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What would it take to make innovation commonplace? Such an idea seems almost a contradiction in terms, since, by definition, innovation suggests change and a break with the norm. However, the need for fresh thinking represents a constant for any sector or business seeking to keep meeting and exceeding sustainability goals and targets.

This is why, at M&S, we have been so committed to hosting the Big Innovation Pitch for the last three years at Ecobuild, the leading UK exhibition and conference for construction, design and energy in the built environment.

Taking place at the recent Ecobuild event, the grand finale gave five shortlisted entries the chance to pitch to the judges in front of a live audience, with the winners revealed to loud applause. This Dragons’ Den-style format adds a little drama and provides a piece of event theatre, but innovation is ultimately a serious business, for contestants and M&S alike. 

The Big Innovation Pitch is one way in which we try to seek out innovative solutions that support the M&S Plan A sustainability strategy and support our constant quest to improve performance. It also helps us forge new partnerships, as we cannot do this alone.

And it’s fun! Every year, it truly is a tonic to learn about great new developments in the marketplace. In the end, though, there have to be winners and from the initial shortlist of 12 of the latest retail engineering innovations, five were selected to do battle on the day:

  • Arup and Airedale - with a Hybrid Coil Unit heating and cooling system that requires half the amount of infrastructure;
  • Organic Response - a fully retrofittable ‘plug and play’ PIR lighting system that has taken inspiration from shoals of fish and requires no wiring or commissioning;
  • Protomax Plastics - demonstrating real circular economy in action, by taking everyday waste plastic and recycling it into hoardings and shopfittings, themselves 100 per cent recyclable;
  • CBES - Mistral Air ‘dry system’ fridge unit to cut CO2 emissions and ‘cold aisle’ syndrome;
  • IES - with its IBC (Intelligent Building Control) simulation software tool that could help to reduce the performance gap across a building portfolio.

Joining me on stage for this year’s final judging panel were some real industry heavyweights: Chris Vallis (Director, AB Group), John Field (President of CIBSE), Rick Holland (Innovation Lead for Infrastructure Systems at Innovate UK), and Julie Hirigoyen (CEO of UK Green Building Council). Chairing the session was TV broadcaster, Cathy Newman. 

Ultimately, so closely contested was the final that we were unable to separate the two highest scoring entries, and so – a first for this competition – we announced two joint winners: Protomax Plastics and Arup and Airedale.

As with previous years, it was great to witness UK inventors and manufactured products solving problems and proving able to address challenges across the wider construction industry, as well as helping us meet our ambitious targets at M&S.

Winning on the day, though, is only the start. All the triumphant companies have the opportunity to become an M&S supplier, with the two previous winners going through the New Engineering Technologies (NET) testing process and the EndoTherm™ product from the inaugural 2015 Pitch now having been installed in 25 stores.

At M&S, ultimately, we just want innovation to become the ‘new normal’ for construction, and the Big Innovation Pitch is certainly helping us to do that.

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