How the sustainable domino effect can help government

In this blog Andrew Smith, Pillar Lead Research - Environment and Sustainability at CCS, reveals some of the ways government can achieve sustainability

To achieve sustainability within government will feel like moving a mountain with a teaspoon, it is possible but it will be a long and hard journey. As said by one of the most brilliant men to walk this earth, Albert Einstein, ‘persistence is the most powerful force on earth, it can move mountains’.

The tasks seem endless, almost as if it is too much to start, it is as if we have 10,000 items to cover and we are currently at number three, this is made worse by each task having their own sub set of additional problems and multiple questions all that require in depth answers.  

But with persistence and a willingness to make some tough decisions, all sustainable goals can be achieved. To make it less intimidating, we need to look at a number of small changes that add up to a larger completed goal, what these changes are is yet to be decided as indeed that has to be done from the grassroots level for each area, it would be wrong to suggest that the port city of Liverpool would be the same as a more service based city like Guildford or that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Health and Safety Commission’s requirements are identical. But this is where they are similar, all have buildings, lights, car parks and use IT so in some areas we are in fact all the same.  

Sustainable domino theory
This short article is about my Sustainable domino theory and how one decision in one area can have a positive effect in another, helping achieve an overall goal.  

When you mention government the initial thought is just bureaucracy wrapped in bureaucracy with a side order of bureaucracy stopping anything from happening, in reality, it is run and staffed by some truly dedicated people that have the want and wish to make things better for everyone in their area. Albeit all are similar no single area is the same so therefore no single sustainable solution will be the fix, but a change in one area may be the answer to another. For the purpose of this article, I will look at just a small part rather than all of the authorities responsibilities

The first thing that people think of when it comes to carbon net-zero is power. Looking at this from one aspect would be a move to a green sourced power supply, maybe including carbon offset certificates. In an ideal world, it would be a mix of solar and air source heat pumps, if the property is in a more rural area and has the available space then a small wind turbine would complement the building’s requirement. Theoretically, this could create an off-grid generation of supply. This is where the differences come in, the MoD has plenty of land that can have wind turbines a local authority building would require solar, both have renewable just different ways of achieving the same result.

Lights, computers, administration and building waste are all areas that need to be readdressed. Lights can be changed to LED systems both within the main buildings along with the street or car park lights. The benefit is that they have a much lower per hour cost mixed with better longevity, plus they are much brighter than previous energy saving bulbs. If this is mixed with some intelligent controllers the streetlights can be dimmed at certain times of the night, i.e. 2am to 5am saving power, after all, it is a waste when you see lights on in an area that has no movement at all, we are just burning electricity for the sake of it.  

With computer systems, laptops are more environmentally friendly than desktop systems, in this new world of working from home a laptop is a requirement and will need to communicate with a main server. Having a server system located off site would help to remove another section of power requirement from the building thus reducing the building CO2 further, even more so when it is hosted in an environmentally friendly situation. One aspect of administration is the number of paper letters sent to households. The majority of citizens now have email addresses so a simple email would be ideal and at zero cost. There are the exceptions where some will need to continue with physical letters, but as time moves on more and more are using email as a main source of communication.  

Electric Vehicles are becoming increasingly popular along with charging points that are being installed all over the Country, local shops and supermarkets have seen the business benefits of having chargers for customers, link these chargers to clean air zones and pollution level reduction can have other wider benefits. Data produced by both the NHS and the British Lung Foundation (BLF) have shown significant improvements in air quality during the lockdown, that asthma sufferers found their symptoms were better and that we all noticed a cleaner environment. The BLF reported that ‘one in six people living with lung conditions in the UK say their symptoms have got better because of the fall in toxic air pollution since lockdown’.

None of the ideas mentioned here are new, the plans are in place, the technology is available and getting better all the time. Take the postage letters mentioned earlier, if email is used then there is a cost reduction on printing and postage stamps, more to the point the larger effect will be, no printing required, no paper for the letter or envelope, the postage van being run for deliveries is less so reduced vehicle pollution, no envelopes in the recycle bin or letters being shredded and placed in the standard rubbish bin. This will bring in less waste to be dealt with so less landfill (which produces its own high level of greenhouse gases). What about the wider elements including the CO2 produced in the process of manufacturing the paper and envelopes including the delivery to the distribution wholesaler and subsequent deliveries to the supplier and eventually to the end user, the CO2 and NO2 produced just on the journeys that would be heavily reduced just by using a system that is already in place.

