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The journey to Net Zero will not be an easy one

by Martin Nadin, Chief Executive, SVR

The Scottish and UK Governments declared a climate emergency in 2019, passing legislation to achieve Net Zero by 2045 and 2050 respectively. Since 2020, Scottish Veterans’ Residences (SVR), has had a strategic objective of reducing our environmental impact. Our environmental strategy is quite simple; Educate, Calculate, Identify, Prioritise, Resource, Implement (ECIPRI). It’s easy to write and remember, but we are finding it won’t be easy to achieve.

We’ve started the journey to Net Zero and developed our corporate knowledge about climate change and sustainability, so that we are an ‘intelligent customer’. We’ve already successfully achieved the requirements to be accredited as a bronze level Carbon Literate Organisation.

Calculating our carbon footprint is challenging. It’s reasonably easy to calculate Scope 1 and 2 emissions, but discovering the complexity of our supply chain, and the indirect emissions that occur within it, has been an eye-opener. It will take time to nail these down.

Having identified how and where emissions are produced, we will identify how we can reduce them. Those produced in the daily running of the charity are relatively straightforward to address by changing behaviours. Switching off lights, reducing ambient office temperature, attending meetings remotely and encouraging staff to use public transport, will all make useful contributions. But switching to more sustainable sources of energy, and improving the thermal infrastructure of our estate presents further challenges.

Our built estate is eclectic and its age ranges from the 18th to 21st century. Some buildings are historically Listed and located in Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site. Consequently, some potential reduction measures, such as the installation of solar panels or wind turbines, cannot be implemented because of building regulations. There’s a tension. On the one hand we’ve been told to reduce emissions, and on the other, we’re not allowed to use proven and effective technology, because it will detract from the aesthetics and ambience of a neighbourhood.

Our three residences, which provide supported accommodation for Veterans, are heated by gas. In two of our residences we provide a fully catered service, using gas to cook. Whilst switching to electricity (produced from renewable sources) for heating and cooking would significantly reduce our carbon footprint, is it feasible from effectiveness and cost perspectives? Electricity is significantly more expensive than gas. There would be an irony in paying massively increased energy costs with money that should be used for investing in improving the thermal efficiency of our infrastructure and other reduction measures.

Feasibility, and the volume of carbon reduction delivered, will allow us to prioritise the measures and develop a desired implementation programme. This will be further conditioned by each measures’ affordability, and our ability to secure funding. It’s an evolving and complex environment. One in which technology continues to develop and mature. Commit too early and you pay early adopter’s premium and, there is a good chance the technology will be superseded in a few years.

Having emerged from the pandemic, and now coping with the cost-of-living crisis, charities and their governing bodies are rightly focused on supporting their beneficiaries in the immediate and near terms. They need however, to retain the capacity, and be provided with the support to be able to achieve their Net Zero targets.

This article first appeared in The Scotsman on 28/03/23, You can also view it online on