Introducing Our First Network Champ

The Fit for the Future Network is proud to introduce its first Network Champion. Howard Richings has pioneered low carbon construction techniques and green energy solutions at the RNLI for more than 25 years. Through the savings and income generated via renewables, and support for crews at lifeboat stations around the UK, Howard’s work has made a significant contribution to enabling the RNLI to save lives at sea. Howard has also been an active and hugely supportive member of the Network since its inception, offering advice to other organisations and sharing his expertise. We interviewed Howard upon his retirement for insight into his work, achievements and future vision for sustainability at the RNLI.




Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role within the RNLI?

I am a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers specialising in maritime civil engineering with a long-term personal interest in global warming, sea-level rise and environmental issues.  I joined the RNLI in 1989 after working on coast protection and port and harbour projects in the UK and overseas in South America and the Far East.  My role in the RNLI was to take charge of the civil engineering and building construction and maintenance associated with the 236 lifeboat stations and the various HQ and divisional facilities.  I managed a professional in-house team procuring some £20M worth of capital works annually.


What have you enjoyed most about your work at the RNLI?

The projects are often challenging, being located mostly in coastal locations and often with access problems.  There was a clear focus to the work – to support the largely voluntary crews who put their lives at risk to provide a rescue service to seafarers and those who visit the coast.  The job brought me into contact with dedicated men and women all around the coastline of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and I was able to see the benefits that the work of my team and our consultants brought to the lifeboat crews.


How have you been involved in making the RNLI more sustainable?

Whilst lifeboats themselves still have to rely mostly on fossil fuels to give them the power they need to undertake fast and often long distance rescues, the building design and construction projects for which I was responsible presented opportunities for both promoting low carbon construction techniques and introducing green energy solutions.  Starting some 15 years ago I began looking at ways of reducing the RNLI’s carbon footprint, which included consultation with other organisations such as the National Trust.   In particular I promoted a programme to introduce alternative energy generation.  This was kicked off with a study into the various options available, then implemented with solar PV and heat pumps. We have installed solar PV at 20 sites totalling 520kWp. We also install ground and water source heat pumps on all new projects where practical. This currently stands at 20 in total, with a further 4 currently under construction and 15 more in planning.

 howard featured


Can you tell us about a project/ projects that you are particularly proud of?

The success of the above mentioned alternative energy programme has given me a particular sense of achievement, as has the knowledge that I have left behind a skilled and innovative team that I know will continue to ensure that, where practical, the RNLI will strive to minimise its carbon footprint.

I will also look back with pride on a project that has seen the rebuilding or major modernisation of some 150 lifeboat houses, which has brought significant improvements to those who risk their lives to save others at sea.


Which other organisations have you worked with through the Network and how has this helped?

I have principally worked with the National Trust both prior to the formation of the Fit for the Future Network and subsequently.  The Network has brought together a large group of people with varied areas of expertise.  This has provided an invaluable forum for discussion of ideas as well as raising awareness of important issues.

Howard's pledge at the Network launch

Howard’s pledge at the Network launch


What would be your future vision for the RNLI in terms of sustainability?

I would hope to see a continuation of the installation of alternative energy systems both in new building projects and through retro-fitting.  I would also hope that developments in alternative fuels might one day lead to lifeboats being powered in a greener fashion, although I suspect that this will prove a major challenge.


Would you like to nominate anyone you have worked with through the Network as a future Network Champion?

My choice for a future champion would be one of my own team, Rob Jeans, who over the last 10 years has dedicated himself to working to help fulfill my target of making the RNLI a practical user of alternative energy.  Through his own innovation he has developed a practical water-source heat pump and seen it installed in a number of lifeboat stations. A much larger version of this heat pump has also been developed by the National Trust.



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