Climate change is never far from the headlines says Kelly Green, regional director for the North East at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, writing for The Northern Echo.

She argues the region’s businesses can help tackle the climate change and drive growth at the same time.. The last few months have seen people across the UK voice their concerns about the environment.

"The Government’s latest greenhouse gas emissions data estimates that the UK’s national CO2 emissions fell by two per cent in 2018. As the figures highlight, this means Britain has reduced overall carbon emissions to 39 per cent below 1990 levels – an encouraging sign of progress.

"Yet there is still much more work to be done. As a result of the Climate Change Act (2008) the Government has set itself a series of ambitious targets to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, with an aim of slashing the UK’s CO2 emission volume to 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

"The Spring Statement saw the Chancellor announce a raft of new measures to help tackle carbon emissions.

"According to the Government’s estimates, some 18 per cent of the UK’s CO2 emissions were generated by businesses last year. While the Government may set the policy agenda in our fight to address the climate challenge, firms also have a responsibility to play their part.

"Here in the North-East, we have a strong base to build on as we look towards a more sustainable future.

"Our region is already a world leader in offshore wind energy. It’s an industry primed for growth thanks to the government’s recent Offshore Wind Sector Deal – which will see £250m invested in the development of the UK’s offshore wind supply chain.

"We also have a number of the UK’s major ports, which provide a vital link to offshore energy projects in the North Sea.

"In February, it was announced that a new Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in renewable energies would be established across Durham, Northumbria, and Newcastle universities, as well as a CDT in offshore wind energy between the universities of Durham, Hull, Sheffield and Newcastle.

"And we have the potential to do even more.

"Changes – sometimes even small ones – that aim to reduce firms’ environmental impact can have significant business benefits.

"For example, many businesses – such as those in the tourism and retail sectors – rely on vehicles to keep them running on a daily basis. Replacing fossil fuel-burning cars and lorries with hybrid or electric alternatives can help businesses save money on taxation and through lower fuel costs, while also reducing pollution.

"Improvements to business premises can have an impact, too. Installing energy efficient lighting or introducing more energy-efficient machinery can help shrink a firm’s carbon footprint while reducing overhead costs. Similarly, investing in the development or expansion of their own low-carbon or renewable energy sources – such as solar panels – can also help cut companies’ overall emissions and save money on energy over time.

"The business implications can also reach beyond direct cost savings. Research commissioned by Danish renewable energy company Ørsted has found that 73 per cent of UK consumers surveyed would prefer to buy products from companies that source at least part of their energy from renewable sources – a clear sign of the wider competitive advantage that sustainability shifts could offer.

"To help North-East businesses make investments to drive sustainable growth, Lloyds Bank has launched a £2bn Clean Growth Finance Initiative (CGFI), which aims to deliver the most inclusive UK green funding in the market.

"The fund is available to finance investments that reduce environmental impact and help boost productivity and growth. This could include the purchase of equipment such as new, more energy-efficient refrigerators for those in the food services or hospitality sectors, or solar panels to generate electricity.

"We’ve also partnered with the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership to provide sustainability training to more than 300 relationship managers so they can provide sustainability advice to our clients.

"Many businesses have already benefitted from our support. Last year alone, we lent more than £330m to UK businesses through the CGFI, and provided funding to increase the energy efficiency of 1.4 million square feet of commercial real estate. We’ve also committed to lending up to £700m to North-East businesses in 2019 – funding that can help businesses drive further sustainability measures.

"Driving sustainability requires us all to work together, and we’ll be by the side of North-East businesses to help them make investments for greener growth.

"With carbon emissions set to remain a pressing concern, the North-East’s firms should ensure that they’re part of the solution."