The EnvironmentBusiness Interview

Tom Idle heads to Canary Wharf to talk to Barclays' Andrew Flett about environmental impacts, light detectors, and his garden on the roof

Those taking flight from City Airport in the heart of London’s Docklands are in for a treat. If you look out of the window you’ll be able to see the world’s highest man-made nature reserve in all its glorious natural splendour.

Nestling on the roof of Barclays Bank’s new headquarters at One Churchill Place, the ‘living roof’ consists of grass, plants, shrubs and various bits of rubble which have been laid out in a bid to help rare species of insects, flowers and birds to find habitat – habitat that was lost following the development of the Docklands in the early 1990s.

I paid a visit to Barclays HQ to meet Andrew Flett, a 25-year servant of the organisation who now heads up the Environmental Management team, and found a business that had come to realise that obtaining a reputation as an environmentally responsible player does affect the bottom line.

I understand you were the first high street bank in the UK to achieve ISO 14001 accreditation. You must be proud.

Yes, we achieved ISO 14001, for our group-level environmental management system, in 2002 – but as far back as the late ’70s we had an Energy Management unit in place. In 1999 Barclays established the first Environmental Management team, which is the team I now head up. ISO 14001 just seemed like a logical progression.

But why is ISO 14001 so important to you?

It demonstrates a responsible environmental attitude. There’s also money to be made. Barclays, for example, is the only financial services company that is a direct participant in the UK Emissions Trading Scheme. In return for meeting our commitments, the Government gives us incentive monies.

In the first three years we reduced our CO2 by 14,833 tonnes and received about £270,000, which we ringfence and reinvest back into energy efficiency projects. It’s a win-win situation.

Are there other, perhaps smaller, companies out there who are daunted by the prospect of implementing an EMS?

We’re probably very similar to some smaller companies that haven’t done it. You sit down and you think, ‘God, where do we start?’ That’s just the same whether you’re talking about a small company or a multinational company like Barclays.

But isn’t ISO accreditation all about improving reputation?

There’s a big war going on out there and that war is for quality people – the talent of tomorrow. When the annual recruitment comes round to snap up the best graduates, the environment is one of the top things we are asked about.

So what is Barclays’ biggest environmental impact?
The two biggest impacts are ones that I’m not directly responsible for: our supply chain and the impact of those people we lend money to. After that, you’ve got the bank’s own environmental footprint – my responsibility.

And what have you done to improve things?

Lots, including powering 12.5% of our UK branches with green energy – that’s about 230 branches. I’m proud of that.

And what about this building we’re sitting in? This must have quite an environmental impact.

Well, in fact, the actual physical site this building was built on was reclaimed from the docks, so no greenfield was lost as a result of putting it up. Operation-wise, there are light detectors in all the rooms, so if there’s no movement, the lights go out – or if there’s enough natural light, they go off. We also use heat exchangers, so the heat expelled from the building cools the air conditioning.

Then there’s the ‘living roof’, of course.

Yes. About 19 acres of Canary Wharf is green space but a lot of it is manufactured garden-type space. What has been lost is derelict bomb-site-type areas where the real biodiversity are now finding it increasingly difficult to find habitat.

What we decided to do was put a habitat on top of Barclays to recreate that which has been lost in recent years.

What advice can you offer our readers?

See EMS’s as a tool for improvement, but remember to keep it simple. People make environmental management too complicated. Don’t try and bite off too much, too soon. Barclays were working on their EMS for three years before we went for ISO. It’s not a one-off exercise.

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