Resource scarcity is one of the biggest challenges facing the global economy in the next 50 years and tackling it successfully will require radical decision-making from governments and industry alike. ‘Positive about resources’ forms a central element of National Grid’s environmental sustainability strategy ‘Our Contribution’.
“Resource scarcity is a shared issue for National Grid and our supply chain. We all have a stake in finding solutions.”
Water scarcity affects one in three people on every continent of the world. The situation is getting worse due to population growth, urbanisation and increases in household and industrial usage.
Source: World Health Organisation
As one strand of this commitment, we launched a supplier design competition in 2012 giving the entire supply chain an opportunity to develop practical ideas based on the principles of the Circular Economy, where assets and materials are designed to be recycled and re-used at the end of their service life.
The results are just one example how partnership can make a real difference in the field of sustainability.
When we developed our environmental sustainability strategy one of the important questions we faced was, ‘how do we continue to invest in building the energy networks that will be needed in the future while protecting the planet’s finite resources?’
We recognised that to deliver our future capital plans while meeting the demands of customers and shareholders we also needed a rigorous re-appraisal of how assets could be better managed through their whole lifecycle.
The ‘Positive about resources’ target is to reuse or recycle 100% of recovered assets by 2020. It also goes beyond the assets themselves to focus on water, energy and other natural resources used directly by us or in the supply chain.
Achieving this ambitious target demands a multi-layered approach. We are a founding partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an independent charity set up to promote a positive future through the vision of a circular economy. Building partnerships such as this one is a cornerstone of the strategy. We are also engaging the supply chain and beyond to harness innovation and fresh thinking.
Summit points the way
Our first ever Sustainability Summit in September 2012 brought together hundreds of stakeholders both internal and external, ranging from suppliers and NGOs to MPs and representatives from the environmental lobby. The goal was to identify ‘real world’ sustainability ideas that could make a tangible difference.
“The Sustainability Summit was an important milestone for us because we really wanted to open out the debate on sustainability beyond the confines of National Grid,” recalls Jon Carlton, Director UK LNG and Metering, who was closely involved in the summit. “It was about being proactive but also appreciating that we didn’t have a monopoly on good ideas.”
The summit tackled a range of issues including how to encourage biodiversity in the areas where we operate. One opportunity being studied is the creation of the ‘Natural Grid’ to provide corridors of green space alongside current infrastructure, so that wildlife can flourish.
Also on the agenda was how to reuse or recycle 100% of decommissioned assets – and we’re making progress here too. Steel recovered from the decommissioning of 200 gas towers will be used to build new lattice transmission towers, while In the US, a facility has been established to recover valuable material from a wide range of redundant assets.
One idea that came out of the summit was the launch of the supplier design competition. Jon reflects: “Resource scarcity is a shared issue for National Grid and our supply chain. We all have a stake in finding solutions. The competition was designed to invite fresh thinking and collaboration and it gave a focal point to the work we were doing.”
A total of 25 suppliers took up the gauntlet, submitting entries described by the judging panel as “of universally high quality” and from this a shortlist of six finalists was agreed. Shortlisted ideas included extending the life of gas service risers by introducing an epoxy resin lining and an innovative refurbishment programme for substation assets. Midal Cables was named as the overall winner for its fully integrated solution to recycle aluminium from old conductors (see below).
The competition will also deliver lasting value; each of the ideas submitted will be assessed for its potential to help the environment and National Grid by removing waste and improving the way resources are used.
The innovation encouraged and shown in competition is right in line with the requirements of the new RIIO regulatory regime, as Jon explains: “The new RIIO arrangements have a fierce focus on delivering outputs and they also feature financial incentives to innovate. Embedding environmental sustainability considerations into our decision making processes can help us deliver our commitments under RIIO.”