Whilst the Government now has the chance to put sustainability at the forefront of its economic strategy as we emerge from the impact of COVID-19, a similar opportunity also lies in wait for UK businesses as they navigate their own recoveries.
As we have adapted resiliently in recent weeks to the challenges presented by COVID-19, everything we previously considered ordinary has dramatically shifted under our feet. Yet amid the ongoing transition to a “new normal” there have been many positives to take forward.
One significant silver lining stemming from national lockdown conditions is the remarkable reduction witnessed in global carbon emissions.
With the sharp decrease in CO2 providing one of the few welcome side-effects of our restricted movements, the major upshot is that during this pandemic we have seen how quickly society can adapt when challenged. Lockdown measures have stimulated a deeper awareness of our impacts on wider society and have led to a greater social cohesion, centred on addressing the risks of COVID-19.
The lessons we can learn from this are directly transferable to how we address our environmental impact and it is encouraging to see Government reportedly plan an economic recovery based upon sustainability and carbon reduction. Equally, it seems businesses are putting their weight behind this message, with many large companies iterating their desire for the recovery to be driven by green programmes.
Consequently, we are now presented with a significant opportunity to bolster our action in energy and carbon reduction by addressing the drivers of climate change, whilst at the same time building a more robust economy.
Decarbonisation to drive our economic recovery
The imperative is that our recovery from COVID-19 should be driven by a green economy. More specifically, a sustainable economy based around the country’s 2050 net-zero carbon emissions target.
Whilst a lot has already been achieved on this front (even before the current pandemic, the UK’s carbon emissions had fallen to levels last seen in the 1890s), there remains an enormous amount of work to do to reach net zero. Getting there of course will require – first and foremost – strong leadership, long-term vision and serious investment from the Government.
As Energy UK outlined in its recent report, Government could catalyse our green economy through a recovery programme that prioritises: “investments supporting decarbonisation in areas such as low carbon power, infrastructure and services, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, energy efficiency, increased system flexibility and storage, distribution grid reinforcements and low-carbon heating systems, while encouraging innovative technologies” (solutions which we are already actively working to roll out with our customers).
A programme based around these elements, Energy UK stresses, “can enable investment and growth opportunities as new markets open up for technologies that will be in global demand.”
Sustainability as a business strategy
With the opportunity to thrust sustainability to the forefront of our national economic strategy, a similar opportunity also lies in wait for UK businesses as they navigate their own post-COVID recoveries. Few organisations, after all, have escaped the financial consequences and disruption caused.
Considering this scenario, the necessity – and appeal – of sustainability has become more significant than ever before (with its ability to aid business in reducing costs and consumption, as well as carbon).
At times of adversity, carbon reduction and sustainability projects can be pushed down the corporate agenda just at a time when they could be most useful. The major obstacle being that these energy and money-saving projects often take substantial resources to get off the ground and generally offer long-term gains, when so often the short-term benefits take precedence.
Refreshingly, the pandemic seems to have instigated an opposing response from many progressive UK businesses – including the clients we work with – who have seized the opportunity to take stock, consider the long-term advantages, and double-down on sustainability as an investment.
Where many companies may struggle in the current economic climate, careful attention must also be given to how we can support all businesses to decarbonise, when the focus of many will rightly be on much shorter-term concerns and challenges – like keeping on staff and paying bills.
If we are to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the onus will now be on the Government to develop a strategy to overcome this obstacle and jump-start private investment in decarbonisation when the economy has stalled. Yet there are also other viable options open to businesses who recognise the need for sustainability but may have justifiable concerns that now is not the right time to invest.
At SMS, we have launched our timely new Carbon Reduction (CaRe) Asset Funding service, which makes long-term, low-cost funding available to business consumers and supply chains, allowing them to deploy their scaled rollout of carbon reduction and green energy assets at no upfront cost. Combined with the skills and experience of our energy services team, who can design, deliver, manage and fully integrate these low-carbon technologies as part of a holistic sustainability strategy, we now provide a comprehensive net-zero offering for a post-COVID world.
Though we don’t yet fully know how COVID-19 is going to change our use of energy and the demands on the system, in any future scenario of net-zero carbon emissions there will be a fundamental need for clean, renewable energy and flexible demand. We are now actively working with many businesses to provide funding for these solutions and help them become sustainability leaders in their sphere.
Sustainability of course doesn’t just mean being cleaner and greener. It also means creating a more agile, stronger and resilient system. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, building such characteristics into our businesses, our economy and our energy grid will be key for our long-term prosperity should the next unexpected external shock be just around the other corner.
Carbon Reduction Asset Funding
We can supply the resources, management and funding to deliver low-carbon assets and efficiency projectsRead more
Energy Strategy & Delivery
A full range of energy strategy and efficiency services, from practical guidance to the delivery of projects.Read more
Ongoing management of your assets to ensure optimum performance, including expert monitoring through our Smart Energy Bureau.Read more