, University of Derby

Has the pandemic and the increase in home working made businesses more aware of their carbon footprint and removed previously perceived barriers to operating more sustainably?

GS –We have seen a lot of the major corporates bring their net zero targets forward off the back of the pandemic. I don’t think it’s to do with working from home, but I think the targets they already had have just jumped up the to-do list because they now have the time to focus on them.

EK-S – A number of different regulations are coming through over the next year or two which are pushing sustainability changes. That, along with the time the lockdown, has allowed businesses to sit back and think about what’s going to make them more competitive in a global economy that is going to struggle over the next decade or so.

FP – The focus on sustainability is very different between sectors. If you work in the building trade for example, the sector is bouncing back and with a sustainability focus. The hospitality sector, however, is struggling in the face of the pandemic. I’d say a lot of the businesses in this sector aren’t thinking about sustainability at all at the minute.

JM – Being forced to do something is the only way that major change happens quickly. Without the pandemic, I think it would’ve taken a lot longer for people to realise how effectively you can work just from your desk.

EK-S – People have realised it is fundamentally inefficient for a someone to get in a car, drive hours to a meeting and drive back again. Face-to-face contact is very important, but it isn’t the be all and end all. If you can have two to three face-to-face meetings a year with that key client and do everything else via video conferencing, you’re not only saving your business a huge amount of time and money but are also saving your carbon footprint.

IB – Businesses are finding business development a lot harder. Establishing new relationships without face-to-face contact is a challenge. There is also a negative impact to the environment of working from home and this shouldn’t be underestimated – heating your home, using energy to use your computer all day.

EK-S – Energy prices have been extremely volatile over the last few years so it makes complete sense for business to install solar panels and actually predict their energy price for the next 15 years, which is something you can’t do if you’re purchasing from the open market.

GS – We’re working on projects two or three years before they’ve been implemented. Wholesale energies have remained relatively flat and the bit that’s increasing substantially is the non-commodity element of energy cost.

IFP – it’s important that the whole sustainability agenda in business isn’t driven by and solved by energy alone. We have to remember around 99% of businesses are SMEs. The picture for small businesses is very different for them than it is for large corporates.

IB – Some of the work East Midlands Chamber is doing is around getting businesses supply chain fit. It makes business sense to make sure you’re environmentally friendly particularly when the Government is talking about ‘build back greener’.

Does the sustainability agenda present an opportunity for Chesterfield’s construction sector to take the lead nationally?

JM – There’s a new construction and property forum with Destination Chesterfield which has been looking at sustainability, particularly where social housing is concerned, as a key theme. The problem is that you’re expecting a capital expenditure in excess of what is currently the model for the benefit of the revenue savings down the line. There is just no incentivisation coming from the Government to make things better.

FP – I think it costs around 0-5% more to make a standard house a carbon neutral house, so I’m just wondering where all the funding is going where people think it is better spent rather than on housing.

EK-S – Right now it’s more difficult to buy and sell a house with low carbon technology. My solicitor is telling me it’s going to take longer for a deal to go through on a house that has low carbon technology all over it because it’s non-standard. We need to flip that and make it so that it’s actually seen as a positive to buy a house with it all – it shouldn’t make it more complicated.

FP – We know we have to progress with the sustainability agenda at pace over the next decade and my concern is skills and capacity. Are we going to be able to train up the workforces in different sectors quickly enough to get this done within the next 10 years?

EK-S – I know someone who has just made a number of changes to his house to make it more sustainable, including solar thermal. Something broke at some point, and it took six months to find someone with the right skills who was willing to fix it. There’s a huge opportunity there for Chesterfield, especially with the college, to give the students at least some basic knowledge of the low carbon technology we’re supposed to be pushing.

FP – If we wait for the conditions to be perfect before we act on all this, then we’re in trouble. We now need to act at pace and everyone needs to get this. Now that we’re stepping out of the EU, which has had a major positive influence on the broad sustainability agenda, I fear that we reduce our sense of urgency around this.

The Government is planning to bring forward its ban on fossil fuel vehicles from 2040 to 2030 to help speed the roll-out of electric vehicles. What impact will an earlier ban have on businesses?

IB – In the current Covid climate people are being told not minimise their use of public transport, so we’re seeing second-hand car sales increasing and also congestion. The news we were seeing about better air quality amidst the lockdown is already disappearing, so we have to be careful with the messaging we put out around this.

GS – I was at the Port of Southampton yesterday, which is where a lot of new vehicles come into the UK. A year ago, all of the multi-storey car parks and the land around that port were full of petrol or diesel vehicles. Yesterday, all of the spaces were filled with electric vehicles, so there has already been a really big shift.

ES-K The government is trying to get people to replace their current vehicle with an electric car or hybrid. What is actually the issue, is that we shouldn’t need one car per person. We don’t actually need our own car, we just need access to a car. If we had shared vehicles on every street and you just booked those out, that model would really help where the carbon-neutral agenda is concerned.

FP – We were a two-car house prior to lockdown but working from home through this time we have realised we don’t need a second car. I’ve now paid £10 to join the Enterprise Car Club in Chesterfield. I can rent cars by the half hour should I need one. It’s just a leap of mindset that’s required.

Destination Chesterfield is part funded by contributions from local businesses, Chesterfield Borough Council and the European Regional Development Fund. The project is helping to improve the economic prosperity of the town through a campaign to promote Chesterfield.

The local business community plays a central role in its success by both leading an independent Board of Directors for Destination Chesterfield, as well as businesses pledging their support to become Chesterfield Champions.

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