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Cleantech for UK: Sarah Mackintosh at the helm

April 5, 2023

On 14 February this year, the Cleantech for UK initiative launched with great fanfare. The 6 founding investor coalition members were joined by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Bill Gates, and three leading UK cleantech companies for the launch event at Imperial College London, where participants discussed how the UK can lead the world in pioneering clean solutions on the path to net-zero emissions.

Leading the initiative is Sarah Mackintosh, joining as Director of Cleantech for UK after a long period working in civil service across sectors such as energy, innovation and security policy. This depth of experience in the world of policy eventually brought her to the forefront of innovation policy, as the Deputy Director of Innovation at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Now, Sarah has set her eyes on cleantech advocacy and building up the UK’s cleantech ecosystem. When asked what prompted this change of arena, Sarah begins by highlighting how fondly she will remember her time in public service. But felt it was time for a new challenge and a renewed focus on cleantech. Now, with the cleantech race between the EU, US and China in full swing, it’s crucial that all who can, join the efforts to promote the most ambitious solutions that can bring about the net-zero economy.

“Our role is to make sure that the voice of cleantech innovation is not drowned out!”

Be it through her years of public service, the promotion of innovative climate tech solutions, or for that matter, returning home to her two golden retrievers, Darwin and Einstein, Sarah’s passion for science is apparent. While new to the world of advocacy, Sarah has seen first-hand, how precarious efforts to decarbonise our society actually are. During her time at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, she oversaw the technical side of the UK Government’s efforts to support Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies. However, in the wake of a financial downturn and subsequent calls for austerity, she saw the project discontinued. For her, warning bells rang at the time, as frustrations grew with inaction in the face of the climate emergency.

Reflecting on the struggles of cleantech start- and scaleups, Sarah recognises the difficulties of the community in reaching and communicating their needs effectively with policymakers. Small and growing clean companies simply lack the resources to go toe-to-toe with polluting incumbents, who entrench their market positions at all costs. Established, old-school businesses swallow up an outsized proportion of R&D funding from the State due to their perceived corporate maturity, and the barrier to entry for those who would need such funding the most, is prohibitively high. Finally, applying for funding is such a resource and time-intensive process that many eligible and deserving startups do not find the opportunity to apply.

“Civil servants are eager to support cleantech! We must equip and support them with our expertise.”

Sarah joins the cleantech movement at a time when it enjoys unprecedented political salience across the globe. Last year, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, a landmark package to support American clean industry. The EU responded within just six

months, with the European Commission moving ahead to propose the Net-Zero Industry Act. For the UK to secure its leadership position in the global ecosystem, time is of the essence.

“We need an army of cleantech installers!”

During the first Cleantech for UK roundtable, innovators and investors expressed their needs clearly: the UK needs to massively increase its scaleup funding and must urgently build up a workforce skilled enough to support the green transition. The UK will also need to respond to the Inflation Reduction Act and Net Zero Industry Act in order to remain competitive and to keep its most innovative companies here in the UK. Finally continued and increased collaboration across our allies will be a vital ingredient to our success.

Additionally, Sarah highlights the importance of cleantech scaleup not only being a way to address the climate crisis. Decarbonising is the objective, but there’s certainly no reason for this transition to come at the expense of the economy. A cleantech boom promises growth and gainful employment for thousands of British workers across numerous sectors.

“We’re ramping up conversations across the political spectrum!”

The UK is an innovative powerhouse, and the efforts to ensure that that global trailblazer role is maintained are accelerating.

First order of business for Sarah has been on setting up the work of Cleantech for UK’s coalition of investors and fleshing out their political priorities for the upcoming year. As Britain inches closer to the next general election, Cleantech for UK is gearing up to voice the needs of the British cleantech community and put the race to net-zero at the top of the public agenda. Supporting cleantech is not a partisan issue at all, and the global cleantech race is one that is won when we all finish, which applies both to the global scene, and the UK itself.

Cleantech for UK has certainly hit the ground running, and the initiative is only picking up speed. Now, the task is to build on the impact its already had on public debate, in the UK and elsewhere. Supercharging UK cleantech is a marathon, not a sprint, and as work progresses, the amount of competitors – and beneficiaries – in and of the race will only grow.

Welcome to the cleantech community, Sarah! The best is certainly yet to come.