While the global calls for action on climate change get louder and more urgent; and governments local and national, seek to build consensus on how to act, edie’s Sustainability Report respondents send their own clear message in return.
In particular, respondents highlighted the need for driving behaviour change, across institutions, businesses and communities.
In an increasingly resource-constrained world affected by the rising megatrends of climate change and population growth, how can public bodies meet the needs of the many while reducing environmental impacts and delivering social good?
When asked what the most significant sustainability investment areas were for public bodies in the 2017/18 financial year, almost two-thirds (62%) of respondents to the survey cited energy efficiency upgrades within their top-three priorities.
Carbon reduction programmes was listed in the top-three for 46% of survey respondents, while behaviour change initiatives made the top-three for exactly two-fifths (40%) of respondents.
Engagement and leadership
Asked what one thing would make their job easier, many participants focused on a need to boost levels of internal engagement, with responses ranging from “more senior management buy-in and leadership” to “a collective approach to implementing sustainability across the whole organisation’s activities”.
These problems have been accentuated by a shortage of individuals with both the skills and experience to identify and effectively prioritise sustainability projects. According to a report from STC Energy, many public-sector organisations lack the knowledge of how much energy they are consuming or even potentially wasting. The industry spends the equivalent of £22bn on energy every year, yet it is often overlooked, according to the study.
Leading by example
Between 2005 and 2020, UK public sector emissions are on course to fall by 38%. Central Government has led from the front in this regard, reducing its own emissions by 27% and cut energy bills by £147m in 2016 against 2009 levels.
Meanwhile, a variety of clean energy solutions such as efficient space and water heating, lighting and control systems are helping the likes of the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) to reduce carbon footprints.
Local authorities are already rising to the challenge. Recently crowned the UK’s smartest city for energy, Nottingham City Council has adopted many low carbon innovations, such as solar-powered car parks, battery storage and energy-saving investments in social housing such as external wall insulation programmes. These measures have helped to slash the city’s carbon emissions by a third over the past decade.
Bridge the gap between social & environmental responsibility
The public sector is uniquely placed to deliver products and services that are not only environmentally sustainable, but also provide wider societal benefits such as improved public health and education. This is particularly the case in the education system, where schools, academies and higher education have a role to play in encouraging healthier, lower carbon lifestyles.
Embedding sustainability across the UK’s education system was seen as a ‘critical’ sustainability opportunity by a huge 60% of edie sector Insight respondents.
UK and Ireland Sales Manager for Priva UK, Gavin Holvey agrees, “The public sector is on the cusp of a sustainable business revolution. The transition to low-carbon, resource-efficient business models will of course not be without its challenges, as highlighted throughout the report.
“But, as stated within the report, with every challenge comes an opportunity which, if seized upon, could help public organisations add to the bottom line at a time when brand trust and resilience is needed the most. Many of the technological advancements noted above can be adopted and implemented by public bodies now, putting the sector on a unique platform to lead the low-carbon economy.”
It is up to sustainability practitioners to adopt this leadership stance by convincing other key stakeholders that the time is now for public bodies to decide what their future looks like.