So, we curated an eclectic, cross-sector panel with experiences in regulation, infrastructure, and research and development, to explore the need for, and the practical implications of, a shift to sustainable practice in the mobility sector. This is a write-up of the discussion, edited for clarity. Head here to watch the full video.
Lucy Yu Board Member at Connected Places Catapult Experienced in tech-innovations & entrepreneurship, Lucy has been a powerful advocate for net-zero cities, sustainable growth and energy policies across both private and public enterprises.
Chris Pritchett Partner and Head of Energy and Future Mobility at Foot Anstey With multiple accolades in the field, Chris provides legal and business solutions for those committed to their energy and sustainability goals.
Chris Pateman-Jones CEO at Connected Kerb An environmentalist with a rich background in energy infrastructures, Chris is the CEO of Connected Kerb — a company focussed on building efficient solutions for the EV charging market and ecosystem.
Sustainability has been a buzzword for the industry but what does being sustainable actually mean? And why is it important to you?
Chris Pritchett of Foot Anstey: Often we hear a one-sided definition for sustainability, which is around the environmental aspects, but there’s a second definition. Sustainability in a commercial sense means that you can continue to offer value in the future. And those are not mutually exclusive: a truly sustainable business is one that is delivering on its green goals and has resilient revenue. The narrative that it’s ‘either/or’ is changing but we need to change it faster. At Foot Anstey, we’re continuing to see that business with true purpose, vision and drive to genuinely create change are the ones that are better at engaging the customer and are gaining more contractual opportunities as well. It’s never been more important to be a business with purpose and passion.
Chris Pateman-Jones of Connected Kerb: Sustainability, in terms of mobility, would be to see more people transition from Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs) to Electric Vehicles (EVs) options, such as battery EVs and plug-in Hybrid EVs, on a macro level. But it’s also about the sustainability or resiliency of the products and infrastructure we are developing.
There is a common consensus that if you’re deploying an EV infrastructure you are, by default, sustainable. And though that may be the case when compared to a petrol station, it is not the only sustainability channel you should adhere to. Seeing business challenges through a sustainable lens can make for more resilient and commercially viable solutions. As an example, when thinking about how to build robust charge points, we explored various materials and opted for recycled car tyres. A tyre’s construction is far more resilient than any other composite on the market, and in the long run, that solution reduced our net cost as we don’t have to renovate them as often as others. By saving on charge point renovations, we reduce the charging price for the customer, therefore making our option more inclusive and commercially viable. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has a good outlook on the circular economy which is recently being implemented in various businesses in a viable way.
This is what we believe has pushed Connected Kerb further in the industry. We aren’t the biggest provider in the market but by being the best in innovation we can outperform our competitors.
Lucy Yu of Connected Places Catapult: Ultimately sustainable mobility means it serves the people and the planet equally but also has viable business models behind it. I see it as part of what I call the ‘Golden Trinity’ — which is a partnership between the City, Citizen and Company (the private sector). What we’ve found is in multiple sectors, including mobility, the ones that are finding solutions that satisfy all three are truly sustainable.
Cross-sector thinking to promote positive change
Our panellists agreed that collaboration is key for us to not only meet our individual sustainability goals but also those of the planet. But there are different approaches and definitions to what types of cross-sector partnership is needed.
Chris Pateman-Jones explained that capabilities and how you work plays a fundamental role in how Connect Kerb approaches things: “There’s an understanding that reaching our sustainability goals cannot be done by one company, so we built our team to be small and focused but ready to work collaboratively on solutions. Because of that our team has a focus on rethinking solutions rather than rebuilding. Ultimately, we see our product as an infrastructure build. The tech for Connected Kerb is at the base of each socket. There we have a universal dock and anode system where we can put in inductive wireless charging and 5g antennas as there’s a fibre connection there. So we can stack other applications alongside our charge point solutions, adding to the innovations we can support.”
