Aiming for zero: How Glasgow City Council’s procurement team is driving sustainable change for the city

Local leaders speak to Proxima about their emission-free Fleet Strategy, and key learnings from setting an ambitious target to deliver net zero goal by 2030
Viv Lynch via Flickr

A spotlight is shining on Glasgow ahead of the 2021 Climate Change Conference, but few people realise that the city became a trailblazer for setting sustainability policy years before, committing to carbon neutrality by 2030 in summer 2019.

Harjinder Gharyal, Divisional Director for Neighbourhoods, Regeneration and Sustainability and Maureen Fitzpatrick, Head of Corporate Procurement, Corporate Procurement Unit, spoke to Proxima about their emission-free Fleet Strategy and key learnings from setting an ambitious target to deliver net zero goal by 2030.

Project aims

Our Fleet Strategy is part of a broader decision to sign up to the commitment of net zero. It is of particular importance because our refuse collection and recycling system is a vital frontline component of the city’s infrastructure and a strong visual indication of our intentions to transform the city’s services.

The overall goal is to support frontline operations and the Council’s commitment to reduce its dependence on carbon fuels by the introduction of electric and hydrogen fuelled vehicles, in the most efficient, cost effective and environmentally considerate way, setting the tone for wider changes across the city.

The council operates over 1,400 vehicles and will be removing its traditional diesel-powered vehicles on a phased basis with ambitions to provide an entirely emission-free fleet well before the target of 2030. Having completed our Phase 1 programme, we have 25% of our fleet as zero emissions, predominately battery electric, and work is well underway on the Phase 2 programmes where we will see the introduction of Hydrogen Fuel-Cell powered Refuse Collection Vehicles, presenting Glasgow with the largest hydrogen powered fleet in the world.

Ultimately, this project is about addressing inequalities, supporting the climate emergency change agenda and utilising the Council’s commercial spend profile, via the power of procurement, to help innovate and shape the Fleet and Utilities (Fuel) market. Generating 100% of the Council’s green hydrogen fuel requirements by the electrolysis of water, using only renewable energy, is creating a catalyst for broader change for market innovation and setting expectations for net zero for communities.


In most instances the technology and infrastructure of our fleet is being built for the first time. Purchasing decisions are being made on modelling of vehicle life cycles and normal procurement practices are evolving to be responsive to the business needs and market innovations– a test bed for future procurement processes.

There are also several complexities with adjusting the fleet which have been slowed down due to the pandemic. For example, the effective use of the NetZero Vehicles to meet the modelling usage depends on the correct on-the-ground driver training programmes, which have been difficult to implement during the pandemic.

As with any ground-breaking project, decisions are made on modelling outcomes which is complex. We need to take into account all manner of variables including the topography of Glasgow, the number of bins being lifted, and the volume of waste being carried. In conjunction with the new vehicle technology the supplementary weight sensors, GPS and telematic systems will minimise the number of times waste is “handled” in its final journey to disposal or recycling.  As with all projections there will be variations, but this is inevitable and well supported by the wider council, understanding that this project is effectively ‘laying down the tracks in front of the train’.

As with any ground-breaking project, decisions are made on modelling outcomes which is complex.

This transformation was a bold decision and we’re aware that we also can’t judge its success with the usual measurement framework. For example, what is the value of each sustainable pound spent and how is it helping to prevent deaths from tail-pipe emissions?

Innovation is key

So far, we’ve learnt the importance of innovation and finding ways to look at costs and benefits holistically, not just as a straight-forward return on investment. To support this, a green economist has joined us to help understand and measure the investment into sustainability and tie the costs into other budgets we can tap into.

Our work has also gone far beyond procuring fleets and providing the technology or infrastructure to make it happen, there’s also been a huge emphasis on education and behaviour changes. For example, effective driving behaviour can extend electric vehicle ranges by 40-50% - which makes the whole model more effective. We’ve had to innovate our approach to ensure it’s about the training, the behaviours and the mindset, shifting from a model that just focuses on procurement for fleet replacements.

Procurement as an enabler

Our long-term view is that the level of change will need to be transformational and therefore complex, but we see procurement playing a vital role in making this happen.

We are leading and shaping the market via our strategic partnership approach with our internal stakeholders to develop and deliver socially responsible sourcing strategies and ambitious outcome- focused specification requirements that drive the need for innovation changes. Our goal is to create models that other councils can adopt and hopefully benefit from, whilst optimising the opportunity to achieve wider environmental and social-economic benefits for the citizens of Glasgow and the local area.

Within the procurement team we are focussed on delivering the best value for the Council and our stakeholders, exploring and building on new ways of working to ensure that the entire ecosystem and supply chain contributes and is aligned towards our ambitions for net zero. We want to ensure that this goes beyond just a natural evolution of working methods, but can actually revolutionise our way of working through behavioural and cultural change.

We have utilised the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act (2014) as a mechanism to influence and promote how procurement can be used as a tool to realise wider ESG targets too, such as improving gender equality and reducing poverty by including Fair Work Practise evaluation criteria. This encourages the payment of the Real Living Wage within our tenders and also includes Community Benefit requirements and evaluation criteria to maximise targeted recruitment and employment opportunities as part of the delivery of the contract. We are passionate and focussed to continue with our efforts to embed sustainable procurement and to use the power of procurement to contribute to the Council’s Climate, Resilience and Sustainability action plan. 

You can read more insights from Proxima here.

Or access their report – Social Value: Public and Private Sectorshere.


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