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Natural England sustainability chief outlines route to 50% emissions reduction

18 May 2011

The UK this week became the first country in the world to have declared a legally-binding target on greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2020, but how this will be achieved still remains unclear.

While the UK forms its strategy for halving its emissions by 2025, head of sustainability at Natural England Paul Hinds has spearheaded the organisation’s own 50 per cent emissions reduction.

Natural England, an independent public body formed to advise the government on protecting the UK’s natural environment in 2006, set itself the target of reducing the carbon emissions of its business travel and estate by 50 per cent in 2010.

In a conversation with sustainability recruitment consultancy Allen & York, Hinds says, ‘As an advocate of mitigating carbon we felt we had to walk the walk as well as talk the talk, hence we set a very ambitious target.

‘We wanted to demonstrate that carbon could be reduced without the need to either offset or pass on the carbon burden to our customers, stakeholders or employees. We also wanted to demonstrate that carbon reduction brings significant financial benefits as well as productivity and work-life balance benefits to our staff.’

Natural England reduced the carbon emissions of its travel and operations by 48 per cent within the first year of its implementation, saving £380,000 in annual utility costs against its 2007 baseline. Hinds explains how the organisation made the shift: ‘We have instilled a low carbon culture in the organisation whereby everyone now questions the carbon costs of decisions and actions in much the same way as they would consider the financial costs. As a result we take a more balanced approached to how we do our business but continue to maintain our levels of customer service.

‘While this is a hugely significant achievement, it is the first step towards the agency being a truly sustainable organisation. We are now looking at the environmental impact of our suppliers, commuting, waste and will be setting targets later in the year.’

As former sustainable development manager for East of England Development Agency, Hinds has copious experience implementing carbon reduction targets, but a 50 per cent reduction involved having to rethink carbon reduction strategies and form strategic partnerships. He explains, ‘I have previously worked for organisations and led partnerships with carbon reduction goals, but nowhere near as ambitious as 50 per cent.

‘Prior to joining Natural England I was more involved in the strategic development and influencing side of environmental management, both working with collaborations between private business and the public sector as well as lobbying within Whitehall. The job offered me the opportunity to show that, like Natural England, I could both “walk the walk” as well as “talk the talk”.’

Heading the sustainability efforts at Natural England meant more than witnessing and directing action from the sidelines; Hinds explains why a hands-on approach was necessary in achieving the organisation’s goals. ‘Through a combination of energy efficiency and right-sizing our offices, giving ownership of carbon to our staff whilst providing them with the support and tools needed to work in more sustainable ways and strong leadership from our senior decision-makers,’ he says.

‘My role has been very much about facilitating these programmes of work which has varied from rolling up my sleeves and pouring over endless spreadsheets of data to presenting to the board. To use a football analogy it has been very much a player manager role with me both managing people to deliver whilst also delivering myself.’

Data and timing was critical to achieving Natural England’s carbon emissions reduction goals, which were achieved through regular carbon reporting by its staff. Hinds says, ‘There is no distinct step by step process in the delivery as a lot of things have to be delivered concurrently. The most important area was getting the data right – both the methodology and the timings by which we report our carbon emissions.

‘Our methodology follows the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ published guidance and uses its emission factors and is accredited to the Carbon Trust Standard and has been audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

‘We have established a system that quantifies the emissions of working at home to ensure that we are not passing on the carbon burden to our staff when working in a flexible way and we are supporting staff in improving the energy efficiency of their homes by providing advice on insulation, behavioural change and grants.’

Copyright © 2011 NewNet

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