Design Foundations Round 2: Net Zero Environments

Key Features

UK registered organisations can apply for a share of up to £4 million for people-centred and planet-centred design projects. This is to support R&D activity developing new products and services that transform where we live and work into net zero places.

Programme:     Innovate UK

Award:     Share of up to £4 million

Opens: 31st May 2023

Closes: 26th Jul 2023

! This scheme is now closed


Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £4 million in innovation projects that use people-centred and planet-centred design methods to transform where we live and work into net zero places. This funding is from Innovate UK.


The aim of this competition is to help businesses use people-centred and planet-centred design methods to lay the foundations for innovative ideas with the potential to deliver significant benefits. These can be ideas for new or significantly improved products, services, places or business models.

To be within scope for the net zero round of this competition, your proposal must fall within one or more of the following 3 categories:

  1. Defining innovation opportunities: You will use people-centred and planet-centred design methods to identify, understand and prioritise needs and innovation opportunities that are relevant and valuable to your business. You will plan innovation activity to respond to them, including by generating, testing and improving new ideas as described above.
  2. Generating new ideas: You recognise a specific need or opportunity to innovate and will use people-centred and planet-centred design methods to verify and respond to it by generating new or improved ideas.
  3. Testing and improving ideas: You have an innovative idea and will use people-centred and planet-centred design methods to simulate, test and improve the quality of the experience and benefits that it offers at every stage of its lifecycle.

To be within scope for this competition, your proposal must also meet the following criterion:

  1. Net Zero Living: You must use people-centred and planet-centred design methods to identify, understand and prioritise needs and innovation opportunities which have the potential to transform where we live and work into net zero places.

Your project must explore opportunities and ideas from the perspective of the people and socio-technical systems who will be involved with, or affected by them, in the context of the transition to a net zero economy. Their experiences, motivations and behaviour must be allowed to shape the challenge and ideas. This is to make sure that:

  • the most important, urgent and valuable problems and opportunities are being addressed
  • proposed solutions are more desirable, equitable, beneficial and supportive of net zero living
  • new ideas are more likely to be adopted and promote positive changes in behaviour

You must include activities to identify and involve relevant stakeholders sufficiently early and at appropriate points throughout the project. Your project team should reflect the characteristics, culture and lived experiences of the people they are designing for, or take steps to bring those perspectives into the project in a meaningful and relevant way.

Projects that use planet-centred or system-aware approaches to consider nature as a stakeholder, and to design beneficial solutions within the limits of planetary resources and ecosystems are particularly encouraged. These projects must also take account of people’s motivations and behaviour, so that ideas have the best chance of being adopted and realising their potential.

Any prototyping activity within your project must:

  • focus primarily on making discoveries about the quality of experience, the likelihood of the idea being adopted or its potential to promote positive changes in behaviour which support the net zero agenda
  • be as quick and low-cost as possible, and aim for the lowest level of fidelity or functionality necessary to get the required feedback
  • be used to share ideas and make discoveries early in the design process, so they can be acted on before it becomes prohibitively expensive or time consuming to do so

Once the project has started successful applicants are encouraged to respond to findings emerging from the project and new discoveries made during the research and design process. This might include abandoning or rethinking your original ideas and changing the focus of planned R&D activity. Innovate UK will consider well-justified project change requests submitted via a project’s allocated monitoring service provider.

Applications are encouraged from organisations that have not previously used people-centred and planet-centred design processes or expertise. We encourage applicants to work with design experts as partners or subcontractors to get the best results and to develop their own understanding and design capabilities.

Innovate UK want to fund a variety of projects that:

  • represent a range of strands, themes, research categories and markets which are relevant to the net zero agenda
  • are located throughout the UK
  • represent a range of company sizes

Innovate UK call this a portfolio approach.

Specific Themes

Your project must focus on net zero living, but may also cut across one or more of the following:

  • health and wellbeing
  • food and agriculture, except in primary production
  • application of advanced digital and other technologies

This list is not exhaustive


Your project must:

  • have a total grant funding request between £40,000 and £80,000
  • start by 1 December 2023
  • end by 31 May 2024
  • last between 3 months and 6 months
  • carry out its project work in the UK, however user research in international target markets can be undertaken
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

Lead organisations must agree to contribute up to two days in support of Innovate UK activities to promote the use of people-centred and planet-centred design, or to help us improve our products and services. This activity could include, for example, taking part in interviews, supporting the creation of case studies or contributing to seminars or showcases. You will not be required to share confidential information or intellectual property.

