What do public sector buyers think of net zero?

posted by Noreen Winhall
2 November 2021

The UK has set itself on the path to a carbon net zero future. COP26 is a crucial moment on that journey, but it is only one step.

Whatever new commitments come out of the discussions in Glasgow, the UK public sector is already assessing the scale of the challenge – and the speed with which we will need to move to get there.

Cutting our emissions by 78% by 2035 and to net zero by 2050 will mean the total decarbonisation of electricity, transport, buildings, and industry, and the public sector’s footprint looms large in those calculations.

Building an understanding of where we are now, and how we will move together into a net zero future is our first task. 

At Crown Commercial Service (CCS), we’re establishing an integrated solution that supports our 18,000 public sector customers’ carbon ambitions – by first understanding their challenges, and facilitating procurement solutions for goods and services as disparate as fleet, energy, construction, and technology.

Public procurement and net zero

The public sector across the UK, from local authorities, hospitals and schools to central government, police forces and universities, spends more than £290bn on procurement every year. As the Government’s Net Zero Strategy recognises, this purchasing power can drive our transition to net zero and deliver real change, with the right procurement solutions in place.

At CCS, we’ve spoken to a cross section of our public sector buyers and suppliers about their carbon net zero plans. This work, combined with our own strategic insight, has highlighted some of the key themes, triggers, challenges, and opportunities for improved alignment between the public sector’s sustainability goals and its procurement decisions. 

While there was general agreement on the priority that net zero targets must take, sectors identified their own drivers. 

Our interviewees from the health sector were primarily focused on sustainability, linked to the NHS’s green targets. Local government showed variations of maturity, with many authorities having already declared climate emergencies and others taking their first steps towards net zero. Transport and housing respondents discussed flexible contracting, and the use of local suppliers and SMEs as major factors in their procurement decision making.

Clear themes emerged across all interviewees:

• There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to delivering carbon net zero (CNZ) – a collaborative, cross-public sector and private sector approach is needed to achieve CNZ goals;

• Some of the biggest challenges are around the availability of resources, expertise, and funding;

• It is imperative that we accurately track and trace carbon emissions throughout the entire supply chain to measure their reduction;

• Public sector buyers want to put a focus on buying from local suppliers and SMEs to increase social value at the same time as tacking carbon emissions;

• Innovation will be key in the years to come; companies want flexibility in contracts to adapt to emerging technologies.

These findings underpin the vital role CCS can play as an enabler of change. Working in partnership with the public sector, local and non-governmental bodies, we hope to create efficiencies of scale. 

One goal: net zero convergence

Accelerating action to meet our carbon net zero targets will depend on how well and quickly the many different elements that make up the public sector supply chain can connect the dots; across policy, procurement, operations, and strategy. 

As our research suggests, choice and flexibility will play a major part in attaining our goals. No two public sector organisations are beginning from exactly the same point, and there is wide variation of the factors they will need to consider, based on the picture locally.

Public sector fleets will play a key role for many local authorities. Green salary sacrifice schemes and electric vehicle charging infrastructure can help to nudge your employees towards more sustainable transport solutions. 

Energy is another high profile area, and simple changes to energy purchasing, such as switching to green tariffs or direct contracting with renewable energy providers, will do much to move the public sector away from fossil fuels. CCS frameworks can help customers to facilitate these changes and make decarbonisation a reality across their procurement portfolio. 

Let’s work together to create a cleaner, greener country

We understand that knowing where to start can be a challenge. Whether you have a single requirement or need an integrated solution, we can empower you to make our future greener. 

We are committed to supporting you on your carbon net zero journey because we believe buying decisions have the power to create a cleaner, greener country. 

☛ Noreen Winhall is commercial director, buildings and CNZ executive sponsor for Crown Commercial Service

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