Greening our Public Sector

Published on Wednesday, 30 March 2011 10:50
Written by Neil Bentley

Britain’s economy could be revolutionised as a result of tackling climate change.By creating a new way of working with energy we could unlock new supply chains, new export markets, new industrial opportunities of the kind this country hasn’t seen for generations


If we act now, Britain could benefit hugely from the low-carbon economy.

There are many brilliant low-carbon innovations already changing the marketplace. AlertMe have £8m from investors to develop wireless devices that monitor domestic energy use. WrightBus are developing the new green Routemaster hybrid. Pelamis Wave Power have done groundbreaking work in developing the world’s first offshore wave energy machine to generate electricity into the grid.  British companies are doing plenty already, but there is a role for the public sector in ensuring these low-carbon innovations get out into the marketplace.

The first way is by councils, schools and hospitals signing up to reduce their emissions. The coalition has committed to reduce central government emissions by 10%. This sends out a positive message in general but, practically, also offers an opportunity for ministries to achieve their reductions by being the first adopters of low-carbon technology. The same can be true at a local level. Using new ideas to help save on energy shows the market that these innovations aren’t just some gimmick, but are worth buying into.

There is also an opportunity in terms of public procurement. Government and public agencies can help build a real market for these new innovations by thinking long-term when they spend. The Mayor of London’s decision to use Wrightbus for his Routemaster is a good example. Decisions like this helps technologies pull through their demonstration phase, where high risks and costs can stop great ideas getting out into the mass market. That is why whole-life costing should be taken on by public authorities – valuing goods and services in their whole-life economic and carbon cost in order to prevent future taxpayers  footing the bill for short-term saving on high-carbon and energy inefficient approaches. From renewable, to transport to energy from waste, it is the public sector that can set the goal standard on how we reduce our emissions.

It is up to individuals to come up with the solutions on which we will build the low-carbon economy, but the state that can help encourage those solutions. This means the right policy framework, yes, but it can also mean more practical and more inventive decisions. It is something worth remembering as we start to rebuild.

As Chris Huhne said at the CBI’s Climate Change Summit, we need a new sort of economy. “It must be cleaner, greener and more sustainable. It must secure the economic recovery, promote growth, and meet the challenge of climate change. And it must deliver jobs, investment and profits.” We agree, and there is much that government must do to help business deliver it.

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