You must only include eligible project costs in your application.

Under current restrictions, this competition will not fund any procurement, commercial, business development or supply chain activity with any Russian or Belarusian entity as lead, partner or subcontractor. This includes any goods or services originating from a Russian or Belarusian source.

To lead a project your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business of any size, charity, not-for-profit or public sector organisation
  • collaborate with other UK registered organisations

More information on the different types of organisation can be found in our Funding rules.

To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must be a UK registered:

  • business of any size
  • academic institution
  • charity
  • not-for-profit
  • public sector organisation
  • research and technology organisation (RTO)

Your project team must include appropriate expertise in people-centred and planet-centred design. Lead organisations without this capability are encouraged to work with designers as project partners or subcontractors.

Each partner organisation must be invited into the Innovation Funding Service (IFS) by the lead to collaborate on a project. Once accepted, partners will be asked to login or to create an account, enter their own project costs and complete their own Project Impact questions into IFS.

To be an eligible collaboration, the lead and at least one other organisation must apply for funding when entering their costs into the application.

Subcontractors are allowed in this competition. The costs associated with sub-contracting must not exceed 75% of the total project cost.

You can work with multiple subcontractors on a single project. Each subcontractor must be named on the application form, and each must have a unique and clearly defined role within the project.

A subcontractor can be a business of any size, academic institution, charity, not for profit organisation, public sector organisation or research and technology organisation (RTO).

Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK and you must select them through your usual procurement process.

You can use subcontractors from overseas but must make the case in your application as to why you could not use suppliers from the UK.

You must also provide a detailed rationale, evidence of the potential UK contractors you approached and the reasons why they were unable to work with you.

Innovate UK expect all subcontractor costs to be justified and appropriate to the total eligible project costs. We will not accept a cheaper cost as a sufficient reason to use an overseas subcontractor.

A business, charity, not for profit or public sector organisation can only lead on one application but can be included as a collaborator in a further 2 applications.

If an organisation is not leading any application, it can collaborate in any number of applications.

Subcontractors can contribute to any number of applications. Lead organisations are advised to be mindful of their chosen subcontractors’ capacity to deliver should they be involved in more than one successful application.

You cannot use a previously submitted application to apply for this competition.


Innovate UK are not funding projects that:

  • are the design of experiments, policies or research methodologies,
  • don’t follow best practice people-centred and planet-centred design methods as described in the competition scope
  • focus on the final finish or specification of an idea where fundamental design decisions have already been made, for example where new customer feedback or discoveries will have little influence on the design outcome
  • seek only to validate technical feasibility or progress the technology readiness level of an idea, rather than improving the quality of the experience or its benefits for people or the planet
  • are likely to be harmful to people or the planet

Innovate UK are not funding projects that are proposals to create prototypes or demonstrators in cases where the prototype:

  • requires a majority of the project cost or time to build
  • are to be made fully functional at considerable effort or cost when partial or simulated functionality would suffice
  • are intended primarily to test technical feasibility or performance rather than the customer experience and benefits
  • will only be shared with stakeholders late to the project for example with no time allowed to make changes in response to feedback

Innovate UK cannot fund projects that:

  • involve primary production in fishery and aquaculture
  • involve primary production in agriculture
  • have activities relating to the purchase of road freight transport
  • are not allowed under De minimis regulation restrictions
  • are not eligible to receive Minimal Financial Assistance
  • are dependent on export performance, for example giving an award to a baker on the condition that they export a certain quantity of bread to another country
  • are dependent on domestic inputs usage, for example if we give an award to a baker on the condition that they use 50% UK flour in their product

Funding Costs

We have allocated up to £4 million to fund innovation projects in this competition.

You can request 100% funding for your eligible project costs from £40,000 up to a maximum of £80,000. Your project’s grant funding request must not exceed this maximum.

If your grant funding request does exceed this maximum, then your application will be made ineligible.

You can make reference to any additional voluntary contribution in your application answers. It must not be detailed in the finance section.

Research participation

The research organisations undertaking non-economic activity as part of the project can share up to 100% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation undertaking non-economic activity, this maximum is shared between them.

Interested in applying for this competition?

Book an appointment to speak to one of our advisors to discuss your eligibility to apply for this Grant Funding opportunity.