30 Jun 2021

Atkins: Working together to meet the Net Zero agenda and truly transform public services

Our world has been turned upside down in the last year and everyone has had to adapt as we have ridden the wave of pandemic. What this has taught us is the importance of common purpose and community in adapting and delivering at pace.

With ‘levelling up’ and green recovery at the heart of the Government’s economic agenda, we now have an opportunity to capitalise on the lessons of the last year to deliver the refocussed Net Zero target – cutting emissions to 78% by 2035.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could bottle the recipe for how organisations and suppliers came together to respond to the pandemic to really transform and deliver net zero? Here are three ingredients of that recipe we believe are critical in ensuring suppliers both big and small can continue to work together to transform the successful delivery of new and existing established public services while focusing on net zero.

1. Breaking down traditional constructs

To solve the Net Zero challenge, public sector organisations need a holisticapproach. Not focussing on organisational silos (such as estates, operations) and instead bringing different thinking and behaviours together to tackle the challenge. This cannot be delivered by any one organisation and requires true collaboration. This was a key feature of the pandemic response as barriers to data sharing across government for example, came down.

Think of it like a team – ‘there is no I in team’. You wouldn’t just have a team of one person to solve problems; you pull together strengths of multiple parties, including technology, to deliver. So, why does this always happen when delivering public services?

2. Creating ecosystems

Traditionally, suppliers have come together based on skills and capabilities; large suppliers with multi skills/capabilities joining up with SMEs who can provide niche skills/sector experience, to deliver specialist services with contextual scale. However, to really supply supporting capabilities to public sector organisations and help them achieve Net Zero perhaps a different rationale is required. One where contextual scale of a large supplier can be utilised by SMEs who have regional knowledge, commitment and trust.

Contracts have stipulated use of local SMEs before, but here we are talking about using local SMEs from more than a social value perspective. This is about providing local knowledge, to be a part of the consequences of the work, and to role model local social responsibility. Any niche specialism is an added value to this core capability.

3. Working together for a common purpose

Perhaps the defining ingredient of the pandemic response was the common purpose and drive that united government departments and industry. Creating a common net zero purpose across all delivery partners seems fairly achievable on paper but is difficult in practice as the drivers behind each organisation’s values and priorities will be different.

In recent times, we have seen contractual arrangements between organisations and their suppliers move away from a strictly transactional basis towards a more partnering one, based on incentivisation and added value. For a continuation of the shared purpose which defined the pandemic response, the Government and supplier relationship required to support net zero may necessitate an advanced level of incentivisation / risk and reward mechanisms. If local SME suppliers have a real societal and environmental stake in the results and consequences of the delivery of new or improved local public services, perhaps the risk and reward structure should be developed to reflect this?

Why does this matter? It’s because net zero is not about reducing emission numbers it is about changing the way we behave and interact at all levels in regard to how we impact our planet. This requires suppliers to hold a local, regional and wider contextual appreciation of their actions.

The future is about working together to create a common purpose and ambition for the end customer. Together, Net Zero can be achieved.

This article was written by Jacqui Lees, Net Zero and Social Value Director at Atkins & Gary Mitchell, Managing Consultant at Atkins. 


Jacqui Lees, Net Zero and Social Value Director: Biography 

Jacqui is an experienced management consultant with over 15 years consulting experience with a proven track record in both the delivery of assignments and business development. In this time, Jacqui has worked with over 20 clients covering a diverse range of sectors. She is also a Change Management Practitioner and an MSP Practitioner. Read more...

Gary Mitchell, Managing Consultant: Biography


Gary is currently developing value propositions in response to the UK government's transformational ambition to achieve carbon net zero by 2050 and to reform the civil service. He is also responsible for managing staff through the Chartered Management Consultancy award with the Management Consultancy Association (MCA) & Chartered Management Institute (CMI). Read more...


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