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When we talk about research and development, we’re not just thinking in terms of making things cheaper, faster or even better. There’s a whole other side to R&D, and it’s got the potential to be the most important of all in the long term.

“Green R&D” is a big deal these days. There’s a huge amount of work going into developing products and processes that are cleaner, safer for the environment and more sustainable. What was once, even relatively recently, seen as a possibly cool idea for the future is becoming a whole culture in itself, and not before time. Every year, more and more people are getting smart about sustainability, and business is responding in kind by rethinking the way it operates.

The UK government itself is adopting a “lead by example” policy, with its Greening Government Commitments 2016-2020 paper. The paper calls for government departments to cut down on waste and greenhouse gas emissions, lower water consumption and bulk up sustainable procurement systems. They’re committed to transparency about the whole thing, too, with annual reports on their performance. All told, their current targets see them looking to bring down their paper use by 50%, send less than 10% of their waste to landfills and cut their domestic business flights by 30% (with the exception of front line MOD command flights).

As for businesses, some of the top names in high street retail are flying the flag for sustainability and greener practices. Heavy hitters like H&M and Zara are making moves toward tackling the estimated annual 92 million tonnes of waste, 1 million tonnes of CO2 and almost 80 billion cubic metres of fresh water the fashion industry was responsible for as recently as 2015. Zara, for example, has committed itself to relying entirely on sustainable cotton, linen and polyester by 2025, and 100% sustainable viscose by 2023. They also set themselves the target of all their stores being eco-efficient by the end of 2019. H&M, by comparison, is promising that 100% of its materials and products will be recycled or sustainable by 2030, and to have an overall positive effect on climate by 2040 through offsetting carbon, cutting emissions and switching over to renewable energy.

All that energy has to come from somewhere, obviously. Clean tech is a major driving force behind the increased sustainability we’re starting to see in the UK, with a real shift away from conventional energy to sustainable alternatives like solar, hydropower, bioenergy and wind farming. The UK has a great deal to offer in terms of the energy potential of its natural landscape, and businesses are waking up to that fact. Renewable sources already produce over 20% of the country’s electric power, with a good chance of hitting 30% by 2020. There are several support schemes offering support for renewable energy, from the Renewable Obligation, which rewards a commitment to renewable electricity to the Feed-In Tariff, where generators are paid for every unit of electricity they produce and any surplus can be sold back to the Grid.

The key point to recognise in all of this is that we’re still very much talking about innovation here. Making your products and processes greener or more energy-efficient is a great basis for an R&D Tax Credits claim. The R&D tax relief scheme is about rewarding innovations that stand to have a real positive impact beyond your own business. That’s basically a perfect description of what “greening up your act” does.

At RIFT, we’ve already helped a huge array of businesses claim back tax on their most sustainable inventions and innovations. From manufacturing to construction, every industry stands to benefit from a greener future. Regardless of size or sector, that’s one thing they all have in common. The other is a well earned R&D Tax Credits claim.