How Government leaders can improve sustainability practices

How Government leaders can improve sustainability practices

Jes Ladva, Odgers Interim Managing Partner and Head of Practice for Local and Central Government, hosted a sustainability webinar featuring two experts with experience across both public and private sectors.

Placing talented candidates with sustainability expertise into key leadership roles across the public and private sectors is a key and growing strand of our business. Successful assignments include:

  • EVP Sustainability, Sage Group Plc;
  • Executive Dean, School of Justice, Security and Sustainability, Staffordshire University; Head of Sustainability, University of Leeds;
  • Sustainability Consultant, VIVD Housing Limited;
  • Asset and Sustainability Programme role at Value Retail Plc;
  • and notably, in the wake of ‘greenwashing’ the Global Head of Sustainability at Deutsche Bank.

It was our pleasure to host a webinar on how government leaders can improve sustainability practices with a panel of two highly knowledgeable individuals whose experience extends across both public and private sectors. Mayra Vivo-Torres has devoted her entire career to sustainability, working with local government, central government and the private sector (large businesses and SMEs) on carbon and sustainability strategies.  

Our other panellist, Damion Potter, has enjoyed an illustrious career in diplomacy, including four years as British Ambassador to Panama, after which he set up and led a new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development COP26 Delivery Department of 25+ staff working with partners across Whitehall to deliver the COP26 climate change summit held in Glasgow.

Damion began by addressing why sustainability matters. “Let’s not beat around the bush, climate change is real. And despite a very few conspiracy theorists with a loud voice on social media, it is undisputed by scientists.”

It is understandable, he explained, that as many local authorities struggle with budgets, people should question involvement with sustainability issues. But there is a local as well as a global dimension. “Climate change has an impact on the poorest in society, causes floods and droughts and famine and conflict.”

Damion argued that the public sector has been ahead of the private sector on sustainability for at least the last 20 years. “Some simple things that we now take for granted, residents who recycle.” A carrot and stick approach to encourage positive behaviour and hit targets can be very effective, he observed – such as fining people who don’t do it properly, increasing rubbish collection frequency for those that do.  

The Environment Act, which became law in November 2021 a week after COP26, has “filled a lot of the gaps. It's worked particularly well on preventing deforestation and some animal protection in the United Kingdom. It clearly hasn't worked well in all areas, particularly, as we see, when it comes to pollution in the rivers and the seas, where the government has not been able to do as much as it should have done.”

During COP26, Damion and his team wanted Greta Thunberg and other protestors to be a visible presence outside the conference to put pressure on governments, in particular world leaders from places where NGOs and protests are uncommon.

Damion concluded by clarifying that like many of our event attendees he is a “generalist” who has relied on the work of specialists when explaining the rollover into other policy areas of climate change and Sustainability. With that, he handed over to Mayra, who is very much a specialist in this area.

Mayra’s agenda covered policy context, what to do and why, and how to get there. She also offered some helpful examples of what others are doing. Setting the scene, she spoke of the Paris Agreement in which 196 countries committed to keeping the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees C and how the UK has embedded that net zero by 2050 target in law – with the target devolved to the public and commercial sectors. “Now everybody has to play their part, which is clearly helpful to people like us who have been campaigning for this to happen for decades.”

By 2023, over 300 Councils had declared a climate emergency. An LGA survey found that local authorities were assessing major risks such as damage from flooding to critical infrastructure and buildings; and risks to people and the economy from climate-related failure of the power system.

What then can Councils do to ensure they are on a pathway to net zero that is in line with the science? The starting point is to map out your carbon footprint, including Scope 1 and 2 emissions – each local authority will have a slightly different mix. It is then a case of mapping out a “carbon budget” with the intention of delivering an exponential reduction pathway.

“Knowing what your budget is, you plan a list of interventions to fit that budget,” said Mayra. Such interventions might include more energy efficient street lighting, heat pumps to power leisure centres, use of low embedded carbon material for refurbishments, fleet electrification and so on.

The complexity of procuring such diverse solutions has led to the emergence of Energy Performance Contracting that follows the Re:fit framework for public bodies wishing to implement measures to improve energy efficiency.

The technologies, Marya explained, normally have a lifespan that goes beyond the life of the project, allowing a council to reap savings long term. Moreover, contractors can structure projects in a way that means savings can be seen from day one. In her presentation, Marya identified 17 organisations across the NHS, local and central government and higher education which have used the Re:fit framework.

With an eye to the future, Marya pointed to the Energy Act 2023 which gives government power to implement heat network zoning in England through regulations, with a view to offering the lowest cost solution for decarbonising heat. While detail is yet to emerge, the intention is to build large scale strategic heat networks across towns and cities that make use of bodies of water, geothermal sewage, waste heat from incineration plants or commercial partners such as data centres and so forth.

Marya also shared some practical examples of what others are doing in terms of sustainability, beginning with Camden Council which 12 years ago pioneered a whole life costing tool for energy and carbon. The Council occupied ageing office stock in St Pancras, which had become a prime real estate location. Using the costing tool, it was found that a new building would deliver minimum net savings of £21.5m over just 25 years of asset life. Moreover, the decision was taken to upgrade specifications from the BREEAM assessment level of ‘Excellent’, to the highest ‘Outstanding’ level when it was shown that the additional £700,000 investment needed would pay for itself and yield a further £1.1m in savings.  

To wrap up her presentation, Marya offered five main takeaways: 1) Develop a net zero pathway in line with science. 2) Introduce whole lifecycle and shadow price of carbon to support your business cases. 3) Seek the help of an industry partner. 4) Take a portfolio approach. 5) Be heat networks ready.

Our webinar concluded with some illuminating questions from event attendees. If you’d like to hear more about these, or want to discuss interim talent in this area, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


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