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Top 10 ways the RNLI strives to be sustainable

At the RNLI we are constantly aware of the need to minimise our carbon footprint and carry on reducing our impact on the environment.

Solar installations on the roof of RNLI College in Poole

Photo: RNLI/Nathan Williams

Due to the nature of our work, we encounter some unusual problems, like how to heat notoriously cold (and usually wet) lifeboat stations, in a sustainable way.

Here are the Top 10 ways that we overcome these problems, whilst striking a fine balance between performance, cost and being ‘green’:

1) Solar energy

RNLI College, Poole, was fitted with solar panels back in 2011, which generates an estimated cost benefit of £17,000 per year. This sustainable way of powering our top-rated facility not only saves the charity money but also allows us to greatly reduce our carbon footprint by around 23 tonnes of CO2 per year.

We currently have 15 solar installations on our buildings and we will soon be installing our biggest at the Inshore Lifeboat Centre at Cowes and on the forthcoming All Weather Lifeboat Centre.

2) Environmental Awareness Day (E-Day)

In order for us to be able to fully embrace a sustainable future, we need the support of our volunteers and staff. Each year we hold E-Day to allow our workforce to think about the choices they make every day and how they affect the environment. Highlights have included: beach cleans; alternative transport to work; guest speakers and ‘green’ quizzes.

3) Energy monitors

More than 200 energy monitors were donated to the RNLI by company Current Cost and have been fitted in lifeboat stations around the UK and Ireland. The monitors will help volunteer crews to assess their energy usage at stations, which will hopefully reduce overall energy costs.

4) Wind Turbine

A wind turbine was stationed at the RNLI’s most northerly lifeboat station, Aith, Scotland, back in 2009. The turbine makes use of the powerful winds up in the Shetland Islands to power the lifeboat station.

5) Recycling

We aim to recycle wherever possible. As a leading lifesaving charity, the RNLI has a vast number of staff and volunteers, and in order to minimise our impact on landfill disposal, we encourage a recycling ethos among them.

6) Ground source heat pumps

In the past, we have used conventional electric convection heaters, but today we are moving towards a more sustainable mode for heating our lifeboat stations.

Ground source heat pumps, like the one used to heat Exmouth Lifeboat Station, 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.

7) Reusing materials

We have recently made the move, to begin building all of our lifeboats in-house, something in itself that will help us save millions once up and running. In order to facilitate this, we have undertaken the task of building our new All Weather Lifeboat Centre to be stationed in Poole where our lifeboats will now be built. Like in all other areas, we are striving to be as sustainable as we can here.

For example, we aim to make maximum use of building materials from the demolished lifeboat depot, where it proves to be economic. This will reduce our environmental impact from the export and import of materials.

8) Reducing our impact on local wildlife

The coastal areas in which we work are a haven for indigenous wildlife species and we must strive to reduce our impact on the delicate coastal ecosystems.

A prime example of this is the current building work happening in Poole for the state-of-the-art All Weather Lifeboat Centre. When surveying the area, we found that there was a rare type of sea sponge living on the existing sea wall. But in order to minimise ever-present risk of flooding to the new building, we must raise and rebuild this sea wall. The new structure will be carefully designed to promote the re-colonisation and re-growth of these sponges in order to disrupt this rare species for as short a time as possible.

9) Water source heat pump

The building of the Lizard Lifeboat Station, Cornwall was completed in October 2011 and is one of a growing number of stations across the country that is fitted with an innovative water source heat pump. The technology, which was developed in-house, uses the same principle as the ground source heat pump described above. Only it takes the heat from the sea rather than from the ground.

10) LED lights

We are currently looking at the prospect of using LED lights in our buildings. If this proves to be economical, the implementation of LED lights will help reduce our carbon footprint.

Ultimately, all of our hard work to improve our sustainability means that your donations go further.