Unlocking Sustainable Solutions: Collaborative Innovation for Defence and Beyond


Published 29th April 24

By Kalyan Sarma, VP of Climate, Environment, and Sustainability Commercialisation at Ploughshare, and Tom Odell, Chief – Climate Change and Sustainability at Dstl

World IP Day has been and gone, which means that Innovation Zero is nearly here. A great follow-on from World IP Day, Innovation Zero is an event where industry, government, and science all come together to discuss, collaborate, and share ideas on the best way forward for green technology, and might be a great opportunity to discuss research and IP and how it relates to sustainability. In that vein, Tom Odell, Lead Scientist for Climate at Dstl, and Kalyan Sarma, VP Commercialisation for Climate, Environment and Sustainability, sat down to put to paper both the importance of the event, and what Dstl and Ploughshare do at their core.

Innovation stands as a critical part of the Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) capabilities, and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is at the forefront of this. It not only drives operational advantage and innovation, but also sustainability of a modern defence capability. Reflecting on past experiences, such as the challenges encountered in Afghanistan, it’s evident that innovation is not just a luxury but a necessity in addressing sustainability issues – from bringing water security to the frontlines, all the way down to more eco-friendly packaging for rations and equipment. By learning from these experiences, Dstl has looked to innovate not only to mitigate risks to human and climate security, but also to reduce costs associated with operational inefficiencies.

However, the quest for innovation does not operate in isolation. Both MOD and Dstl recognise the myriad opportunities that lie beyond their conventional boundaries. Collaboration with partners emerges as a key strategy in unlocking these opportunities. By engaging with diverse expertise, investment, and entrepreneurship outside traditional spheres, doors can be flung open to novel solutions and fresh perspectives. This collaborative approach not only enriches the innovation ecosystem but also accelerates progress towards sustainable outcomes.

Central to this is the role of technology transfer and commercialisation. With a focus on bridging the gap between defence and civilian applications, Dstl plays a pivotal role in transferring technologies developed within the defence sector. This transfer ensures that innovations find relevance and utility beyond military contexts, contributing to broader societal benefits. Enter Ploughshare, the organisation entrusted with the task of making these technologies commercially viable and scalable. With a keen eye on building organisations and business opportunities conducive to collaboration and innovation, Ploughshare acts as an enabler for bridging the gap between defence innovation and commercialisation.

At the heart of this collaboration lies a shared vision for sustainability across sectors. MOD’s sustainability themes: food, waste, water, power, and materials serve as focal points for driving innovation towards more sustainable outcomes. But it isn’t siloed in those focal points in any way. Sustainability challenges bridge boundaries, and underlines the need for holistic approaches and cross-sector collaboration. By pooling resources, expertise, and insights, stakeholders can tackle complex sustainability challenges with greater efficacy and impact.

Looking ahead, Dstl’s commitment to driving innovation for sustainability is championed by not only Ploughshare’s aim to bring technologies and innovations to market, but also in its investment initiatives. With funds earmarked for sustainability innovations, Dstl is poised and ready to support the development of solutions that address pressing sustainability challenges while also preparing for future Defence capabilities. This investment not only reflects a commitment to driving positive change but also signals an opportunity for external partners to engage and collaborate in shaping a more sustainable future.

The journey towards sustainable solutions needs more than just innovation. By embracing collaboration, leveraging diverse expertise, and investing in sustainable innovation, MOD and Dstl pave the way for transformative change. As they stand at the forefront of innovation, they know that together through collaborative efforts and shared vision, through embracing commercialisation processes, and by bringing in more external partners, a course towards a more resilient and sustainable future can be made, and made successfully.

Next time, we will be discussing how the UK can use its knowledge and expertise to help better approach sustainability issues and challenges worldwide – especially with our allies.