Business gains: NERC investment delivers solutions that enrich the UK economy

Our science delivers positive economic benefits to a wide range of business sectors by providing science-based solutions, enabling smarter regulation, and reducing operational costs.

Why it matters

The economy and the environment - indispensable, invaluable, inseparable. Whether providing materials, producing energy or disposing of waste, natural resources deliver a multitude of benefits shared by every business and every consumer across the country. Environmental damage, deterioration and degradation, meanwhile, come at a very real economic cost ultimately borne by us all.

What we did

  • Extending the reach of science beyond scientists has always been a guiding principle for NERC and our community, helping to define our objectives and shape our operations.
  • A key priority is to ensure that environmental science generates ideas and understanding that catalyse creation of completely new businesses, while boosting the resilience, productivity and profitability of existing ones.
  • We encourage partnerships, foster collaboration and nurture understanding between our stakeholders in business and academia - a powerful process that relentlessly drives business innovation.

Below, we present a selection of positive economic impacts that our investment in cutting-edge environmental science has delivered for a range of UK sectors.

Natural business partners

Key facts and figures (2013-17):

  • £38 million contributed by business / industry, adding to £289 million investment from NERC.
  • 270 NERC grants delivered in partnership with over 430 different organisations in business / industry.
  • 1,370 NERC research papers co-authored with 850 different partners in business / industry.
Diagram showing size of our impact on different sectors in decreasing order

Size of our impact on different sectors in decreasing order:

  1. Public administration and defence
  2. Agriculture, farming and fishing
  3. Manufacturing
  4. Technical services
  5. Other services
  6. Education
  7. Extraterritorial organisations
  8. Information and communication
  9. Mining and quarrying
  10. Energy
  11. Transport and storage
  12. Water and waste
  13. Infrastructure
  14. Finance
  15. Arts and recreation
  16. Wholesale and retail
  17. Health and social

* 17 out of 21 of the UK government's Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) of types of economic activity. Based on in-house analysis of impacts from NERC-funded activities.

NERC science: Impacts and benefits

Tractor

Agriculture, farming and fishing

Agenda-setting research led to a ban on marine use of the chemical TBT, triggering a surge in shellfish production that gave a £331 million boost to the UK industry and £718 million in wider environmental benefits between 1987 and 2014.

Factory

Manufacturing

Major manufacturers are among 4,500 UK businesses cutting costs, reducing their environmental impact and meeting regulatory targets using CCaLC (Carbon Calculations over the Life Cycle of Industrial Activities) software.

Electricity

Energy

Driving growth of UK renewables by enabling government licensing and reducing operating costs. Research has been key to assessing the safety of wave energy turbines, the effects of wind turbines on coastal erosion and the feasibility of a tidal barrage.

Cog

Technical services

Up to £30 million per year in benefits for the 300+ organisations which use the Flood Estimation Handbook on a daily basis to aid design and assessment of structures that flooding could affect.

Plane

Transport and storage

A science-based computer model providing accurate warning of severe winds helps airports and airlines avoid the huge costs of disruption that can result from airspace closures and flight diversions.

Water drops

Water and waste

Smarter regulation is cutting £7 billion worth of costs for the water industry between 2015 and 2051 and set the UK to benefit by £5·5 billion through improved water quality standards that balance compliance burdens with environmental considerations.

Bar chart

Finance

A £62-130 million per year reduction in losses to the insurance industry resulted from improvements in catastrophe modelling used to estimate the potential impacts of events such as storms and floods.

Shopping trolley

Wholesale and retail

Pioneering research has enabled top supermarkets and telecoms companies to adopt carbon benchmarks that provide clear targets and standards, driving efforts to cut carbon emissions.

 

Clocktower

Public administration and defence

Supporting government impact series instalment coming soon.

Contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

8: Decent work and economic growth; 12: Responsible consumption and production; 17: Partnerships for the goals

Investing for the future

Listening carefully to our stakeholders' needs, we help businesses access the best scientists, data and skills, translate existing knowledge into new solutions and co-design research and innovation focused on real-world challenges. Current investments include:

  • The Regional Impact from Science of the Environment (RISE) is a £12 million programme driving regional economic development by bringing together research organisations, businesses and policy bodies.

  • Centres for Doctoral Training are fostering a new generation of experts to deliver solutions in priority areas identified by NERC and our partners, for instance renewable energy (£11·9 million with EPSRC), soil science (£2·3 million with BBSRC), risk and mitigation (£2·5 million with ESRC) and smart observation (£2·5 million with EPSRC).

  • Tackling plastic waste. On behalf of UKRI, NERC and Innovate UK have led a coalition which spans industry, government and the research base to develop a £60 million investment, subject to business case, through the third wave of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund that aims to make the UK a leader in sustainable plastic packing and reducing its environmental impact.