Carbon Trust Standard Sustainability Leaders Interview: Jonathan Hulbert, npower

Jonathan Hulbert

What are the biggest sustainability challenges you are facing at npower today?

Our biggest challenges are currently around achieving our robust resource reduction targets. Having cut the carbon intensity of our offices by 56% since 2008, we are now pushing ourselves further still. We are aiming to reduce absolute carbon emissions from our retail business operations by 25% by 2020, against 2015 levels. Achieving this target requires engagement from right across the business as we focus on further reducing our own energy usage and business travel and increasing recycling.

What are the lessons you have learned from the Carbon Trust Standard certification process?

Can I start by saying we’re thrilled to receive the prestigious honour of triple certification to the Carbon Trust Standard, in recognition of our work creating efficiencies in the way we use waste, water and carbon. I hope this will encourage other organisations to join us in taking simple steps to protect the environment and reduce business costs.

As part of our assessment process and to assist continual improvement, detailed information was provided to us by the Carbon Trust showing where our performance related to our industry peers, and how we compared to other companies who, like us, are focussed on improving environmental performance.

This qualitative feedback has helped us to sharpen our focus on how we can continue to stretch ourselves – for example,engaging our people to support more effective recycling methods so we can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.

How is sustainability at npower different today, compared to when you first started working at the company in 2007?

As a major UK energy company, sustainability has long been viewed as essential to the long-term success of our business. Over the past 15 years, in particular, I’ve seen the level of engagement grow from our people, with far greater interest in how they can get involved in better energy and environmental management.

Technology has also played a big role in supporting more effective resource management. For example, the greater adoption of automated meter reading technology and sub-metering now enables us to track electricity and gas consumption patterns across and within our sites in far greater detail than ever before. This has helped us to pinpoint greater efficiencies, see what works and what doesn’t, and prioritise what to focus on.

Demand side response (DSR) has also emerged as a growing area whereby energy consumers such as ourselves can become part of the solution to balancing our future energy needs in a more sustainable way. As more consumers participate in initiatives such as active Triad management and National Grid’s operating and balancing reserve schemes, this will reduce the need to keep large-scale power stations on standby in case of unexpected demand, so reducing overall emissions.

As well as tapping into new metering/monitoring technologies and DSR opportunities for our own portfolio, we are also sharing our experience and working ever closer with our customers to provide them with solutions that help them on their sustainability journey. In the last decade, I’ve seen npower evolve from being an energy supplier to working far more closely in partnership with customers to offer bespoke energy management solutions.

Why did you decide to certify to the Carbon Trust Standard?

That is simple to answer – we greatly value the robust assessment process and the collaborative way the Carbon Trust works with organisations to inspire and drive sustainability performance, and also to have the opportunity to learn from other organisations.

We are very proud to be the first in our sector to hold all three awards from the Carbon Trust for energy, waste and water. At a time when we are actively promoting the benefits of energy efficiency to our customers, this well-recognised international standard helps provide external verification that we are taking resource management in our own operations seriously, and are achieving year-on-year reductions to externally-verified standards.

How are you having an impact on sustainability outside of your own operational boundaries?

Sustainability is a key priority for us as a business and we promote it externally in a number of ways. A major focus is encouraging more sustainable use of energy, so we develop intelligent products and services to help customers of all sizes manage their energy use more effectively and consume less.

For vulnerable homeowners, this might be through our Health Through Warmth scheme, which delivers improved levels of warmth and comfort for people who require help to repair, replace or install energy efficient heating and insulation measures. We help people with a long-term illness, who own and occupy their home, have a low income, little or no savings and can’t afford to fund the work themselves (and they don’t have to be or become an npower customer).

Over the past 15 years, working with our partners and community groups, we have helped 67,975 people – an average of 12 per day – and installed around 9,500 energy efficient boilers and more than 10,500 central heating systems.

Our team of energy specialists also takes the energy saving message out to communities around the UK, with advice and support on how to use fuel more sustainably.

For larger businesses, we offer a range of bespoke solutions to help them reduce their environmental footprint and become more energy efficient. Research we’ve undertaken suggests the UK businesses could save as much as £4 billion a year in energy costs by reducing unnecessary energy use – and we are keen to share with customers how they can realistically and affordably achieve this.

As part of this commitment, we have developed a suite of specialist training to promote best practice in energy management and sustainability to all businesses. Our npower Business Solutions Energy Management Qualifications ( are accredited by both the Energy Managers Association and the Low Energy Company and offers a range of courses suitable for all types of staff. The aim is to build environmental awareness and equip participants with practical measures to reduce their energy use, both at work and at home.

