The UK was the first major global economy to set a legal obligation to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Government has long-held ambitious targets to become a more sustainable society and to become a world leader in clean wind energy. In November 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out a £12 billion Ten-Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution in the UK, which covered sustainable initiatives on clean energy, transport, nature and innovative technologies.
Sustainability was a key focus in the previous General Election and the announcement of further sustainable plans in the future, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, is an encouraging indication that literal change is in the air. The public sector should expect to play a significant role in the UK’s greener ambitions. It has already proved instrumental in reducing the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 to its lowest to date (down by 3.6% compared to 2018 and 45.2% lower than in 1990.)
As the UK continues to navigate the immense devastation the pandemic has caused, sustainability will be a fundamental force in its post-COVID recovery. Why? Because it is already happening.
Here are 4 areas where sustainability is creating meaningful change, here and now.
- Managing and evaluating efficient use of resources
Across the public sector substantial effort has been made to allocate and utilise resources and materials more sustainably. These resources include staff, buildings, information and technology. There are numerous internal and external contributors that help to determine this decision, particularly in the one of the world’s largest and most complex organisations, like the NHS. However, recent changes to the ways we work, collaborate and access public services in the wake of coronavirus have placed a renewed focus on efficiency and identifying gaps in effective service delivery. Technology will be a critical part in developing a sustainable future.
- Minimising waste
For many areas of the public sector, it is too soon to understand the scale of impact the pandemic has had on waste – but we know that it has been significant. Recent research has shown UK lockdown has intensified the use of single-use products and panic buying has increased consumption and demand. This has placed pressure on local councils to create sustainable alternatives to waste management. Yet, elsewhere in healthcare organisations, we have seen critical challenges in the treatment of medical waste to reduce viral infections in hospitals and clinics. These are ongoing conversations, but one message is abundantly clear: the linear economy of ‘take, make and dispose’ is no longer a sustainable business model for the public sector, and technology is already reducing waste considerably.
- Cost-efficiencies in running estates, offices and buildings
Asides from the obvious impact on remote working, the pandemic has shone a light on other areas related to sustainability. Less time spent in the office means lower associated running costs, particularly for utilities. Recent research revealed one day of remote working per week could reduce bills and consumption by 20%. Combine this with the fact that the public sector, responsible for running a vast number of front-line services and municipal buildings, spends more than £2 billion a year on energy, the opportunities for sustainable hybrid working are huge and the benefits are far-reaching.
- Technology as a viable, long-term solution
The dramatic acceleration of digital service delivery and citizen engagement has indicated a previously untapped area of innovation in the public sector. Under immense pressure, many public organisations have seized the opportunity to stress test new digital solutions with overwhelmingly positive outcomes. Nottingham City Council, for example, saw its demand for online services rise by 85% during the pandemic, showing citizens are connected to councils more than ever. The vital importance of technology in the continuation of public services is evident. Now the question remains is, what will this look like in the post-pandemic recovery? How can technology stretch further to achieve sustainable outcomes, as highlighted in Johnson’s recently announced Ten-Point-Plan?
The pandemic has revealed a rare, once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape sustainable change in people, policies and cultures across the public sector. Now the public sector has a significant role to play in the green recovery. Digital technology has already proven to be the centralised component that intertwines it all together. For now, and in the future, it appears digitalisation and sustainability will go hand-in-hand.
As experienced cloud-technology providers for the NHS and wider public sector, NFON’s sophisticated platforms have sustainability, collaboration and resource management at their core. There is much to be done in the future – start now.