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​Our environment

Protecting our environment

At the RNLI we’re striving to implement innovative, efficient and sustainable ways to manage our environmental impact, minimise our carbon footprint and reduce costs. In this way we aim to maintain and enhance our operational capacity, reduce any negative effects and enhance positive impacts on the environment.

How do we protect our environment?

We are certified to ISO 14001 which is the international standard for environmental management systems and have implemented an environmental policy. We have identified our significant impacts and the legislation that applies to us and operate a management system to measure, monitor and control our environmental impacts.  

Energy use and its consequent impact on climate change is an important issue for all of us. In the UK the government has committed to reducing carbon emissions (CO²) by 80% by 2050 and the RNLI has its part to play in achieving this.

Increasingly legislation is making improving efficiency mandatory and so we must continue to take action.

Monitoring energy consumption

To ensure we are managing and using energy as efficiently as we can we are installing energy meters and monitors in appropriate buildings. This will provide a much clearer picture of our energy use and enable more accurate control, maintenance and replacement of our systems, to improve our efficiency and reduce costs.

Automatic electricity meters are being fitted to the majority of our lifeboat stations and sites in England, Wales and Scotland. The cost of this is being met by our energy provider and not the RNLI. These will dramatically increase the accuracy of our electricity and carbon emission monitoring as well as our billing.

Exmouth station by night

While we are committed to reducing the amount of energy we use, we also use renewable energy sources where practical and viable to do so. This not only reduces our costs but our carbon impacts too and helps to increase the security of our energy supply.

When new lifeboat stations and other sites are built we endeavour to install the most suitable and cost-effective renewable technologies as standard.

We currently have 17 sites with solar panels, 14 sites with heat pumps and 1 with a wind turbine and our renewables portfolio across the RNLI currently provides approximately 5% of the total energy we use.

These renewable technologies not only create energy for us but they also create an income. Via the Feed in Tariff we are paid for electricity that is supplied back to the National Grid and we are also paid for offsetting the energy we would have used. 

In 2013 we generated 316,500 kWh in renewable energy, cutting our carbon footprint by approximately 106 tonnes of CO². This equates to £56,700 in income and a saving of £23,700, making a combined cost benefit of £80,400. Our live data display in the RNLI College allows you to see the energy being generated in real-time, from Aith in the Shetland Islands to Falmouth in Cornwall.

Solar energy

So far we’ve installed solar panels at 13 lifeboat stations, 1 regional bases, 1 area support centre, the RNLI College in Poole and most recently our Inshore Lifeboat Centre at Cowes. You can see which of our lifeboat stations have solar panels in the table below.

The 180 solar panels on the roof of our Sea Survival Centre at RNLI College were fitted back in 2011. They generate an estimated saving of £17,000 per year and mean we’re reducing our carbon footprint by around 23 tonnes of CO² per year.

We’re also installing solar panels on the roof of our new All-weather Lifeboat Centre (ALC) in Poole. The panels, which will cover an 850m² area, are expected to pay for themselves in 9 years and save 52 tonnes of CO² per year.  

In fact 20% of the power required at the ALC will come from renewable energy sources and low and zero carbon technologies.

​Type Site

Installation size (kW)​

Solar PV​ ​Ilfracombe ​4
​Solar PV ​Appledore ​4
​​Solar PV ​Burnham-on-Sea ​4
​​Solar PV ​Rock ​10
​​Solar PV ​Hayle (support centre) ​30
​​Solar PV ​Bude ​2.94
​​Solar PV ​Penlee ​3.43
​​Solar PV ​Hayling Island ​3.92
​​Solar PV ​Calshot ​3.92
​​Solar PV ​Lymington ​3.92
​​Solar PV ​Exmouth ​5.39
​​Solar PV ​Falmouth ​9.8
Solar PV ​Portsmouth ​4
Solar PV ​Clacton ​9.4

Wind power

A 20kW wind turbine powers our most northerly lifeboat station at Aith in Scotland.

Installed back in 2009, the turbine makes use of the powerful winds up in the Shetland Islands to power the station. The Aith turbine generates around 40,000 kWh in renewable energy per year and any power not used by Aith Lifeboat Station is sold back to the National Grid.

Kevin Henry at Aith lifeboat station

Ground source heat pumps 

We’re moving to a more sustainable way of heating our lifeboat stations. In the past we’ve used conventional electric convection heaters because the extreme locations of some of our lifeboat stations have made access to gas central heating impossible.

Ground source heat pumps produce four times more heat for every unit of energy used and each one saves us £3,000 a year in energy use, including Renewable Heat Incentive payments.

They work by extracting ambient temperature from the ground through a network of coiled pipe buried beneath the lifeboat station. This ambient heat is then passed through the heat pump, which is effectively a fridge running in reverse. This condenses the heat energy and enables us to heat the building and warm up a wet and cold crew.

So far we have ten ground source and five water source heat pumps at our lifeboat stations and at our Grace Darling Museum in Bamburgh. 

Water source heat pumps 

The Lizard and Castletownbere Lifeboat Stations are two of a growing number of stations that are fitted with an innovative water source heat pump.


The renewable technology, which was developed in-house, uses the same principle as the ground source heat pump. Only it takes the heat from the sea rather than from the ground and is proving very effective. 