How do you engage employees to help achieve your goals?

Our employees play an integral part in our sustainability journey. Our primary vehicle for engagement has been through our Environment Action, Sustainability and You (EASY) campaign. EASY was designed to educate and inform, acting as the focal point of our internal sustainability activity. Tangible assets from electric pool cars to centralised recycling points are all branded to reflect EASY. Additionally, regular performance updates are communicated via our internal communications channels, highlighting the positive impacts that staff are having on our sustainability targets. 

Our people have responded very positively to EASY, helping us achieve impressive results over the past few years, including a 20.4% decrease in electricity usage, a 15.7% reduction in gas usage and an 18% increase in recycling. This programme has successfully helped raise awareness of energy and resource efficiency across the business, and formed part of our ISO 50001 and Carbon Trust Standard certification process.

How do you think your customers have responded to your sustainability achievements?

Our major customers are increasingly demanding that their energy supplier takes responsibility for managing their own environmental impacts. That’s why it’s so important to us to have achieved the Carbon Trust Triple Standard, as well as Energy Management Standard ISO 50001, and we have also received a number of external industry awards for our focus on sustainability.

Although much has been achieved, we are by no means complacent. We recognise we are still on our own energy efficiency and carbon reduction journey. There is still more that we can do to reduce our environmental impacts through our business operations by further cutting our energy consumption, increasing our use of onsite renewables, reducing business travel and increasing recycling.

We are also committed to using our expertise in energy solutions not only to further reduce our own energy consumption, but to share cases of best practice to help our customers do the same.

What are you most proud of achieving in your career in sustainability?

I tend to look forward to what still needs to be done rather than looking backwards. However, the npower Future Leaders competition is without doubt the project that the Sustainability Team here at npower is most proud of.

Future Leaders invited our employees, working individually or in pairs, to develop innovative ideas for improved sustainability performance at local npower sites. The best of these were then assisted by central support, individual mentoring and funding to make them operational, before being shared across the business. Projects have covered a wide range of themes from resource reduction to minimising business travel. For example, an energy efficiency project at one of our largest office car parks saw energy use from lighting fall by 24%, while the trial of central booking system resulted in a 20% increase in staff taxi sharing at our Durham site, saving both money and carbon emissions.

The Future Leaders programme has provided us with an innovative and popular way of engaging employees on environmental issues, particularly around energy. Our people are often the ‘eyes and ears’ in the business, able to spot opportunities for improved energy and environmental performance.

I am also passionately proud of what my colleagues in other RWE Group companies are doing to reduce the environmental impacts of their businesses. For example, my colleagues in our renewables business RWE Innogy UK, alongside their project partners, have brought into operation the world’s second-largest operating wind farm at Gwynt y Môr, located off the North Wales coast. The project was 10 years in the making at a cost of around £2 billion. Each of the 160 turbines has the capacity to generate around 3.6MW, helping the UK towards its renewable generation targets.

Looking ten years into the future, what do you think npower will have achieved in sustainability?

We hope to achieve a lot more in helping our customers to reduce their own energy usage, as well as helping them to generate their own electricity to support security of supply and take advantage of renewable energy sources.

There is a huge opportunity here – a 20% reduction in energy consumption by the UK’s industrial and commercial sector, for example, would represent a 34.2TWh saving. That’s 10% of the annual electricity consumption for the whole of the UK and translates to 15 million tonnes of carbon emissions. 

We believe sustainable businesses will be better placed to realise a number of commercial opportunities. These include a stronger competitive position in a climate of rising energy prices, reduced overheads, greater security of supply, as well as the all-important reduction in carbon emissions.

I also think we will see a radical transformation in the way we all work. Here at npower, we are already seeing the many benefits of Agile working in terms of employee and environment benefits. These include greater staff productivity, wellbeing and motivation, plus a reduction in the environmental impacts of our business operations, for example through the greater uptake of online message, meeting and conference software that helps our people to meet more but travel less.

Jonathan's team – working closely with npower Business Solutions (nBS) – has been responsible for implementing a wide range of initiatives that have exceeded npower’s carbon intensity reduction target of 50% on 2008 levels by the end of 2015, achieving a 56% reduction. Achievements such as these earned his team the Employee Engagement award at the 2015 Energy Awards, and the Excellence in Carbon Reduction Award in 2013. nBS also uses this skillset to deliver energy management solutions to a range of businesses.

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