Minister visits innovative companies

13th June 2022

Mr Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Higher Education, Further Education, Youth Employment and Training, visited two companies with sustainability and environmental impact at the heart of what they do. These businesses have been supported by Interface, specialists in knowledge exchange, who connect innovative thinkers to Scottish academics.

First, Mr Hepburn visited a community interest company in Bo’Ness, Sustainable Thinking Scotland, which is discovering multiple positive uses of biochar, a by-product created by burning wood. The benefits include the removal of toxins from soil and water.

Later in the week he was shown the complete “lifecycling” process of IT equipment and devices carried out at East Kilbride-based Re-Tek. The company is at the heart of the Circular Economy drive in Scotland and are leaders in the IT disposal industry offering re-use as a secure, environmentally sustainable method of asset retirement. With strategic partners in Europe, America, and Asia, Re-Tek also employs almost 50 people in Scotland.

Both companies have enhanced their sustainability credentials following introductions from Interface to university partners, and they continue to work with academia on research and development projects helping to expand their workforce and secure business in new markets.

Mr Hepburn said: “I was delighted to visit Re-Tek and Sustainable Thinking and to see the excellent work that they are both doing. I was very interested to see how much support they had both been given by Interface who have facilitated connections between world class Scottish universities and companies in need of innovative solutions.

“The Scottish Government continues to support the accelerated translation of the outputs of Scotland’s excellent university research into practical improvements, business innovation and economic growth as well as environmental and societal benefits.”

Interface’s Interim Director, Laura Goodfellow, said: “It is a fantastic time for Mr Hepburn to see some of the work going on at two very different businesses who are working with Scottish Universities to achieve their environmental goals. They demonstrate the different ways in which a business of any size can tap into the expertise available within universities and how sustained relationships can develop out of initial projects.

“We recently celebrated our 3,000th collaboration between a business and university or college, so it is great to share our success story with the Minister and showcase some of the ways in which collaborative working is benefiting communities, the environment, and the economy.”

Sustainable Thinking Scotland Co-Founder, Sean Kerr commented: “There has been a massive acceleration in terms of the biochar project in the last year. There is no way we would have made the acceleration that we have without the support of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) and Interface. I wasn’t quite prepared for how quickly the work would be done, and how quickly we would get results back. Once we connected with UHI, it opened a lot of doors. As we are a multi project company, Mark Taggart has connections at the university who can help not only with biochar but with food productions and the social enterprise side of things as well. Once we started to speak to an academic partner the potential was beyond anything we could have imagined.

Watch the Minister meet the Sustainable Thinking Scotland team:

Now we are at phase 3. The only reason we have the space and resources to look at phase 3 research and production is all thanks to the support we have had over the past year from universities and Interface.

William McPherson, Projects Director at Re-Tek said: “Re-Tek faced an enormous challenge to try and identify an academic partner to support the recovery of gold, silver and cobalt from printed circuit boards which were removed from recycled electronics. Without the support of Interface, it’s unlikely that we would have found our outstanding partner, University of the West of Scotland, to support Phase 2 of the project. Interface has coordinated support for several ventures, including a project with University of Strathclyde to support improvements in our Recycling Centre. In 2021, Re-Tek extended the life of 250,000 used technology items preventing the need for these items to be inefficiently or needlessly recycled or landfilled.

“In addition to the environmental impact our business has, Re-Tek are committed to ensuring the future employability of students graduating from universities or colleges through regularly providing placements for students to support their academic courses. Working closely with South Lanarkshire College Social Care and Additional Support Needs schools in the local area, Re-Tek deliver mentoring and training to young adults providing an insight into working life. We are also active in several employability schemes, such as Routes to Work and the Kickstart program providing work experience and enhancing job prospects for eighteen to twenty five year olds.