AS Glasgow gears up to host the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November 2021, Royal Bank of Scotland is right in the thick of the action, both as a principal partner and a company that has set itself some bold targets, including halving the climate impact of its financing activity by 2030 and making its footprint climate positive by 2025.

Susan Fouquier, managing director at Royal Bank of Scotland Business Banking, explains: “Climate change is the greatest challenge facing our planet and we are taking our responsibilities to tackle it very seriously – and that means working collaboratively and being clear about our intentions.”

The group’s CEO, Alison Rose, took on her role leading the bank last autumn and set out her stall very clearly in February, just before the coronavirus pandemic took hold. 

“She announced that climate would be one of three pillars in our new strategy, along with enterprise and financial capability,” Fouquier points out. “We have already been ramping up lending to the UK renewables sector and as a business our emissions have reduced by 61% since 2014 so we’re very serious about it.”

Introducing the NatWest/Royal Bank of Scotland’s Climate Entrepreneur Accelerator Programme, then, is a natural progression for the established and highly successful business growth initiative. The digitally-based three-month programme, launched UK-wide in the autumn, forms part of the bank’s commitments around climate change and is designed to help climate-focused businesses to grow and scale.

It offers one-to-one mentoring, group workshops, and access to specialist networks and supply chains, including those in the climate sector. 

“We were actually oversubscribed, which is a good indicator of the way businesses are thinking,” says Fouquier. “We’re also working with a range of partners, including Dell and Pinsent Masons, so it’s clear that the whole climate debate is gaining traction.

“Our goal for the first intake was to have at least 25% of participating businesses supporting sustainable environmental activities as their core offer and we’re delighted with the response and mix of businesses involved.”

Fouquier believes that businesses have adapted well to remote working and making better use of technology during the pandemic. “We all miss seeing people at work and Zoom felt odd at the beginning but we’ve got used to it,” she says, adding that as the wider Accelerator programme had already pivoted to a digital format during the first lockdown the Climate launch was straightforward.

“I think there’s a growing understanding that every individual – our staff, our customers, all of us – has a part to play in creating a greener, cleaner world where there are fewer emissions and less pollution,” she continues. “We will gradually stop lending underwriting services to major oil and gas producers that do not have credible transition plans in line with Paris climate agreement targets, which aim to limit global heating to below 2C.

“Another pledge is to fully phase out coal financing by 2030 so customers are left in no doubt what our goals and objectives are.”

So, creating products and services, and collaborating with others to enable customers to track their carbon impact is crucial. For example, Royal Bank is running a pilot in partnership with KPMG, building on Glasgow Chamber of Commerce’s initiative to inspire businesses of all sizes to innovate and become future-proof by adopting circular strategies.

“We need to work with businesses to help them identify what they can do, and incentivise them to make positive change – but also accept that there must be some short-term pain if we are to achieve long-term gain,” says Fouquier. “Embedding climate into culture and decision making is what we should all be aiming for.” 

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CASE STUDY: Catriona Mann

HeraldScotland:
FOR Fife-based Catriona Mann, the creator of a reusable food wrap, the uncertainty around Covid-19 has not put a stop to her growth plans. She is forging ahead with several projects and has taken part in Royal Bank of Scotland’s Climate Entrepreneur Accelerator Programme.

The digitally-based three-month programme is part of the bank’s commitments around climate change and designed to help climate-focused businesses grow and scale. It offers one-to-one mentoring, group workshops, and access to specialist networks and supply chains, including those in the climate sector.

Mann’s company, Bplasticfree, launched in summer 2019, and her Waxyz breathable wraps are made from organic Indian cotton and coated with vegan-friendly wax by the Dundee-based specialist Halley Stevensons.

After completing the Accelerator for early-stage start-up entrepreneurs prior to the launch of Bplasticfree, she was invited to take part in this year’s new programme. “It’s been a very different experience this time because it’s been virtual,” she says. “However, doing everything online has in many ways been beneficial, particularly because I’ve been able to network and share experiences and ideas with people from across the country who I might not have otherwise met.”

Originally from Glasgow, Mann worked in retail for 20 years and decided to accept a redundancy package. 

“It was time for a new adventure so I went to New Zealand for a nine-week holiday and it was on my first day there that I came across beeswax wraps,” she explains. “I knew then what I wanted to do.

“Having lived in Jersey for a few years where you are never far away from the sea, I was really aware of the impact of climate change and plastic pollution, and while I’m not an eco-warrior I’m on a mission to help phase out clingfilm. You can’t recycle it so why use it when there’s an alternative?”

Available in a range of designs and sizes and also on a roll, and stocked in more than 50 retail stores, Amazon and online, Waxyz can be used to wrap food but also cover bowls and containers to keep food fresh. The wraps can then be washed, dried and reused, and can last for about a year before being recycled in a compost bin. Businesses can order wraps branded with their own logo to highlight their green credentials.

Bplasticfree has worked on a promotion with UK cheese brand Pilgrims Choice as well as projects with Scotmid and the University of Glasgow. 

“Accelerator has helped me focus on ways to grow the business and think about the future,” she says. “It’s extremely worthwhile – everyone in business can benefit from someone else’s perspective.” 
bplasticfree.com

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CASE STUDY: Euan McColm

HeraldScotland:
ENTHUSIASM abounds when Euan McColm of the famous Real Food Café at Tyndrum in Perthshire talks about Royal Bank of Scotland’s Climate Entrepreneur Accelerator Programme. “It’s only been running for a few weeks but already I can see it is striking a good balance between the business elements and the concept of bringing climate change to the forefront,” he says.

He is one of the first intake of participants in the bank’s new programme targeted at climate-focused firms with ambitions to scale up and diversify. As head of growth at the well-known café, which is celebrating 15 years in business this year and has long had sustainability at the heart of its business model, the Accelerator programme has come just at the right time.
“I joined the business last year with the remit to explore growth and development opportunities so to be able to network and collaborate with like-minded individuals from across the UK as part of the Accelerator programme has definitely been one of the major attractions,” he explains.
“Sessions are very climate-focused and while it would be good to meet people in a face-to-face scenario it’s working very well via Zoom.”
A seasonal business with high levels of passing trade, The Real Food Café, like most of the hospitality sector, has fallen victim to lockdown restrictions and has been forced to explore new opportunities such as e-commerce and click and collect/takeaway. It has invested heavily in measures to ensure the health and safety of staff and customers. While this meant cutting available seating, the changes have allowed for improvements in convenience and speed of service.
“Like others in the hospitality industry we’ve had to act quickly and make changes so we can trade safely,” says McColm. “But our growth ambitions remain unchanged but the pandemic means the timings of some initiatives will change.”
A primary for focus for the business, founded by Sarah Heward, is to expand The Real Food Café brand into the Central Belt.
“Regulars are familiar with our legendary fish and chips and we want more people to be able to enjoy them,” he continues. “As a seasonal business we have a very busy four months with tourists and fans of the great outdoors, cyclists, campers and so on and our goal is to expand into more of a year-round business to capitalise on future growth in staycations and holidaying in Scotland.”
Providing a point of difference will be more important when life returns to normal, he suggests, and the Accelerator programme is helping the business to focus on how The Real Food Café should position itself.
Already ahead of the curve when it comes to eco-friendly initiatives such as providing electric car chargers, bike racks and the sourcing of local produce, it has introduced branded packaging that is biodegradable and sustainably sourced. The business also works with the Scotch Beef Club and it only uses sustainable fish accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council.
“There is nothing good about Covid,” says McColm, “but we have become a stronger business and strengthened our relationship with the bank, working really closely with them to plan for the future.”

therealfoodcafe.com