Leading by legislation: Big Yellow goes green

From the green deal to carbon reporting, legislation is a double edged sword that can make or break a company's business model. Paul Donnelly tells Leigh Stringer why leading by legislation is a sensible step towards a sustainable and successful future in business.

Some say legislation restricts operations, while others incorporate it successfully into their business’ agenda. Government legislation including the Green Deal, the Carbon Reduction Commitment and changes to the Feed-in-Tariff (FiTs) scheme will all have significant impacts on industry over the next few years.

However, businesses that plan for regulatory change and work around legislation can often enjoy the benefits they offer, says sustainability manager for Big Yellow Self Storage, Paul Donnelly.

For a company that invests heavily in real estate, Big Yellow’s most significant environmental impact is its carbon emissions from electric lighting use in operational stores.

Since Donnelly’s arrival, the company gained an absolute carbon (CO2) emission reduction of 5.5% and generated total Feed in Tariff income, displaced electricity costs and carbon tax reductions of £90,000 since 1 April 2010.

Donnelly says that having a strong awareness of current and future legislation helped him plan effective energy efficiency measures for the company and gain support from the board.

“One of the things that I tried to get across when I first came to Big Yellow was that I led by legislation, so that the bimonthly board reports would have a small but simple brief on what legislation was out there,” he says.

“I was reporting about the Green Deal two years ago with reports going to the round table, finding out what legislation was out there and being introduced. And that was our crystal ball – we were using the legislation to plan for the future one, two, three or four years ahead and in some cases catching up with some legislation”, adds Donnelly.

Sustainability managers have had the difficult task of changing the minds of resistant committees and reluctant workforces about introducing energy efficient measures and making operations sustainable. Donnelly is no exception and negotiating has been a key skill to fulfil the role.

“Legislation helps create change with people on the committee where there’s always resistance – this job is all about change management and winning the hearts and minds of people, which must be done in the best possible way because you are working along different department’s right from land buy to design, right into facility management.

“One of the changes was getting staff involved in a quarterly energy efficiency walk-around checklist which is now in due diligence and is under facilities management – and that’s integration.

After the Carbon Reduction Commitment was introduced, many industries struggled with the tax bills and next year’s Carbon Reporting scheme is also stirring up concerns amongst those in high property industries, such as the hospitality sector.

“There is a lot of frustration with the legislation, a lot of negative thoughts about it but we try to look at it to engage our customers and investors.

“Once we established our reporting, the data we collect each year, which is audited, we can use to get more investors interested”.

Government legislation, such as the Feed in Tariff, has also helped the Big Yellow Self Storage Company receive a return on their investment in energy efficiency.

“We could see the return on investment in solar panels was somewhere between 50 and 80 years – then in 2010 [when the Feed-in-Tariff was introduced] we were getting feed in tariffs which were rising on 3p on the Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) to nearly 40p per kilowatt hour. Now return on investment is around four years, so the feed in tariff had a massive impact on the reduction of solar panel costs and made it viable to have the 14 solar panels that we have on our roofs”.

“It also meant that we could increase the size and capacity of our solar panels, such that we could generate at least 20% of the stores energy use over a year, which was quite significant, compared to 3 or 5% when there were no government subsidies”.

Paul Donnelly is the Corporate Social Responsibility manager for the Big Yellow Group PLC

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