Following on from Pateman-Jones, Chris Pritchett added that collaboration is an overused word but an underutilised approach. “Many try to provide the best solution but working in a silo is ineffective, especially when it comes to sustainable solution thinking. The clock is against us and what we’re seeing, from multiple collaborations we’ve supported, is that successful projects are when parties come together with genuine intention and generosity in the collaboration. It’s also worth identifying that if two parties come together just because they have to then it’s cooperation, collaboration is more of a relationship built around solution thinking.”
Pritchett added that collaboration with an aligned purpose is how we can reach sustainability fast and sufficiently. As well as business partnerships, we need to collaborate with the citizen or user so that it’s not just focussed on the commercial interest.
The critical factor for Lucy Yu is finding a way to make sustainability the most attractive option for all, from investors and cities to infrastructure and product to the end-user. We are at this tipping point for further investment into sustainability and there’s an opportunity for policymakers and regulators to provide better incentives, such as the Benefit Kind Tax. Those create the buying signal that makes sustainability the better option for investors and businesses.
She explains that for citizens, sustainable solutions do fulfil the social responsibility desire but they also have to compete on cost and convenience. With more investment, development and policy incentive, we can make the sustainable option the most desirable option on all fronts.
Necessities of the future
So we’ve gathered a better understanding of what sustainable mobility is and how we should approach it, but what should be our focus for the future?
Lucy explained how currently cost is a hurdle for sustainability. We have yet to see the Economy of Scale’s impact, as adoptions of EVs is still low. But Governmental influence can play a huge role in promoting more sustainable options. When the UK government announced that new petrol and diesel cars cannot be sold after 2030, there was a seismic shift in EV manufacturing and it provided OEMs with the confidence and incentive to invest in their EV portfolio.
Chris Pateman-Jones followed by stating that current EV owners are seen as outliers as there are extremely early-adopters and commonly have an EV as a second car. Most car owners in the UK don’t have a second car, so we have to consider how the transition would impact the majority. He expanded on Lucy’s view around behavioural incentives, adding that we have to fundamentally understand what customers want and it seems to be that they want extreme convenience. With our current infrastructure, we haven’t met that need. Most are charging their EVs at home where it’s most convenient, but the market is focussed on rapid charging solutions.
Since last year, Covid has changed behaviours drastically, the UK government has created a 10 point, green industrial plan and a lot of money is flowing into infrastructure. But change impacts everyone differently.
Pateman-Jones sees the change to the sector as a net positive, but one that has impacted local authorities negatively. They’ve received a huge amount of pressure to execute those plans and are often held most accountable. But for the most part, local governments don’t have the expertise or capacity to focus on things like infrastructure development. Chris believes the solution is to give resources to educate the public and supporting local authorises to make the right decision.
The other side is the change in ambition and capital assignment. The government has done well to start but the SMMT reported that we need 2.4 million charging points with a £16 billion investment by 2035. That’s where capital from the private sector can come in, thinks Pateman-Jones, with a move from product and appliance to infrastructure building.
Chris Pritchett agreed that there is a huge amount of capital that’s ready to deploy. Currently, that capital is mainly being added from local authority contracts, but those need to evolve because there’s a lot of responsibility to deliver and often it requires a wider partnership to fulfil — that’s where the private sector can support to better connect those dots. Germany’s approach is a good example, as their power is directed to the municipal level, giving them the willingness and capacity to deliver. Pritchett explained that his approach would be to give the local authorities better tools to engage with the private sector.
In terms of policy movements, Chris explains that it should be looked at holistically. All too often, in both the energy and mobility sectors, incentives would be placed towards one objective, more bike lanes, bigger busses etc. But in reality, not much attention is being given to looking at how cities and high street operate and mobility as a whole within the system. They are silo projects when we actually need to integrate them. Mobility as a Service (MaaS), says Chris Pritchett, is asking the right question as it looks at how to connect transport to maximise convenience and deliver as many solutions in one package. There’s also the silo of departments. Mobility challenges can fall under the environmental office or travel department or urban planning, but in reality, all of those players should come together and look at the challenge holistically, only then can you align net-zero, infrastructure updates and social impact and not just try to tackle them in an insufficient silo.
