Andy, could you share a little about what Field Studies Council (FSC) does?
So, FSC is a national charity that provides environmental education opportunities. We provide about 200,000 overnight stays and 100,000 day visits annually for schools and universities, and our centres are dotted around some of the most fantastic parts of England, Scotland, Wales. We also run a whole range of different projects in urban areas, developing digital resources, a wide range of publications, and popular fold-out charts so we can really engage as wide a range people as possible in the environment and get people moving in the same direction.
In terms of sustainability or ‘being green’, what does that mean for FSC?
A: Being green is really at the heart of everything that we do, because our mission is to provide environmental education for as wide range of people as possible. It’s at the core of our values, really. It starts with fascination and curiosity with nature, and then develops into a sustainable lifestyle, and making our operation as environmentally effective as we can, so we can share our interest and demonstrate the best practice in terms of sustainability.
As a business, what are you doing yourselves to decarbonise?
A: We’ve been working on sustainability for a very long time. We just started our plans towards 2030 carbon net zero, but that’s based on years of work towards sustainability before that. In terms of our current work, we’ve developed a Carbon Net Zero and Nature Recovery Plan. There are three strands to that. The first one is carbon reduction. To make maximum carbon reductions we are looking particularly at not only heating and lighting around our residential centres, but also travel between centres, and while people are staying with us. The second strand is around nature recovery, which is making the most of the surrounding land around that field site.
Clearly there’s a biodiversity link there, but also potentially the opportunity to offset carbon in the future. The third aspect is around advocating sustainability. That’s key to what we do about engaging visitors and having a greater impact engaging staffand stakeholders, so we can all work effectively to reduce our emissions.
You mentioned stakeholders there. What were the drivers that really prompted you to act?
A: The core of what drives is our values, because they are so embedded in what we do and the way we think and what we deliver. We’re very keen to be leading the field in this area, and particularly in our sector. We’re looking to influence others within our sector and also suppliers and people we work with, but equally over the next 10 years we can see this is going to become increasingly important to our visitors who will demand green experience.
There’s definitely increasing demand for accountability to be green, but it’s great that your organisation also allows those real hands-on, experiential experiences of being in green: the outdoors. So what are some of the key things you’ve achieved on this sustainability journey to date?
Back in 2011 we set ourselves the ambition of reducing carbon emissions by 40%. By 2019 we’d actually achieved 65% and we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved so far. The way in which we’ve done that is we’ve installed various sorts of renewable heating systems around our centres. We’ve got a lot of pilot projects going on, so there’s a lot of learning that we can then use to develop in the future.
We’ve looked at things like LED lighting, and we’ve worked with Alfa Energy to procure green energy suppliers. It’s a whole range of things, as well as working to ensure we’ve got a green team in place. And we’ve been supporting the staff to make improvements as well.
That sounds a really proactive approach, and real savings already on carbon. You mentioned green energy procurement; are there any other ways that Alfa Energy Group (AEG) has been helping you on your sustainability journey?
A: AEG have been instrumental in our planning and thinking towards 2030. As I say, we’ve made some significant achievements, but, in some ways, that makes the job even harder now, because all the easy-to-do things have been done. AEG’s technical expertise is helping us to make sure there is credibility in what we’re doing. This gives us reassurance that we’re on the right path and to be confident we’ll be able to hit these targets by 2030.
An advisory guiding-hand, as it were. But what role does data play? There’s lots of talk around data driven solutions and data being key to sustainability. What is your experience of using data on this journey?
A: Data is critically important to us. In terms of sustainability and carbon our approach has evolved immensely. Monitoring has played an increasingly important part, enabling us to we actually see successes, and to ensure that we’re all following the same path. AEG have been developing a carbon dashboard for our organisation, which enables us to have real time data, which enables us then to manage the energy use more proactively. Now we’re looking at how we can embed key performance indicators not only at organisational level, but also at unit level and within teams and, and even to individuals if we can. AEG’s data room and measuring is going to be a core part of the way moving forward over the next 10 years.
Okay, sounds like it’s fair to say data’s pretty important, but especially in how it is used; having visibility and useful outputs from that data. More generally, the worry nowadays is perhaps commitments can be hollow with no real action. In your experience, how does a company or an organisation avoid greenwash?
For us it starts very much internally. The level of self-criticism within the organisation is quite high. We hold ourselves to account. We have to provide evidence that we’re making those improvements. And I think also, it’s who you align yourselves with in terms of partners and stakeholders, so that we are working with others who have a level of credibility as well.
And do you have any advice for other companies or organisations that haven’t actually begun their net zero journey yet?
Yeah, it’s been around knowing our business and knowing where we can make the greatest impact given our limited resources. For FSC, it’s about reducing the fossil fuels that we’re using for heating and lighting, and travel. But of course, for different organisations in different sectors, those impacts will be greater in different areas. So it’s about focusing those resources. The other side is just about engaging staff teams and stakeholders to direct energies towards where they’re most needed. Those are the places to begin.
Embarking on this journey, have there been any surprises in terms of things that were more difficult or easier than you expected?
A pleasant surprise has been the enthusiasm, energy and creativity of the staff teams. There’s a real passion within the organisation to drive this forwards, and that comes from our trustees at the very top, through to all the staff.
COP26 is upon us, and there’s lots in the news about wildfires and floods and all the impacts of climate change. Are you as an individual hopeful about the future?
Yeah, I think it’s always important to be optimistic about the future. And I think the COP26 is really raising awareness, both in terms of what’s happening inside COP26, with the policy leads and decision makers, but also all the spin offs from COP26. This is highlighting areas that we’ve been working on for a very long time. What’s important to us is to be able to harness that profile going forwards. So yes, this is a time of great opportunity, really working to achieve our targets in the future.