For Go-Ahead, one of the UK’s biggest public transport companies, carbon reduction is a commercial imperative. With a substantial presence in London’s rail and bus markets, as well as operations in North-east England, the West Midlands, and the South of England, the company carries almost a billion passengers a year. And the amount of money the business makes each year is roughly equivalent to the amount of money it spends on energy, “so anything we can save on our energy goes direct to the bottom line,” says Chris Burchell, managing director of the Group’s Southern rail franchise.

Keen to place corporate social responsibility at the heart of the business, Burchell believes Go-Ahead has a “responsibility as a public transport operator to run our services in a sustainable and environmentally responsible manner”.

“This means making reductions in our own carbon emissions a priority, in addition to delivering high quality train and bus services that provide an attractive alternative to car travel.”

With plenty of offices, stations, garages and depots to maintain, Go-Ahead has a big carbon footprint. But it’s not as big as it used to be. In a bid to see how the company could further boost its carbon reduction activity, in 2007 Go-Ahead’s group environment and energy boss, Chris Grinsted approached the Carbon Trust for help. “It enabled us to establish a clear framework in which we could organize ourselves group-wide,” he says.

“Now, senior management has a responsibility for carbon reduction targets and carbon is a boardroom topic of discussion.

“At a lower level, we have instigated company and group-wide forums looking at how to share best practice. This may not be as exciting but without it, our subsequent successes wouldn’t have happened. Working with the organisation gave us the structure and impetus to ramp up our activity and momentum to keep it on track.”

The project also helped him better understand which projects were eligible for Enhanced Capital Allowances, making it easier for Go-Ahead to prioritise. Grinstead then went on to look across the Group to identify opportunities where common savings could be made through a single, centrally-managed programme.

In 2008, Southern and Southeastern – both part of the Group – introduced regenerative braking on the ‘third rail’ system. This system harnesses the energy produced during braking, transferring it back into the rail system, allowing other trains to use it. The result is a saving of about 15% of consumption on Southern’s largest fleet of trains – and a reduction in carbon emissions of around 11,000 tonnes a year.

Through 2009/10 the company replaced lighting at 45 of the biggest sites – train maintenance and bus depots – with intelligent, energy efficient, high-bay lighting systems. The system is now being trialled as platform lighting and could be rolled out to many of the company’s 500 stations.

“In the first year we managed to save around 17% of our site energy,” claims Burchell. “In the second year, rolling out more energy efficiency measures we saved, as an average, another 10%. We expect to save another 25% over the next five years. We have also seen reductions in maintenance and re-lamping costs.”

Smart metering has also been installed on many of Go-Ahead’s systems so managers can see exactly what they are contributing and how much they are saving.

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