Chris Pateman-Jones continued this point, adding that the opportunities highlighted can also be the challenges. Explaining that when Connect Kerb has conversations with the central government, it includes the Cabinet Office, Infrastructure Project Association, but it also extends to the Department of Travel, DCMS, and the Department of Work and Pensions because we’re looking at mobility solutions for the less able — often each member has their own agenda with different priorities. That’s where coordination becomes a hurdle. But with some issues scale can be the solution. For example, if a charge point operator is only assigned 10 spots, they will choose the most economically appropriate options but if you assign 1,000 spots then it becomes a portfolio of both low and high performing assets which then allows for freedom to choose the most inclusive options.
The government can show leadership there and push for scale as they have the power and assets such as hospitals, real estates, schools etc, to deploy charge points and improve the green infrastructure.
The role of open data in sustainable mobility
As we move towards smart, green cities, data has become a central topic. TfL open data plans have opened up more mobility options to the public. Do you see data as a fundamental part of sustainable mobility?
Chris Pateman-Jones: We use data to evaluate where we place our charging points and often it has disapproved assumptions. For example, there’s this idea that wealthy areas are where usage is highest but actually wealthy people tend to live close to where they work so don’t travel much. So we often offer our data to clients so they can make more informed decisions.
Lucy Yu: The TfL API plans have enabled a bunch of mobility platforms to offer better options to the public. For example, Citymapper made London the first city on the global platform because of the TfL API and that also added value to London, its citizens and the open opportunities for the private sector. So it fulfilled all aspects of the aforementioned Golden Trinity. There are still a lot of opportunities in this area, such as including EV charging, or more micro-mobility options.
A recent road trip in a Nissan Leaf showed me how many shortfalls there are in the EV infrastructure in terms of data and communications, especially around charge points. That’s where I think an open data plan would be essential.
Chris Pritchett: Open data is critical for not only mobility but for the wider decarbonisation and sustainability challenges we face. Foot Anstey recently worked with the Government Energy Data Taskforce and during an initial sprint we looked at open data solutions from the likes of TfL and FinTech, and it made us realise how behind the mobility and energy sector is. Taking an open approach to data is integral to any challenge that has multiple players. Plus it can greatly improve the user experience and allow for more sustainable choices. In fact, it can be a way to improve engagement and provide incentives for sustainable options — such as promote tourists to walk or cycle around the city and display its history throughout, offloading the peak of commuter transport at 9 am and 6 pm.
What can OEMs do to make sustainable mobility more attractive to the public?
Chris Pritchett: OEMs have recently been doing more to make their sustainability options more attractive, but with incidences like Aston Martin’s Astongate and VW’s Dieselgate, they realised how accountable they are to actually deliver a viable product. It takes investment and time to bring EVs to the market, but it’s optimistic seeing established manufacturers such as GM seriously join the EV market.
Chris Pateman-Jones: Supporting the transition in all aspects of the automotive industry is what’s important. Currently, at the top of the funnel – at the manufacturing end – EVs are becoming more prominent but the investment is needed to improve manufacturing globally and support the transition at the auto-retail level as well as, where ICEs are still being pushed over EVs.
Do you see collaborations such as the Energy Superhub Oxford (ESO) getting more transition with other counties in the UK?
Chris Pateman-Jones: Connected Kerb is currently involved in a few county-driven solutions and I suspect that it will grow. But it’s worth noting that ESO is just one model and may not be viable for all. But what’s important is the public-private partnership, as it aids the decarbonisation of transport at scale. A county can have more impact than just one private company attempting to change the entire county. So it can and should be replicated but bespoke to each project.
Lucy Yu: I agree, it will gain traction across the country. The personalisation of each solution could create some innovative conclusions we have yet to see that would enable a modal shift for sustainable mobility.