UK public sector carbon management

Published on Tuesday, 07 December 2010 00:00
Written by Richard Rugg

Richard Rugg, Head of Public Sector at the Carbon Trust, looks at the opportunity for public sector organisations to cut carbon and make £1 billion worth of energy savings in the process.


The coalition Government is introducing increasingly ambitious carbon reduction targets and this in turn means the UK’s public sector must play its part. With public sector buildings in England alone being responsible for producing 19.5 million tonnes of CO2, equivalent to 8% of  total non-domestic carbon emissions, action is critical. And carbon isn’t just bad news for the environment. This carbon usage translates to a £2.6 billion annual energy bill for the public sector. At a time when the pressure is on the entire public sector to slash costs, it seems obvious that Government departments, councils, schools, universities and hospitals should be looking to become more energy efficient and take advantage of the cost savings that can be made through carbon reduction.

At a recent Carbon Trust event pulling together over 200 representatives of the public sector organisations we have worked with, I revealed that the public sector can make a net saving of £1 billion by introducing energy efficiency projects. At the same time, these projects could reduce carbon emissions from public organisations by some 46 million tonnes over the project lifetime. This is roughly equivalent to London’s carbon output for a year.

So, the rewards of carbon reduction and energy saving are clear, but there are challenges to be overcome. At the Carbon Trust, we have looked closely at these barriers. For example, when projects do happen, there has also been a lack of monitoring to track their success. Therefore, it has been difficult for carbon reduction champions to show ROI and secure further rounds of funding, even if significant success has actually been achieved. Also, while the new Government has introduced initiatives and regulations to drive a greener public sector, the change of approach required can be confusing, leading to a pause in activity. And, of course, in times of austerity, the necessary up front financial commitment needed has not always been forthcoming, despite extremely compelling business cases.

But while the challenges are great, support is also at hand. For example, the Carbon Trust is taking applications for its 2011 carbon management programmes, and the deadline is February 15th, 2010. The service provides technical and change management guidance to help public sector organisations, of all types, to identify practical carbon and cost savings. The aim is to reduce emissions under the control of the organisation. So for local authorities, this includes managing buildings, vehicle fleets, street lighting and waste, while for universities it would include heating sports halls and swimming pools. Participating organisations are guided through a structured process that builds a team; measures the cost and carbon footprint; identifies projects, and creates a strong case for action to the executive.

For existing projects, local authorities are expecting to see £367m of net cost savings over the lifetime of the carbon management projects they have implemented; higher education institutions are expecting to save up to £48m; while NHS projects are expecting to save over £153 million.
There are many examples of organisations that have worked with the Carbon Trust to reduce carbon emissions and energy costs, and achieved significant success. Today, we are working with 2,700 NHS trusts, higher education institutions, schools, local authorities, central government organisations, police and fire services to help them significantly cut spending and carbon emissions. Successful carbon management measures taken include more energy efficient heating and lighting systems, improving buildings, encouraging small, but significant changes in staff behaviour and evaluating travel policies.


There is no doubt that carbon targets will be a major challenge for the UK up to 2020 and beyond. By reducing carbon emissions, the public sector is in a strong position to set a positive example to private organisations and the general public. This can happen in two ways. Firstly by taking simple steps to improve carbon management within their organisation, as mentioned above. Secondly, by looking beyond their own organisation and encouraging green initiatives amongst businesses and the wider community. This can involve using buying power to generate broader demand for energy-efficient products and services.  


As we look forward to 2011, actively managing energy and carbon must form an essential part of any efficiency strategy for every single public sector organisation – from the smallest local councils to the biggest NHS Trusts. Those organisations which seize the opportunity will make a real difference to their environmental footprint, how they are perceived within their community but also their bottom line. The support is there to make these changes a reality, and the rewards are worth it.

The views expressed in the contents below are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of GovToday.

Add comment