Energy efficiency - Eco cooling

Keeping our HQ computer server rooms at an optimum running temperature has generally been done via the use of air conditioning. However this is energy intensive and expensive to run.

To combat this we’ve installed a new system that uses water to cool the air instead. Our Data Centre Eco Cooling project has been very successful at our Lifeboat Support Centre in Poole – saving 451,300 kWh of electricity, 199.650 tonnes of carbon and £45,000 a year.

We’ll be fitting a similar system to the data centre in our Sir William Hillary Building in Poole in the future. 

​Waste not, want not

The pressure from governments to prevent as much waste as possible from going to landfill and the rising costs of disposal also make this an increasingly expensive option.

At the RNLI we’re committed to reducing waste in all its forms wherever practical and have adopted the principles of the waste hierarchy, which are to eliminate, reduce, reuse, recycle or recover as much as we can before considering disposal.

Unavoidable waste can be a potential resource and through working with recycling partners and embracing innovation, we aim to maximise the return for the RNLI from this resource where viable. This not only helps to reduce our environmental impact but also helps maximise the use of the donations we receive.

Turning waste into resource

There is a strong recycling ethos across the RNLI and we do recycle at most of our sites.

We have also joined forces with The Recycling Factory to help protect the environment and eliminate waste while raising vital funds. Our partnership has raised over £600,000 for the RNLI since 2008 through the recycling of mobile phones, print cartridges and other electronic gadgets.

Cardboard and food waste recycling

At RNLI College we’ve initiated cardboard compaction with free collection and food waste recycling, reducing carbon emissions by just over 3 tonnes each year.

The food waste recycling is more or less cost neutral and the card compactor will pay for itself in 17 months and then go on to save approximately £3,000 every year.

We are now planning to install a much larger card compactor and one for plastics at our HQ site to enable all card and plastic from the rest of the RNLI site in Poole to be recycled; reducing costs and potentially generating an additional income.

We are also working with our regional bases and lifeboat stations to ensure as much waste as possible is diverted from landfill.

Lifejacket recycling

Our new 235 Made for Life range at RNLI Shop features some very innovative products made from lifejackets previously worn by our brave volunteer lifeboat crews at 235 of our lifeboat stations.

When they reach their end of their service lives, RNLI lifejackets are decommissioned. So we've recycled them into this hard-wearing and water-resistant product range, complete with many original lifejacket features. 100% of the profit goes directly back into our lifesaving service.

235 Made for Life products

RNLI Electric van at Poole HQ


Green House Gas (GHG) emissions from our fleet of cars, vans, lorries, rescue water craft and boats all contribute to air pollution and climate change. While the use of more efficient engines and cleaner fuels help to reduce this, we also try to influence driving behaviour among our people to reduce the impact but without compromising our operational ability.

RNLI company vehicles are selected to have lower CO² emissions and we use an electric vehicle for the warehouse at Poole. Our driver policies are to encourage appropriate and safe driving and good logistics planning for efficient deliveries.

There is a travel plan in place for our Poole HQ site with the objective of reducing single occupancy car use to get to and from work. To help facilitate more sustainable travel we offer a cycle to work scheme to help staff buy a bike or electric bike to travel to work; season ticket interest free loans to help with public transport; and a car share scheme to encourage staff to travel together.

While our boats are designed to be fast they are also designed to be efficient and this will continue to be a key design feature in the future. When our boats and crew are ‘out on a shout’ the key focus is obviously helping people and saving lives as quickly as possible. At other times such as training or moving boats from one location to another, speeds are kept to a reasonable minimum to ensure fuel is not used unnecessarily.


By definition many of our activities are on or near water and we do all we can to ensure that we do not pollute or contaminate it.

Fresh water is also an important resource and we strive to be as efficient as we can when using it. For example the RNLI College has aerators fitted to all the accommodation bathroom taps and showers to reduce water use. Our Facilities Team carefully controls the use of water and chemical dosing in the Sea Survival Centre training pool.

The new All-weather Lifeboat Centre has a water treatment plant to ensure the waste water from blasting and cleaning our boats is filtered and cleaned before being discharged.

Raw materials

The RNLI uses a wide range of raw materials and products and we recognise our duty to obtain best value when procuring the things our people need.

We have a sustainable procurement policy and our suppliers are asked a number of sustainability related questions. Over the next few years we aim to make this policy and questionnaire even more robust and work closely with our key suppliers to ensure that they share and operate to the same values as us.

For example, our Procurement Team have already worked on our Corporate Clothing policy and reduced the number of suppliers we use. The team are also working to ensure the whole corporate clothing supply chain meets sustainability criteria and that chain of custody proof is documented. We are also embarking on a printer consolidation project at our HQ in Poole to reduce the number of devices we need and the amount of paper, toner and inks we use and the associated costs.

Employees wearing uniform

Gilbert the northern bottlenose whale in Poole Bay.

Protecting habitats

As both landowners and tenants we strive hard to ensure that we manage and maintain the land we occupy, respecting and adhering to designations such as SSSI, AONB and doing no damage the eco systems, habitats and species around us.

RNLI lifeguards and crew often report sightings of marine animals to various conservation bodies and many of our employees and volunteers take a keen interest in the health of the marine environment and the species of flora and fauna that live among it.