I agree there is also an argument on the CO2 emissions from the datalake created from the servers but the idea is to use systems in place rather than using new paper and materials, or that it could be counteracted by the reduced use of printing toner and the electricity required to run the printers. The health of the local citizen is better as the air is cleaner, you can promote your town or city as a clean and healthy place to live and work.  This is the absolute definition of the Sustainable Domino, a change to save some money has larger knock on effects, all for the better.  

It is no surprise that we all have to look towards a circular economy in order to stop the reliance on a limited resource of natural materials, but as always in sustainability, every question is subsequently answered by two more questions. Even the example I have mentioned here is only the start of what needs to be done by all of us, but it is a start, one of many steps that we all need to begin with.

Right now it is procurement’s time to shine, the world has changed and one thing that Covid-19 has brought to the attention of all is being greener, the call for a greener rebuild and how air quality improved during the lockdown reducing pollution levels is testimony to the how having a green agenda for projects is not just a good thing to have but more importantly, it is the right thing. Procurement can help achieve this target goal but it is down to all of us to look into each project and see how it can be improved, we need to stop the phrase of ‘business as usual’ and embrace the thought process of reimagining everything with a green sustainable tint to it.  

Sustainable Procurement  
We are often asked two questions, first what is sustainable procurement and second what is the sustainability aspect of this procurement.

For sustainable procurement a simple definition is, to procure in a sustainable way, looking beyond short-term needs and considering the longer term impacts of each purchase. Sustainable procurement is used to ensure that purchasing reflects broader goals linked to resource efficiency, climate change, social responsibility and economic resilience. Think of this similar to a solar installation where the initial outlay is high but the benefits both financial and environmental are easily higher, the same can be said for LED lighting systems, the long term benefits outweigh the set up costs.

Sustainable procurement involves a higher degree of collaboration and engagement between all parties in a supply chain, this is nothing but a positive outcome as the supply chain has embraced sustainability and most have a policy in place for how they can prove their commitment to the environment and even wider to include social values.

As for the second part in what part is the sustainable aspect of this procurement takes a change of thinking.  

Over the years procurement professionals have looked at the costs along with service levels and KPI’s in order to achieve value for money, we are very good at it. Now we also need to include the additional requirement of sustainability. This is where the domino effect can come into play, by looking at the wider implications of a single decision in a positive light. A simple change of lights in a building to LED, leads to a reduction of power from a grid that may be supplied by a fossil fueled power station. The lights last longer so reducing the requirement for repairs or replacement which for street lights can cause a small bit of disruption along with vehicles running and polluting. This reduction means less pollution, less pollution will result in healthier citizens, healthier citizens will help in the promotion of your area as a clean and healthy place to live and work, more people come into the area boosting the local economy. The business case for the style of LED lighting can now cover both the cost savings and the environmental impact.

This would take a lot of work to imagine how changing a light bulb can lead to this, but if the estates team did this for the building then installed solar on the roof or used a solar topped car park the building becomes more self reliant, the EV car chargers are powered by the solar panels, encouraging people to have electric cars which has the knock on effect of reducing car related pollution along with any pollution from a power station.  

Prevention instead of cure is a phrase that has done the rounds a number of times, sustainability is exactly that. A council making a decision to close off an area to traffic to reduce pollutants can have a positive domino effect on the area, as the chances of citizens young and old developing breathing related issues can drastically reduce, and all of the health care required in the treatment for these illnesses is no longer under the same pressure, so less trips to a hospital will mean less car journeys, less pollution, less illness, less lost productivity and so on.

A multi area approach to sustainability is going to be required, yes there are the standard changes required like paper reduction, LED lights and renewable energy, but the wider picture has to be taken into account by the local area, by making the towns and cities cleaner and sustainable the effect will be felt not just by the local area or the local economy but indeed by the whole country, after all we all breathe the same air.

If you want to find out more about how sustainability is embedded in our frameworks please view our new interactive brochure or alternatively, get in touch today and speak with a member of the team on where you can start.