Jim Tough
August 2020

Roadmap for sustainability in MoD support infrastructure

In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy to bring into law targets to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. In line with this commitment, within the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) logistic support element, Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S), there is a drive to achieve the necessary net zero carbon emissions by 2050 (NZ50), and in this endeavour the MoD is likely to be the pathfinder for the wider UK Government.

Over recent years there has been a renaissance in defence support thinking, providing the perfect catalyst to enable the MoD to deliver on NZ50, whilst additionally improving operational support. DE&S support across the MoD covers the full spectrum of procurement, logistics, maintenance and sustainability of the force elements – from equipment to food, fuel and water. Her Majesty’s Government’s (HMG) departmental assessments have highlighted that the MoD contributes around 50% of all departmental emissions. This means that there is a significant challenge facing the MoD and the Front-Line Commands in becoming net zero emitters. Furthermore, climate change will have a significant operational impact and will challenge the way UK Defence operates both in the home base and when deployed. Defence Support, with support from the Whole Force, is in a prime position to lead the MoD’s response to the challenge set by HMG.

Sustainment of force in deployed operations is a fundamental tenet of MoD operations and, as such, if reliance on the supply chain can be reduced and self-sufficiency promoted, this would not only represent a sustainable approach but also be a key strategic advantage; an element close to the heart of MoD military commanders. As the recent operations in Afghanistan demonstrated, reducing pressure on the main supply routes also frees up supporting force protection assets and thus, reducing the military footprint on the ground. This, in turn, results in a more compact and contained force, along with a commensurate reduction in carbon footprint. Generation of energy, fuel, food and water, as far forward as operationally feasible, would allow the supply chain to focus on the elements that cannot be manufactured or produced forwards.

In order to deliver on the MoD’s commitment to achieve NZ50, a joint MoD and industry-led White Paper has been published by the Sustainable Defence Support Sub-Working Group and discusses, via a roadmap approach, a set of initiatives by which a tangible contribution to meeting NZ50 can be made. The report examines how forces could adapt to being carbon efficient and, where possible, carbon neutral, whilst protecting operational capability yet sustaining force elements at home and when deployed overseas. The paper is structured according to the following areas that the MoD could focus on to make NZ50 a reality:

  • UK Defence, climate change, sustainability and a circular economy;
  • A system of systems approach;
  • Challenges the MoD faces in achieving NZ50;
  • Legislation and policy challenges;
  • The MoD's main sources of carbon emissions and carbon measurement;
  • Evaluation of various proposed solutions;
  • Potential funding options; and
  • Further steps – innovation initiatives and trends.

The intention of the report is to inform, influence and identify the initiatives that could have the most impact in supporting DE&S’ contribution to reducing UK Defence emissions and minimising the Department’s carbon footprint, making a significant contribution to supporting this strategy and ultimately leading to the achievement of NZ50.

Beyond carbon, there are numerous other socio-economic and environmental impacts which the MoD must manage under the umbrella of sustainability. There is a need for a strategy to support the achievement of the Department’s strategic objectives and the contribution the MoD makes to the UN Global Sustainable Development Goals. The ‘further steps’ element of the report considers industry views on initiatives the MoD can undertake to make improvements in order to meet the Government targets in the areas of:

  • Carbon emissions;
  • Fuel and fuel substitutes and technologies;
  • Sustainability through the lens of the circular economy, recycling, reduction in use, higher performance products that ‘do more for less’; and
  • Sustainability-enabling technologies.

In addition to regulatory requirements, such as the UK Government's commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and potential operational agility benefits, there is a growing cost imperative for Defence to adopt a proactive approach to sustainability. As the industrial sector adapts to a low or no greenhouse gas emissions market, the production and availability of equipment, services and fuels that are greenhouse gas emitters will become rarer and as a result, their costs will increase. If the MoD fails to take advantage and adapt, the cost of some of its primary energy and fuel needs is likely to become prohibitive and a prime contributor to operational inability.

To read the full report, please visit: https://www.kbr.com/en/insights-events/thought-leadership/roadmap-sustainable-defence-support.

Jim Tough MSc, BSc (Hon), CEnv, CSci is a Principal Consultant with Abbot Risk Consulting Ltd. Being ex-Armed Forces, Jim provides military logistical support, expertise and experience to the MoD and Defence suppliers, shaping thinking, products and services in the domains of Environmental Management and Sustainability.