Public-sector sustainability professionals braced for negative impacts of Brexit

Almost three-quarters of sustainability professionals working within public sector organisations believe the UK's impending departure from the European Union (EU) will hinder the delivery of their strategies and projects, according to a new report launched by edie today (28 February).

edie’s in-depth survey of 50 energy, sustainability and environmental professionals working within UK public sector organisations revealed that 73% expect Brexit to have a negative impact on the development or delivery of their organisation’s strategy and activities, with many expressing fears of a “race to the bottom”.

Primary concerns mentioned by respondents included heightened costs for essential resources like energy, as well as weakened protections for the 80% of environmental laws that currently derive from EU legislation.

While 73% of respondents claimed the Brexit will have a negative impact on their organisation’s sustainability strategy, 18% believe that Brexit will have no impact on strategies or activities, and – somewhat surprisingly – 9% believe that leaving the EU will actually bring sustainability benefits for their public-sector orgainsation. 

“The UK’s departure from the EU has added an additional layer of uncertainty to the cocktail of short-term fiscal austerity and rising demographic challenges such as mass urbanisation and a growing population,” the sector insight report states.

“Universities have legitimate concerns about loss of access to EU research funding and student mobility schemes, while a drop-off in Europeans working in the UK since the Brexit vote is already driving an NHS staffing crisis.”

The public sector employs more than a sixth of British workers – 5.4 million people compared with the private sector’s 26.4 million. While larger, private companies have more access to capital for sustainability projects, the public sector has been engaged in one of the world’s most extensive programmes of deficit reduction. Across the UK, post-crisis cutbacks have forced Local Government to make do with less.

To deal with this austerity bite, public-sector bodies must be selective when scaling-up sustainability projects and solutions, heightening the importance of successful sustainability project delivery and quicker returns on investment.

When asked what the most significant sustainability investment areas were for their public sector organisation in the 2017/18 financial year, almost two-thirds (62%) of respondents to edie’s survey cited energy efficiency upgrades within their top-three priorities. Carbon-reduction programmes were listed in the top-three for 46% of survey respondents, while behaviour change initiatives made the top-three for exactly two-fifths (40%) of respondents.

edie’s Sector Insight report

The 27-page report, sponsored by Centrica Business Solutions, includes the exclusive results of an in-depth survey of public-sector sustainability professionals, along with key industry facts and stats, inspiring sustainability success stories and best-practice case studies from an array of NHS Trusts, academic institutions and local authorities.

The report goes on to explore three drivers, four challenges and five opportunities facing sustainability professionals in the sector.

This is the fourth in edie’s series of sector insight reports, following similar analysis into the retailmanufacturing and food and drink sectors. Reports investigating the state of sustainability in the construction and hospitality industries will be published over the next two months.

Read the full public sector insight report here.

Matt Mace

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