National Grid - Winner of The BITC Award for Environmental Leadership

Key highlights
Winner of The BITC Award for Environmental Leadership
  • Target to reduce carbon footprint by 45% by 2020, and by 80% by 2050
  • New approach to tendering has resulted in more than 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent being avoided
  • £3m of identified savings linked to specific interventions.

Read how this company is achieving big cost savings while delivering a low-carbon network for the country

There are few sectors for which the issue of climate change is more pertinent than energy generation. With a significant role to play in connecting the low-carbon energy sources the world needs to deliver a more sustainable network for the long term, the industry sits at the vanguard of one of the greatest challenges facing the planet.

And the assets and infrastructure – from power lines to transmission boxes – being built now and in the future will have a real bearing on the carbon footprint of the planet. It is a situation that National Grid, the organisation which owns and manages the UK’s electricity and gas transmission networks, is all too aware.

Reducing carbon is fundamental and extends out across the supply chain

As such, reducing carbon in these new assets is a central plank of the company’s sustainability programme which helps to inform the application of its annual £1bn investment in the networks. Back in 2008, the organisation set a target to reduce its carbon footprint by 45% by 2020, and by 80% by 2050, against a 1990 baseline. For new assets, it also set a rather challenging goal to halve capital carbon (or embodied carbon) by 2021 against a 2014/15 baseline.

Not only is this about building the ‘cost’ of carbon into decision making across the business, it is also about challenging suppliers to share in the vision and, via competitive tendering, helping National Grid to deliver the necessary carbon reductions to meet the targets.

It has started to share its own carbon footprinting tool tailored to its assets. Suppliers are asked to use it, and then complete a quantitative assessment of the projected carbon impact of their design solution. By making carbon a weighted element of the tender selection process, it is able to give real importance to the issue.

The company has trained 25 of its biggest construction suppliers on how to use the tool and it has also held numerous events to get the message across to suppliers about the importance of carbon

As we develop our carbon knowledge, we can focus on the areas that have the greatest impact – our carbon hotspots.

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A strategy that works

And it is working. The company points to the recent example of the carbon assessment carried out for one of its electricity substation developments in London which identified a plethora of both carbon and cost savings. These included a reduction of insulating gases (possessing a very high global warming potential) in new electricity transmission equipment; taking advantage of smaller equipment to reduce building sizes; and securing more sustainable materials such as low-carbon concrete and recycled steel.

The company has also honed in on specific product categories to make sure it is using the most efficient equipment. A recent tender for electrical switchgear, for example, revealed big differences in both the capital carbon and the operational efficiency of different makes and models of the same equipment.

To date, this approach to tendering has resulted in more than 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent being avoided just by choosing better products and services that are 30% lower in carbon – that’s the equivalent of taking 4,000 cars off the road for a year.

“As we develop our carbon knowledge, we can focus on the areas that have the greatest impact – our carbon hotspots,” says the business, which is filtering all this information into its Sustainable Construction Good Practice Handbook, offering a wealth of good practice, freely available to all contractors. Next up, it will develop a mobile app that will make the information even more widely available.

It is an approach that has brought about significant cost savings too, with suppliers with the lowest carbon solutions also offering lower costs in the region of 15%. On one tender, National Grid identified savings of £3m linked to specific interventions.

“We are at the heart of one of the greatest challenges facing our society – delivering clean energy to support our world long into the future,” says the company’s CEO, John Pettigrew. “And we’re proud that our work, and our people, underpin the prosperity and wellbeing of our customers, communities and investors.”

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