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Saving for the future

Atkins | 10 Jun 2008 | Comments

As individuals and organisations, we’re all trying to cut our energy use. But what does that mean for one of the UK’s biggest banks, with its extensive and varied property estate? Lynn Worthington, head of UK Retail and Commercial Banking, Health, Safety and Environment at Barclays offers her views.

With customers increasingly banking through branches as well as online and by telephone, some of the major banks are paying ever more attention to the high street. Banks such as Barclays are extensively refurbishing and modernising their branch networks, one facet of which is to ensure that energy use is well controlled.

A driver of this is the recognition that, for a business of Barclays’ size, a focus on good environmental performance, and developing strategies to cut energy use and waste makes good sense, commercially and for its reputation for sustainable behaviour. Barclays has over 1,700 branches in the UK, all supported by Atkins’ asset management business.

Financial risk (the increasing cost of carbon), regulatory risk (such as EU targets on energy use in buildings), and operational risk (including increased insurance costs) all drive the embedding of a sustainable approach to energy across the bank’s operations. And then there is reputation risk. A growing need for transparency in the areas of corporate responsibility and energy efficiency means that any poor practices will be damaging.

Lynn Worthington is head of UK Retail and Commercial Banking, Health, Safety and Environment at Barclays. It’s her job to make sure that Barclays’ buildings are using energy efficiently in line with the company’s stated aim of reducing its energy consumption by 20 per cent from 2005 levels by 2010. It also aims to reduce its carbon intensity – a measure of emissions relative to business growth, which allows comparisons to be made between companies – from 16.8 tonnes to 12.6 tonnes CO2 per £1m of UK income.

According to Worthington, the issue of running an estate with an eye on sustainable practices has risen up the agenda in recent times. “In past years, say five to 10 years back, there was less emphasis on long-term investment in our properties,” she says. “One of the major changes has been this shift to a longer-term approach.”

Size matters

Worthington says one of the biggest challenges has been the sheer scale of the project. Reforming the working practices engrained in so many properties, many of which are old and some listed, is no small task.

“Put simply, one size doesn’t fit all. Some of our properties – because of size and age ­– don’t lend themselves to all of the energy schemes and projects we want to implement,” she explains. The diversity of Barclays’ property stock has meant the bank, working in partnership with Atkins, has needed to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to change.

“We tend to implement cost-effective blanket approaches across the portfolio using the 80/20 rule,” Worthington says. “We identify which branches are the least energy efficient and focus on what we can do there. That way, we’ll see the biggest results and the most improvements. A major element of our work is, therefore, assessing the properties in our estate and identifying which measures it is feasible to roll out across the network, and where we need a site-specific solution.”

In practice

As Worthington admits, talking about this stuff is easy, but demonstrating fundamental improvements in performance is never simple.

To achieve the ambitious energy reduction targets that Barclays has set itself, a number of straightforward measures have been taken. “In our data centres, we’ve looked to introduce a technology called ‘dynamic smart cooling’, which enables us to reduce our energy use significantly,” says Worthington. “At the same time, we’ve rolled out a boiler replacement programme in the branch network, and we’ve set out to include energy saving measures within an existing refresh and refurbishment programme being carried out over the next three years.”

One project came straight from the Atkins stable of energy management techniques. “One of our biggest successes was installing Atkins remote monitoring technology in 400 branches,” Worthington says. “We’ve seen savings in gas of 46 per cent across the first 35 branches that we monitored. That saved the equivalent of about 836 tonnes of CO2.”

Good sense

While Barclays has developed its in-house team to tackle the sustainability challenges inherent in such a huge business, the success of the monitoring scheme illustrates that external help is sometimes needed. “We have a lot of in-house expertise, but I also count on our extended asset management partners, such as Atkins,” Worthington explains. Barclays also looks to external suppliers to conduct regular environmental audits. “That fits in nicely with our ISO 14001 accreditation. We have a partner that conducts our audits and helps us to understand the efficiency performance of our branches. So there’s a good pool of people to draw on here.”

Those people are, in Worthington’s view, crucial to achieving sustainability targets. After all, all the clever technology in the world is only as effective as those operating it. “People now realise that sustainability and better asset management aren’t just a fad, but about proving that these changes actually make good business sense,” Worthington says. “It is about operational efficiency and saving money, which ultimately is what we’re there to do as a business.”

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