Greenhouse Pioneer: Paul Southall, The National Trust

Europe’s largest conservation charity, National Trust arecelebrating another step forward in their clean energy journey after recently winning Energy Project of The Yearat the Business Green Awards for their marine source heat pump at Plas Newydd. Along with their Lead Heat Energy Specialist, Paul Southall also being awarded Sustainability Executive of the Year, their momentum seems unstoppable. We caught up with Paul to talk about the success they’ve seen so far, where he wants to take the organisation next, what he would do if he were Prime Minister for the day and of course, who would be his Eco Hero…

Tell us about The National Trust – what’s your mission?

My role as a national specialist lead within the National Trust Renewable Energy Investment Programme is both challenging and hugely rewarding. As a conservation charity with one of the largest membership bases in Europe – promoting, preserving our special places and sharing are our raison d’etre. Not only does our membership now expect us to be ‘doing the right thing’ but also that sharing is key to dispelling myths that old buildings are ‘hard to treat’. Almost on a daily basis we share as we learn – the good and not so good in order to show that appropriate integration of renewables is achievable, and that although you cannot do everything everywhere, you can do something somewhere.

What motivates you?


Also turning aspirations into pragmatic and practical solutions that can be adopted by individuals, organisations and community groups no matter whether they are in Northumberland or Cornwall. I love seeing others become as enthusiastic as I am about sustainability and projects.

What is your greates tachievement to date?

My two boys without even having to think about it.

After them, my part within the environmental team in the Trust and renewable energy programme project managing the delivery of the UK’s largest open source marine heat pump system at Plas Newydd, Anglesey. Showing that innovation and heritage conservation are not mutually exclusive.

What are the challenges you face?

I do not honestly see things as ‘challenges’, but opportunities.

The diverse nature of the Trust and the opportunities this presents means I have to curb my enthusiasm and take things step by step. Making sure all are consulted, included and listened to in implementing any changes. By creating this level of engagement you are then able to effectively build on a myriad of ingenious ideas that staff and volunteers have themselves suggested.

What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?

Where to start! Filling the Wales-sized hole in the electric vehicle charging network by incorporating charging points at our Wales properties; being part of the team that is delivering our renewables programme across the whole National Trust.

Our ‘Fit for the Future’ environmental network – we embarked in November 2013 on a radical move to lower UK organisations environmental impacts and to empower others through enabling and sharing. The vision is to ensure all charitable, community and environmental organisations are actively sharing best practice and collaborating in order that we do not keep reinventing the wheel.

The network now includes over 80 membership organisations such as The Crown Estate; English Heritage; Cadw; Scottish National Heritage; Scottish Courts Service; National Trust for Scotland; RNLI; Welsh Government; Museums; Archives and Libraries; National Museum of Wales; Historic Houses Association; Buckingham Palace; National Botanic Gardens of Wales; Youth Hostel Association; The Wallace Collection.

Chloe Hampson who coordinates the network sums it up nicely as an ‘environmental dating agency’ matching those who have questions with those who have real world solutions.

Where do you want to take The National Trust next?

I am in a fairly unique position of being able to share based on sound practical experience of working within heritage buildings and sensitive settings and environments. The feedback has been that there is such a lack of advice and sharing on practical day to day from organisations who have, and do practice across a broad front but who are also pushing the boundaries.

I believe that a single enthusiastic and committed person can make a huge difference, and hope that by showing what can be done – both with a technical and practical hat on the National Trust continues to be the exemplar for others who are seeking inspiration and solutions

Whatcan we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

It really is the small things that all add up to make a real difference. Its not often seen as ‘sexy’ but using what we have more efficiently is vital. Switch lights and equipment off; shutting doors; sharing thoughts and ideas. After all the most efficient boiler (biomass of otherwise) is still the one that is off!

I think being open minded and not afraid to have a go is also very important.

If you were Prime Minister for a day, what would be the first thing you’d do?

Put the cabinet and other decision makers in a room with my two year old and Keith Jones (see later answer). Leave them all for an hour whilst I had a large cup of coffee. I know from that point onwards they would be enthused and commit to taking real steps forward (otherwise would lock them in for another hour and see who gives in first.)

What’s the coolest project or product you’ve come across?

This is my geeky side coming out but I really get excited about light bulbs (I know, strange). I think some of the new LED filament lightbulbs are not only aesthetically beautiful, but you are saving as soon as you swap an old bulb for one of these. The considerations involved in the design of these are amazing to me – weight, heat sink, colour rendition, UV, Lux levels, sparkle point of light, looking good when switched off as well as when on:Just simply changing a bulb is something we can all do tomorrow.

Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers?

Anything by Terry Pratchett as it confirms that not taking yourself too seriously is the way to go.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?

At the moment it’s either the theme tune from the opening credits of Noddy, or the rubber ducky song from Sesame Street. I’m not weird, I have a two year old!

I am quite eclectic in musical tastes – Peter Gabriel, Chopin, AC/DC – depends on the mood.

But you really cannot beat the rubber ducky song!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Enjoy what you do and have fun, otherwise go and do something else!

Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero?

Without being all sycophantic I would honestly have to say Keith Jones who I work with. He is a force of nature and does not understand the word ‘No’. His enthusiasm is infectious and if you cut him in half he would have National Trust written through him.

(But don’t tell him or he will be unbearable!)

If you’d like to find out more about National Trust and their sustainability initatives visit their website or you can also follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

Hanna Henshall