The ‘net zero’ conversation

While many public bodies have declared a climate emergency, and the agenda is building in importance for all organisations, many don’t know where to start. Here, Mark Williams, Public Services Advisory, at Grant Thornton, answers a number of questions to offer some guidance on what organisations should be focusing on and the kind of questions they should be asking themselves and their organisation.

Mitigating their impact on the environment and reducing waste and pollution levels is an ongoing challenge for many organisations, which is only rising up the priority list.

Waste managers have a critical role to play in supporting net zero strategies and achievement of targets as part of the “mega” trend focus on the circular economy, which is made up of three base principles: design out waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use; and regenerate natural systems. In fact, most waste managers have been focused on this agenda for years.

In this article we set out a series of questions that waste managers might find useful when interacting with the wider organisation and partners around the net zero agenda.

In relation to the “As-is”:

Has your organisation measured scope 1, 2, 3 (where 1 = organisation’s direct fuel consumption; 2 = organisation’s use of grid electricity; and 3 = use by organisation’s supply chain and employees). In our experience 1 and 2 are generally measures, but 3 is very challenging?

Does your organisation talk about corporate carbon (i.e. from energy used/paid for); embodied carbon (i.e. carbon emission as a by-product of buying goods and services, including from upfront construction); and user carbon (i.e. by-product of service users using your services – e.g. driving on highways)?

Is this measurement in line with BEIS/best practice guidance and has this been subject to some form of assurance?

What type of energy efficiency measures have you already progressed? (e.g. buildings energy efficiency retrofit, micro generation, fleet, behavioural, waste reduction, etc.)

Do you procure energy through a “green tariff” and/or have you progressed carbon offset measures (e.g. natural capital)?

In relation to the “To-be”:

Have you set a “net zero” target, accelerating beyond the Government’s 2050 legal target?

Does this clearly define the scope of the target and how outcomes will be measured?

Is this supported by a net zero strategic / a programme level business case that provides for a pipeline of projects, with feedback loops on project success/lessons learnt?

Does the programme business case / do project business cases follow HMT’s Better Business Cases best practice, being a decision-making framework, an audit trail and proportionate to the challenge?

Have you considered the strategic/legislative backdrop changes resulting from the upcoming Environment Act – currently going through Parliament which covers:

  • targets, plans and policies for improving the natural environment with statements and reports about environmental protection;
  • waste and resource efficiency;
  • air quality; and
  • nature and biodiversity?

Have you started planning/progressing energy efficiency, micro generation, behavioural change, offset, supply chain project delivery within that programme?

Have you explored a range of commercial delivery and/or funding and financing options?

Are you familiar with the grant funding programmes (e.g. £1 billion PSDS grant pot) and also the ESG (environmental, social, governance) financing available?

In exploring options have you considered the wide range of socio / economic benefits (e.g. health and well-being, jobs and skills, etc) or was the business case benefits based on a spend to save financial payback?

With the commercial delivery have you transferred risk, leveraged project delivery / management skills, allowed for the introduction of innovation?

Do you have robust benefits, cost, risk tracking arrangements – including monitoring and verification processes?

These questions highlight the multi-faceted, complex nature of this agenda. From our experience it is important to undertake a stock take of the initiatives, work and projects already progressed, as it does seem that sometimes organisations reinvent the wheel here.

Due to the programmatic nature of this space, with many pipeline projects often contributing to the whole, not every aspect is likely to run smoothly but it’s important to take the learnings from these and ensure that communications are transparent and honest across the various public, private, voluntary sector partnerships that make up the whole.

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