News / Public sector: How to emerge from the pandemic as a more sustainable business

Public sector: How to emerge from the pandemic as a more sustainable business

9th November 2020

COVID-19 has impacted all areas of life for most of 2020. As companies have shifted to remote working or shuttered temporarily, so businesses and workers have adapted new ways of working. The public sector has been at the forefront of the UK’s response, but has incurred significant costs in doing so.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), public sector borrowing is estimated to be four times greater in the first half of the financial year (April-September 2020) than was borrowed in the entire previous year (April 2019-March 2020).

Financial stability, through to sustainable business practice

COVID-19 has forced businesses to rethink and reimagine. Sustainability was already on the minds of many organisations, given the UK’s recent commitment to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. However, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift in thinking.

Our recent research has gauged post-pandemic business opinion. For many - over two-thirds of the 1250 surveyed - sustainability is top of the agenda. These respondents identified both greater environmental awareness due to COVID-19, and the importance of sustainability to their business moving forward. Many also identified that financial and business stability is their biggest immediate concern.

In Haven Power’s report, 73% of businesses reported their business will have to cut back to meet financial performance targets this year. Balancing financial performance comes at a cost, and the biggest risk is to those without a dedicated sustainability strategy, who represent the 22% of those respondents.

Public sector businesses have a significant role to play in the economic, social, and environmental recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. However, as Haven Power’s research demonstrates, ensuring financial stability is the primary concern.

Once public sector organisations are comfortable with their financial positions, the focus on sustainability can follow.

Emerging from COVID-19 as a more sustainable organisation

Sustainability can extend beyond a renewable energy supply contract, and takes many different shapes and forms. COVID-19 has forced businesses to rethink; sustainability was already a consideration for many organisations, given the UK’s recent commitment to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. However, coronavirus has accelerated this shift.

For companies keen on taking a more proactive role, investing directly in renewable energy generation through Corporate Power Purchase Agreements (CPPAs) or carbon offsetting schemes is a viable option.

Other, less direct measures can help to reduce an organisation’s environmental impact. For many businesses, remote working has moved from a fringe benefit to an essential way of working. It also represents a viable long-term solution and offers the potential to reduce overheads for workspace.

Less time spent in the office means lower associated running costs, particularly for utilities. Assuming a business’ energy consumption is identical across each weekday, one dedicated day of remote working per week for the entire workforce could reduce consumption - and bills - by 20%.

In commuting terms, the RAC estimates that upwards of 65% of the UK’s workforce commutes by car. Diesel and petrol contribute to climate change and poor air quality locally, an issue of increasing concern due to COVID-19.

In a post-pandemic world, driving to work may no longer be perceived as sustainable or desirable, either from an environmental or public health perspective. Changing travel patterns can help organisations to reduce travel-associated emissions.

Public sector businesses have a significant role to play in the economic, social, and environmental recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 represents a generational opportunity “to support missions and shape markets”, according to the New Statesman. Giving state and public sector an opportunity to impose conditions on recovery around carbon reductions will help to “align corporate behaviour with the needs of society, ensuring sustainable growth” moving forwards.

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