Sector by sector: What are the key ingredients to achieve a green recovery?

Over the past 12 months edie has collected data and spoken to leading sustainability and energy experts on how key UK sectors can achieve a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Here, edie summarises some key themes found in our detailed sector insight reports.

Sector by sector: What are the key ingredients to achieve a green recovery?

each sector faces its own challenges and opportunities in embracing the green recovery

As part of edie’s brand-new Mission Possible: Green Recovery campaign – which supports sustainability, energy and CSR professionals on our collective mission to drive a green recovery across all major industries in the UK – this latest series of reports explored why a green recovery is so important for the respective industries being analysed; what a green recovery actually looks like for businesses large and small within those industries; and how sustainability and energy professionals can drive a green recovery from within.

The reports have been created in assistance with an array of sponsors and uses exclusive results from edie’s green recovery survey of 243 sustainability and energy professionals. Read the key findings of the survey here.

The reports covered the key building blocks of the UK’s economy – the public sector, built environment, manufacturing, retail and hospitality and leisure – and how they can respond to unique challenges posed by the pandemic.

Throughout the series of reports, the themes of collaboration, net-zero and spending and innovation were all viewed as crucial elements to driving a green economy. This round-up provides snippets of insight from the reports, pull quotes by renowned organisations that feature in the forewords of each report, and a link to download each report.

Public Sector

edie’s report notes how public sector organisations are turning to “placed-based” collaboration to trial innovative new solutions that respond to the climate crisis. It also notes the appetite and optimism within the sector to achieve a green recovery.

However, challenges remain. Indeed, in this current economic downturn, the sector is concerned that spending on low-carbon solutions could be limited, while others are worried that policy has not been enabling enough.

Polly Billington, director, UK100 says: “It has been a long winter. Whether you are a frontline professional in the NHS, a local authority leader or anyone working in the public sector the combination of the pandemic along with the usual winter pressures has tested nerves.

“When a coalition including the Daily Express and Boris Johnson is advocating ‘Build Back Better’ you know that there has been a fundamental societal shift. Talking about sustainability is no longer the preserve of fringe groups but at the heart of our national economic renewal.

“The interaction between the environment and health is plain to see. Whether it is research showing the association between air pollution and Covid-19, or the potential for active travel to reduce levels of obesity and improve our overall wellbeing, there are clear win-wins.”

The report details efforts to champion energy efficiency upgrades and how climate declarations have mobilised regional actions to respond to the climate crisis.


The Built Environment

A key driver of the green recovery for built environment firms is that of collaboration. The built environment sector has a strong history of collaborating to drive low-carbon strategies. Both the WorldGBC and the UK Green Buildings Council (UKGBC) have worked tirelessly to bring construction and built environment firms to the table to discuss ways to decarbonise and improve biodiversity.

This collaborative approach has also evolved in sync with the required need for ambitious climate action. Leading companies within the industry jointly declared a climate emergency in order to set up a new taskforce to coordinate climate action across the built environment. As mentioned in this report, the Climate Group’s RE100, EV100 and SteelZero initiatives have all enabled firms to collaboratively decarbonise.

Sam Stacey, director of the Transforming Construction Challenge, UKRI says: “Historically, there has been no country in the world with a construction industry that is fit for purpose: process waste runs at more than 50%, buildings don’t perform as intended, and they create more than 30% of our carbon emissions.

“The UK has, however, been a quiet leader in the world of construction for at least a decade. Innovation in sustainable building technologies, from heat pumps to solar panels, has been progressing at pace…The Covid-19 recovery plan is accelerating this change. The transformation will deliver buildings that are sustainable, safe and more affordable. With the right support this capability can also be deployed to create thousands of jobs upgrading our existing homes.”



According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the lockdown period from March to the end of June in the UK was estimated to have cost nonessential retailers more than £1.8bn per week collectively in lost sales. As the UK emerges into some form of ‘next normal’, many retailers have taken the decision to reduce their estates and staff bases, including John Lewis and Harrods. Others, such as TM Lewin, Bensons for Beds and Laura Ashley have filed for administration.

As such, The retail sector has struggled to deliver a coordinated response to the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns due, in part, to which organisations were deemed “essential” as part of national efforts to combat the spread of the virus.

