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Public sector looking to carbon management to drive resource efficiency

Source: Public Sector Executive July/Aug 2012

Tim Pryce, head of public sector at the Carbon Trust, explains the staging scale of the opportunity for energy efficiency across the sector.

In an era where the need for austerity and cuts are frequently discussed, opportunities can often be overlooked. The case for the public sector to invest in comprehensive carbon management programmes is compelling, especially as fuel and electricity prices have risen steeply in recent years. Cutting carbon and energy bills can liberate budgets, which can be allocated to delivering services. In over ten years of working with the public sector the Carbon Trust has already helped to save over 17 million tonnes of CO2 and £600m, but there are still a lot more savings to be made.

The scale of the opportunity is staggering. The public sector is responsible for up to 23 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, which carry an associated energy cost of around £5bn. Capital investment of just £1.5bn, spent on the most cost-effective solutions, could result in £500m of annual savings, providing payback in as little as three years.

Although the public sector is taking the lead nationally when it comes to making an impact on emissions, there is a lag between recognising the opportunity and taking action. Recent Carbon Trust research shows that over 80% of the public sector agrees that carbon reduction projects will deliver financial benefits, but that only 58% were planning on making tangible investments in carbon reduction in 2012. However, this is still a significantly higher percentage than those intending to take action than in business (46%) and the voluntary sector (33%).

With just 37% of public sector organisations feeling like current government policy supports their carbon reduction activities, the internal financial and reputational business case for action is crucial. By taking the initiative and investing in cutting energy consumption, public bodies can use cost savings to deliver more efficient services and ultimately deliver greater value for the public.

This has been recognised recently by the Committee on Climate Change in their report on how local authorities can reduce emissions and manage climate risk. They highlighted that there is a significant risk that sufficiently ambitious plans will not be developed and implemented. This is all the more important because the report also recognised how great an influence local authorities can have over the indirect emissions in their areas, particularly in buildings, surface transport and waste – sectors that make up 40% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK.

This year 24 public sector organisations are taking part in the Carbon Trust’s carbon management programmes. Participants come from local authorities, the NHS, further and higher education institutions, central government departments and executive agencies.

Over ten months participants will receive expert advice, tools and support for measuring their current emissions, forecasting their future emissions, and setting realistic targets for reducing these. This involves identifying projects, and making the financial business case for savings, as well as engaging staff, management, and stakeholders with their opportunity to have an influence on emissions.

Plenty can be achieved through low or no-cost actions, just through looking at optimising existing facilities and changing organisational behaviour. Relatively cheap measures, such as installing lighting and heating controls to ensure equipment is not left on when not needed, can provide swift returns on investment, typically less than three years. Larger invest-to-save measures, such as installing LED lighting, can also deliver large savings, with the additional benefit of lower maintenance costs because the lamps have longer lifetimes.

More ambitious measures include recladding inefficient buildings from the 1960s and 70s or installing renewable heat and electricity technologies, such as biomass boilers or wind turbines. There are even long-term investment opportunities with decentralised energy.

By investing in carbon management organisations will not only see the financial and carbon benefits for their own organisation, but are able to show leadership in their sector and local communities. It is important for the public sector to take an opportunistic approach to the savings that they can make, which will drive more sustainable and efficient public services in the long term. A little of this entrepreneurial spirit not only frees up money to spend on vital public services, it also helps support the UK green economy, and reduce the very real risks from climate change. In other words, everybody wins.

The Public Sector Carbon Network is an online community funded by the Carbon Trust designed to promote carbon reduction within the public sector by facilitating the exchange of best practice and case studies. Visit: publicsector.

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