Achieving estate retrofit across the public sector

7 min read

The climate emergency is the single biggest challenge of our time. It demands a response from all parts of society, from major organisations to individual consumers. Royal Holloway University reports that around 64% of the British public supported the Government’s green initiatives, including The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.

The public sector is therefore facing enormous pressures to deliver carbon savings and meet upcoming net zero targets. There has never been as much political and public will for an effective response to the climate emergency, and public bodies need to align their efforts with these expectations.

The biggest barriers to achieving this ambition are the emissions currently produced by public sector estates and buildings. These account for around 28% of all emissions worldwide and it is estimated that 80% of building stock by 2050 has already been built. This means that for all the attention paid to improving the efficiency of new build properties, it will be existing structures that prevent public sector authorities from meeting their net zero targets on time.

This may seem a tall order. Public estates must remain operational to continue delivering essential services for local communities. With the perception that installing energy saving measures will require curbing operational capacity, some organisations may struggle to justify these upgrades.

However, despite these misgivings it can be wholly achievable. Working with one of our private sector clients, Mace was able to achieve a 58.6% reduction in carbon emissions use with minimal impact on normal operations. Deploying a range of solutions that included energy capture technology such as rooftop solar panels, plugging inefficiencies, and encouraging behavioural changes, our client capitalised on $3.8m savings in utility costs as well as reputational benefits.

Given cases such as this, how can the public sector best retrofit its estates to minimise emissions and maximise potential cost savings?

Knowledge is power

The key to achieving your carbon reduction targets is to understand the scale of the challenge within your organisation.

What assets do you own or manage? How are they being maintained? What is your current emissions data? What are the biggest causes of these emissions? How are your buildings occupied or used? Are they being used efficiently, or standing dormant as part of your wider operations?

This information is essential to directing your investments and prioritising which decarbonisation project your organisation should pursue.

Identify funding streams

Once you have established an estate emissions base line, you need to allocate funding for your decarbonisation project. Budgets can be sought from new funding streams, but also from existing funding pots available to you.

For new sources of finance, there are ample opportunities through services such as Salix funding. Salix is designed to provide funding to improve energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and lower energy bills, so engagement with the company can source additional budgets for decarbonisation programmes.

However, funding can also be found within additional budgets. When progressing retrofitting decarbonisation projects, check to see whether there is capacity within your Planned, Preventative Maintenance (PPM) to either fully fund or kick start your project. This can reduce your reliance on new capital project funds and can also result in savings in the long term.

Be smart with your delivery strategy

You will also need to develop a smart delivery model to turn your insights into actionable outcomes.

To begin with, consider whether it is possible to rationalise your estate. Based on your earlier data analysis, which buildings are essential to your operations and which are performing at a lower capacity? Consolidating your property assets can provide efficiency gains that deliver long term benefits, and simultaneously generate revenues from sales or surrender of leases.

When delivering more intrusive improvement works like insulation or technology improvements, cooperation with existing facilities management partners or PPM programmes can minimise any downtime resulting from these works. It may not be possible to completely shut down buildings for retrofitting works, but by piggybacking onto ongoing improvement programmes, disruption can be reduced while still delivering essential decarbonisation upgrades.

Changing hearts and minds

Finally, aside from investing in new assets, what opportunities are there to change employee behaviours to improve carbon data? There are a multitude of opportunities for employees to reduce their emissions, from changing how an office brews coffee to advocating different greener commuting options. By increasing knowledge sharing amongst departments, as well as inciting some friendly competition to drive their green skills, public organisations can achieve significant benefits without needing additional equipment or technology improvements.

With political and taxpaying pressures stronger than ever, the time to act and reduce our carbon emissions is now. With the correct knowledge, funding and delivery strategies in place, public sector organisations are well-placed to deliver extensive improvements that achieve meaningful reductions in emissions while delivering on the expectations of a climate-aware world.

This article was previously published on The Municipal Journal.

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