The sector is keen to embrace collaboration and service-based business models to build customer trusts that increases financial opportunities while creating a closed-loop and low-carbon value chain.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive, The British Retail Consortium says: “Coronavirus has presented a whole host of new and unexpected challenges for the retail industry. Whilst we face these challenges head on, we cannot afford to forget about the threat climate change poses to our society and planet. We must not lose sight of our vision for a fairer, greener, more sustainable world.

“To get to net-zero will require the industry to pull out all the stops. This means adopting circular economy principles such as take-back and rental schemes to shift consumer behaviour and wean the industry off the take-make-dispose model, which is a significant driver of carbon emissions.

“Whilst the challenges ahead should not be underestimated, as the focus turns to recovering from the pandemic, UK retailers have an opportunity to create an even more sustainable industry that can boost the economy at a time when it is needed most. However, for this vision to be realised, the Government must also play its part, from encouraging innovation and investment in the right technology to building the necessary infrastructure to enable greener business practices.”

The report notes the collaborative efforts from the Consortium and its members to commit to net-zero emissions ahead of the Government’s deadline and how companies can work together to share best practice.


Hospitality and leisure

The hospitality and leisure sector was brought to a standstill as the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic sent nations into lockdown, with UK Hospitality and CGA reporting that the sector accounted for one-third of the UK’s entire GDP decline for the months of March and April.

Despite slowdowns in economic activity and customer footfall, the hospitality and leisure sectors are using this disruptive period to challenge the “business as usual” concept to explore how new internal structures can place sustainability into the boardroom and how energy innovation can deliver bottom-line benefits. Many organisations are proactively looking at what consumer-facing initiatives can be used to embrace the circular economy and appease ethical sourcing demands from customers, so they are ready to increase and retain footfall levels when the next normal emerges.

Stephen Farrant, trustee, Sustainable Hospitality Alliance says: “Few lives, livelihoods or communities remain untouched by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Business models are being re-configured at lightning speed, and for many, it is now a fight for survival.

“As we are witnessing the devastating impact of the pandemic on lives and businesses, so we are reminded that we all have a responsibility to ensure that the combined effects of climate and the loss of nature do not have a similar or greater effect. There is a growing realisation that ultimately we are all subject to the laws of nature and science. A green recovery is therefore the only logical future for the hospitality and leisure industries.”



Accounting for more than 60% of direct industrial emissions in the UK, manufacturing is an energy-intensive industry that has been striving for decades to improve energy productivity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The new push towards net-zero in the UK had been largely welcomed by manufacturing firms, but then the hideous impacts of the coronavirus hit.

Manufacturers mastered the skill of agile working when the pandemic hit, with many pivoting production lines to assist in creating medical and protective equipment. Companies within the sector will need to champion this agility to combat and account for climate-related risks in the future.

Professor Steve Evans, director of research in industrial sustainability, University of Cambridge says: “For those of us who study the sustainability (environmental, social & economic) of UK manufacturing, we can point to success and failure in equal part. We have some of the world’s best sustainable factories, any of which have learnt how to deliver their products using much less energy, water and materials than previously. Happily, using less energy makes you more resilient to energy supply problems, so those factories are better able to operate under tough conditions. Happily, learning how to be energy efficient gives you the competences and the data that you might need to become resilient. But we also have too many laggards, who are waiting for legislation or for a customer exodus before they act to become efficient.

“Now we find ourselves in the first act of the ‘second wave’ of disruption. We can expect disruption to become the new norm, and of course the next disruption will not be the same as Covid-19 so our preparation must deal with many possible causes. For those who are energy-, water- and material-efficient, and who learn how to deal with disruptions, they will be winners. They may not feel like winners, having been weakened by the disruption, but the surviving manufacturers will go on to grab the losers market share. To make ourselves ready for this opportunity, reading this edie report is a great start. Here you can read about what others are doing and you can choose to ignore, ask more questions, or even act, on the many important insights offered into the position we find ourselves in.”

Manufacturing has been disrupted by supply chain shutdowns during the pandemic, and many businesses are now looking at how shorter, more local value chains that embrace the circular economy can be used to improve productivity and drive towards net-zero.


Matt Mace

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