Stuart Bailey, National Grid’s Head of Sustainability & Climate Change, explains the importance of being ‘climate positive’, one of the key strands of the company’s environmental sustainability strategy.
"I’m encouraging people to think and do things differently, to innovate and, when they’re making decisions, to consider the environmental impact of their options."
Stuart Bailey, National Grid’s Head of Sustainability & Climate Change
National Grid’s target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are a direct result of its operational activities by 80% by 2050, with an interim target of 45% by 2020.
Source: National Grid policy brief
National Grid‘s environmental sustainability strategy, ‘Our Contribution’, sets out the company’s ambition to transform the way it does business and provide a sustainable legacy from its operations. The strategy puts National Grid on the path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, better manage its consumption of resources and protect biodiversity and ecosystems. Over the coming months, Connecting will be exploring the three areas of focus within ‘Our Contribution’ in more detail. Articles will explain how the company is taking a positive approach to resources, striving to enhance ecosystems and encourage biodiversity. To begin with, however, National Grid’s Head of Sustainability & Climate Change, Stuart Bailey, explains how the company can be ‘climate positive’ in a way that is good for the environment AND good for the business.
For years, employees in many parts of our business have been doing their bit to reduce National Grid’s impact on the environment. Our environmental sustainability strategy aims to achieve much more. It will help us to integrate sustainability into our decision-making, so that we can create value, preserve natural resources and respect the interests of our communities, which is one of National Grid’s strategic priorities.
Our focus will be on making progress in three main areas; ‘climate positive’, ‘positive about resources’ and ‘enhancing ecosystems’. But what will these areas mean in practice and what challenges do they present to us?
Taking ‘being climate positive’ as an example, one of our challenges is to connect a mixture of on-shore and off-shore wind facilities, which will help with the Government’s aim of creating 15 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020.
The problem, however, is that most wind farms want to connect at the furthest edges of our network. So to connect them, we need to build or upgrade our transmission lines.
Building and operating more network capacity means we naturally increase our own carbon footprint, something that presents a huge challenge to our environmental commitments.
To balance these priorities, we’ve set ourselves tough targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are a direct result of our operational activities – 80% by 2050, with an interim target of 45% by 2020. My job is to help National Grid achieve those targets, both in the US and UK.
It’s a huge undertaking. Our generation business in the US burns gas or oil to create electricity, giving off large amounts of carbon dioxide. In both the UK and US, methane gas is lost due to the ageing cast-iron pipelines in our gas distribution businesses, which makes a significant contribution to our greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, our electricity businesses use sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) to insulate electrical equipment. SF6 is a particularly damaging greenhouse gas but, for many applications, there is no practical alternative.
We’re making great progress towards reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. In 2012/13, we replaced 1,800 km of distribution gas pipeline in the UK and 200 km in the US, which resulted in a three per cent reduction in methane emissions. By 2020, we plan to replace a further 14,000 km of pipeline in the UK.
We’ve improved the efficiency of our US generation fleet and we’ve made headway in the area of energy efficiency. In the last 12 months, we’ve also seen the commissioning of the Grain heat pipe and installed photovoltaic cells on the roof of our office in Warwick.
While it’s tough, I’m confident that we’ll achieve our targets and I’m really encouraged by the level of support our strategy has received right across National Grid.
In addition, it’s important for our employees to know that what they do, however small, can make a positive difference to the impact that National Grid has on the environment. I’m encouraging people to think and do things differently, to innovate and, when they’re making decisions, to consider the environmental impact of their options.
Our Global Procurement team has just held its first sustainable supplier competition, through which they challenged our suppliers to deliver goods or services differently, so that they had clear financial and environmental benefits.
National Grid Property is developing a decision-making tool that helps us to consider what is the best use for our commercial land – and one option is to use it to enhance the local environment. Meanwhile, many parts of the business are looking at developing energy or resource efficiency measures.
Our strategy is not about ‘being green’ just for the sake of it. The good news is that focusing on the environment brings bottom-line business benefits too. For example, sometimes we’ll see that benefit in terms of improved profitability, sometimes it will enhance our reputation, and sometimes we’ll be making improvements that help the public understand and accept our major projects.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing how National Grid is tackling the future challenge of dealing with the scarcity of resources by working in partnership with its supply chain and leaders in the field, for example Ellen Macarthur. We’ll also explain how getting the maximum value for the materials that the company buys and owns calls for a radical rethink of how assets are managed through their full lifecycle.
For more information on our environmental sustainability strategy, click here to download a PDF of ‘Our Contribution’.