How a business school is helping Greater Manchester reach ambitious net-zero targets

Institution: Manchester Metropolitan University Business School; The Centre for Enterprise

Leading Academics: Dr. Graeme Heyes and Chris Taylor



The magnitude of the climate problem necessitates a profound restructuring of society and commercial activity toward sustainability. For example, the UK has set a net-zero objective of 2050, while Greater Manchester aims to become a net-zero territory as soon as 2038. Whilst large businesses have the capacity to hire dedicated sustainability professionals to help guide them in this transition, SMEs are often left behind. This lack of support can be viewed as a major barrier to such aspirational targets, particularly when one considers that SMEs represent 99.9% of the UK business population.

Eco-I North West is an £14 million ERDF funded programme that supports SMEs in this transition. The programme is delivered in partnership by Lancaster University, Manchester Metropolitan University, Liverpool John Moores University, The University of Liverpool, The University of Central Lancashire and Cumbria University, with each institute taking their own approach to delivering on the overarching project outputs.


Benefits and impacts

The Manchester Metropolitan University approach to the programme focuses on a multi-stage process of cohort-based workshops with North West SMEs that combine peer-learning between participants and one-to-one technical support with Manchester Met academics and research facilities.


Phase One Sustainable Innovation Workshops

Phase One takes influence from concepts such as Design Sprints, Futures Studies and sustainable business model and strategic innovation to help businesses rapidly learn about the climate challenge and redefine it from an organisational challenge to a solvable innovation opportunity.

  • Taking influence from Carbon Literacy, businesses first learn the basics of climate science and climate impact and identify the requirements of a net-zero society.
  • Next, participants build on this understanding to identify what a future (sustainable) world that they would like to see looks like.
  • Participants then map what their organisation must look like to not just survive but thrive in that future world by creating a mission statement that can guide organisational activity and culture.
  • Current business activity is then mapped via systems maps of the full value chain of what each business does. This is then analysed so that impacts that arise from this process can identified.
  • These impacts are then plotted on an ease/impact matrix to identify the likely scope of identified impacts against their capacity to influence them.
  • From this, quick wins to reduce environmental impacts (or to have positive impact) are identified as well as more complicated innovation opportunities that require, for example, collaboration with the university’s academic experts.

Importantly, all businesses that come onto the programme leave with a net-zero action plan. This is a powerful outcome that can drive innovation and a commitment to sustainability over long-term periods. Participants also gain insights into emerging low carbon technologies in which Manchester Met have specialist expertise, including hydrogen, digital manufacturing, and biofuels.


Phase Two 1-2-1 Innovation Support

Phase Two of the project offers one-to-one applied research and development support to businesses that have identified a potential high impact innovation but that requires the support of a research institution. This delivers a proof-of-concept plan to enable the business to plan implementation of their innovation and provides the opportunity for on-going collaboration between themselves and our academic community. This approach thus has the capacity to lead to opportunities for applied research, Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, PhDs, Internships, and student placements – all of which we have successfully facilitated.

Projects that we have delivered through Phase Two have ranged from helping construction firms to transition from diesel to hydrogen fuels across their vehicle fleet, to investigations into the use of farm slurry as a biofuel, and providing secondary use to otherwise wasted paper pulp via anaerobic digestion and as a sustainable additive to concrete.



Through Eco-I Manchester Met have supported over 100 businesses in their journey to net-zero and by the end of the project will have supported a minimum of 57 ongoing collaborations, and the successful implementation of 31 new to firm innovations. Importantly, we also expect to deliver over 660 tonnes of CO2e within one year of the project end with longer term savings expected to be in the 1000s tonnes.