Progress in reducing the RSPB's ecological footprint

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Martin Harper's blog

I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

Progress in reducing the RSPB's ecological footprint

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It has been exciting watching the wind turbine being assembled at our HQ this week (see here).  It will soon be generating electricity and providing a major contribution to our plan to reducing the charity’s ecological footprint. Yesterday I was contributing to a short film for our partners Ecotricity about the project.  I explained why we wanted the turbine and what measures we had put in place to reduce impacts on wildlife.  While I was talking to the camera, a section of the turbine was being fitted into place (see below).  It's an impressive feat of engineering and I look forward to seeing it fully operational.

As a charity, we measure our impact in a variety of ways including how many species we have helped recover, how many special sites have been saved or how well we have inspired others to take action for nature.  Yet, to do this work, we have to travel, use energy, and buy things. Inevitably these have negative impacts on the environment. So, we have established a plan with targets to “green” our work with a focus on areas such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, tackling waste,  reducing the environmental impact of our procurement and complying with all the legislation relevant to environmental management.

Taking action can save us money, which we can then use to do more conservation.  But this often requires up-front investment so we have to be clear about where and how we should focus our effort.  We not only hope to practice what we advocate to others but we also hope to learn by doing and demonstrate the art of the possible to others. 

Below, my colleague, Sarah Alsbury who leads our environmental performance programme, provides some headlines from the past year. 

Greenhouse gas emissions

We are on course to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions per staff member by 30% by 2020. Absolute carbon emissions decreased by 486 tonnes between 2010/2011 and 2014/15. Reducing our absolute carbon emissions while at the same time increasing our staff numbers by around 150, is a great achievement. As can be seen from the graph below, the largest reductions have come from  publications (including Nature’s Home magazine where we’ve reduced the size of the paper and hence its weight), travel and the selection of energy saving measures in our buildings.


We’ve invested in renewable energy at many of our workplaces across the UK, including a wind turbine at Loch Leven, funded by our Scottish legal advisers, Turcan Connell. We’ve also installed solar panels at 8 reserves in the last 4 years and a 100kW biomass boiler (fuelled from sustainable sources) at West Sedgemoor. Recently we have also invested in more solar panels at 7 sites: expected to produce more than 90,000 kW hours of electricity each year. As reported in Martin’s blog last week (see here), we are also developing a programme of biomass boilers to complement successful trials to turn the vegetation, which our reserve management generates, into fuel.


We published additional environmental procurement policy guidelines to accompany our Timber Purchasing policy in 2012.  They cover  a range of products, such as coffee, chocolate and palm oil, which  are driving the illegal logging of forests; and tuna fishing, which can be unsustainable and affects numerous threatened species, including albatrosses, caught as bycatch.

Within retail, all our own branded wood and paper products are now Forest Stewardship Council certified (FSC). In 2014/15 72% of all sales of retail timber/paper products complied – a 10% improvement on the previous year. A further improvement is expected in 2016/17 as more work is done with suppliers. And our cafe managers and the Lodge staff restaurant manager have worked really hard to source “good” food. Eight of our cafes have won the Soil Association’s Food for Life Award – Loch Leven gaining a gold.

However, ensuring that no-one ever buys products such as tropical hardwoods and palm oil is challenging. We have introduced a number of measures to tackle this, such as spot checks by our Health, Safety and Environment Advisers, and are working on additional improvements.

Waste and recycling

The recycling rate was at 96% at our Headquarters 2014/15, which is a great achievement, and in Wales it has remained at 64%.   The next challenge will be to look at how we can reduce the amount of waste that we produce in the first place.

Legal requirements

There are numerous regulations relating to environmental management and new ones coming along all the time. We’ve done a huge amount of work over the last five years to help us comply but we need to remain vigilant and have established new systems to keep us on track.

Finally, our workplaces in Wales have done really well to attain the Green Dragon environment standard (Level 2) for the last two years.  This gives us an external stamp of approval. Green Dragon recognises the great work that is being done at many workplaces to improve environmental performance and helps share experience and ideas.

 I look forward to reporting further improvements next year.

  • Martin, its worth picking up on FSC because there seems to be a presumption in the environment sector that its all about Government regulation - which isn't great when you have a Government with an expressed aim to de-regulate. As you note, FSC has become universal for paper, and increasingly other sectors like construction. It is voluntary but - unlike the Red Tractor - is not a producer front: FSC brings together environmental, social and economic lobbies and standards have to be agreed between the different players - and for the UK standard that includes bodies like RSPB. Particularly in the present political atmosphere, surely there is more potential to work directly with business and through them to consumers ? Huge businesses like B&Q/Kingfisher group have recognised that consumers are deeply concerned about forest destruction and as a result - nothing whatever to do with Government - every single wood based product in the Kingfisher empire is now FSC certified.