Reflections on public sector decarbonisation - Stephanie Parker

Comment by Stephanie Parker, Senior Advisor Decarbonisation – Complex Sites at Energy Systems Catapult.

Decarbonising the public sector estate was never going to be a quickfire success. We knew when we launched the Public Sector Decarbonisation Guidance that we’d need to reflect on what was working, what needs tweaking, and what more can be done to respond to the pain points, challenges, and successes experienced by public sector organisations, their supply chain, and leading bodies such as the Net Zero Hubs and Salix.

To further our understanding, we carried out two listening surveys and offered respondents the opportunity to speak to us directly. These surveys reached over 230 colleagues across the public sector and the supply chain, and we directly spoke with 37 respondents to gauge their views on decarbonisation on the front line. One was aimed at early users of the Public Sector Decarbonisation Guidance, the other was aimed at the wider sector.

I’ve crunched the numbers, listened to what was said, and put together my top five takeaways from the survey, giving us a brilliant temperature test on the state of public sector decarbonisation in 2024.

Public sector colleagues are passionate about tackling climate change

When we set out to do the surveys, we wanted to supplement the results with face-to-face conversations to add colour and vital information, not just for us and our programme, but also for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) who fund our work.

We had no idea how great the response would be, with over half of respondents saying they would be willing to talk to us! In the end we couldn’t speak to everyone, but I’d like to extend my personal thanks to those who offered to speak with us and to those we did speak to. The conversations were invaluable and demonstrated the passion that public sector colleagues have for decarbonisation.

To shift the dial, we need to tackle four common challenges

Unsurprisingly, access to funding came out on top as the most pressing challenge facing all organisation types. This common thread unites colleagues from across the public sector. However, there is more to the story and more other common threads than you might imagine. Procurement and finding the right delivery partners, the need for upskilling and moving from developing your strategy into undertaking feasibility and design studies, or ‘knowing where to start’ were flagged up most commonly by survey respondents.

Insight like this helps us to continue targeting the Public Sector Decarbonisation Guidance so that it is tackling the big issues and helps us work out who we need to partner with to shift the dial.

Figure one: PSDG Survey 2024: Five key insights

Figure one: PSDG Survey 2024: Five key insights

The need for upskilling

This is the topic where the discussions with survey respondents were so valuable, and a few issues rose consistently to the top. Colleagues are struggling to get buy in and sign off for decarbonisation projects and felt they needed upskilling to enable them to convincingly make the case for decarbonisation to senior decision makers. We are writing new guidance to address this, watch this space! It covers the common types of decarbonisation projects, their benefits and considerations and support to help you influence across your organisation, as well as tips to help you gain sign off.

Colleagues also felt that engaging with the supply chain was challenging. In particular, making sure they had the skills and knowledge needed to write clear tender documents for support or solutions they needed. Additionally, they felt they lacked the technical skills needed to be able to challenge solutions and options presented by consultants and others in the supply chain. We are prioritising work in this area too!

Decarbonising complex public sector buildings is really hard

The conversations with respondents brought to life the challenges of making decarbonisation happen at scale and pace. Longstanding challenges such as the age and condition of the estate, complex stakeholder relationships to manage, the sheer variety of public sector buildings, and the vital services that are delivered from them day in day out and often 24/7 all make prioritisation, and then delivery of, decarbonisation projects a huge challenge.

Now more than ever we need bold strategies, backed up with ambitious projects led by enthusiastic, skilled people. Hats off to those already making it happen on the ground.

Public Sector Decarbonisation Guidance is shaping the pursuit of Net Zero

Here at the Catapult, we try to be as user-focused as possible and produce impactful material that drives the UK towards Net Zero. It’s still nerve wracking when you directly ask for feedback! Thankfully, we seem to be doing the right things. 93% of early users who had used our guidance said they would recommend it to their peers, 86% said the resources couldn’t be improved and 84% said that they had made progress thanks to the guidance.

If this prompts your thoughts, or if you have feedback on how we can improve our Guidance further, please email:

If you would like more tailored support combined with local knowledge, contact your relevant Net Zero Hub, visit their websites:

Public Sector Decarbonisation Guidance

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