World Environment Day: reflections from lockdown

Jim Rushen

By Jim Rushen
Head of Environment

World Environment Day: reflections from lockdown

Since the UK went into lockdown in March, the focus has been on keeping ourselves and our families safe. But when we’ve looked beyond our front doors, we’ve seen many positive effects on the local environment, and I think it provides a great opportunity to explore ways to live more sustainably in the future.

It’s quite timely as we celebrate  World Environment Day, to look at what has changed in just a few months. Industry shutting down, businesses closing their doors and everyone travelling less, has for example, greatly improved air and noise pollution for many. But as restrictions gradually lift, we need to think about what we can do differently to drive a green recovery that benefits our environment and economy.

​Cleaner greener world

It's been fascinating to see satellite images of vanishing pollution over many cities across the globe during lockdown. The impact that drastic action can have in a short amount of time has really hit home. But equally, the magnitude of the challenge ahead has been brought into focus.

Research suggests emissions in China were down 25% at the peak and initial analysis indicates annual global emissions could fall by up to 8% this year – the largest annual reduction on record. With science suggesting that emissions must reduce by almost the same amount every year to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change, society is faced with a big challenge to ensure we build a greener future that creates jobs and improves lives.

Encouragingly, many of us have adopted more sustainable behaviours during lockdown – from wasting less food to shopping more locally. And as we spend more time in our gardens and parks, it's perhaps provided a renewed sense of value for our local environment and an insight into some of the fundamental changes we may need to make in our everyday lives if we are to protect our planet.

Will this change our behaviour towards energy use? Evidence has shown our overall demand on the grid has reduced dramatically, which has greatly increased the share of renewable energy on the system. But at the same time domestic consumption has increased and consumer behaviour has shifted in terms of peak demand, which has increased the need for flexible demand side response, something that Centrica plays a key role in, but ultimately we all need to embrace. 

What Centrica is doing

Building a cleaner greener future is something we’ve been working at for some time at Centrica and last year, it was a proud moment for me when we set 2030 Responsible Business Ambitions, with the goal of helping customers reduce emissions by 25% and enabling 7GW of flexible, distributed and low carbon technologies, while committing to be a net zero company by 2050. We're on track with all of these goals and are proud of the progress we've made so far which includes: ​

  • 80% reduction in our emissions over the last decade
  • 9% reduction in customer average emissions during 2019 - equivalent to the annual emissions of 900,000 homes
  • 11GW of renewable power under management - enough capacity to power 7.5 million UK homes
  • 39% reduction in our internal carbon footprint since 2015 ​

You can read more about how we’ve achieved this progress and more, in our 2019 Responsible Business Ambitions Brochure.

A personal responsibility

As a business we have a big responsibility to contribute to a lower carbon future. But, as individuals, we also have a responsibility to play our part. And as part of our World Environment Day celebrations this week, we’ve heard from colleagues across the business about the changes their families have noticed in their local environment and how lockdown has encouraged them to live more sustainably.

From rescuing ducklings and spending quality time with loved ones in the great outdoors, to re-using old duvets to make NHS scrubs and discovering the joys of gardening or growing their own food and watching nature go by.

It’s been heart-warming to hear the positives of lockdown and how it’s not only led to colleagues having a more intimate and deeper connection with their local environment, but how it’s brought families and communities closer together in these challenging times.

Most encouraging for me, is how many friends and colleague have truly enjoyed these aspects of lockdown and are committed to take forward many of the sustainable behaviours they have adopted. This gives me hope that we can build back better together.