Harnessing integrated action to meet the MOD’s sustainability challenge

The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) has set out a 30-year journey towards a sustainable future in its 2021 sustainability strategy. But to deliver success, the MOD will need to work in concert with Partners Across Government (PAGs) and with industry, especially in addressing Scope 3 carbon emissions in the value chain.

The MOD’s command paper on the Integrated Review set out the need to embed the Integrated Operating Concept, underpinned by Multi-Domain Integration (MDI). But how can the MOD draw on the unique capabilities, culture and ingenuity unlocked by a collaborative network of PAGs and industry to meet its sustainability goals?

Lessons on integration from COVID-19

The tumultuous experience of COVID-19 demonstrated the value of whole government collaboration with industry to innovate at pace. The UK Ventilator Challenge showed how industry can bring specialist capabilities and a commercial perspective to deliver life-saving results at pace. Elsewhere, collaboration across government departments, such as between the Department for Health and Social Care, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and MOD, with industry provided substantial benefits in focus and economies of scale.

The replication of these relationships and the resulting behaviours in an integrated network will accelerate MOD and wider government’s abilities to fulfil their sustainability goals.

Growing a MDI-like network

The scale of the sustainability challenge requires the whole-hearted collaboration of the MOD with PAGs and industry. Adopting an MDI-like approach for integrated action could see collaborative working across government in hybrid-teams. This would help to identify sustainability solutions on the broadest basis, not just within departmental silos, to deliver the best value for taxpayers’ money.

By building a network of industry partners focused on a singular purpose, an integrated outlook enables their unique corporate strengths and capabilities to align early. Collaboration across the public and private sectors will bring together scarce capabilities and talent in pursuit of sustainability. In the face of warnings over the global competition for talent, especially around STEM competences, the emphasis must be on sharing talent and capabilities for a common cause and making best use of available human and social capitals.

By creating a nexus for integrated action, built on trust and supporting cultures, the MOD would enable successful collaboration.

We’re at a tipping point. Now is the moment to create opportunity from the evident complexity. It would seem opportune for MOD to map out the landscape and identify end-to-end opportunities in the value chain for greater industry collaboration on sustainability as well as to review a truly cross-government approach in pursuit of integrated action.

Pursuing an adaptive approach

MOD policy documents now accept the merits of adaptive approaches – using experimentation to pre-empt threats and evolve deliberately through empowered leadership. In our experience, there are four ways the MOD can set the foundations for integrated action using adaptive thinking:

1. Pilot integrated action

Accounting for a third of the MOD’s annual budget and a significant number of prime contractors, the MOD’s defence support business is the ideal pilot area for establishing an MDI-like network to target sustainability goals. Lessons here could then be taken forward across other aspects of the MOD business. The launch of an industry charter as part of the MOD’s Defence Support Transformation Strategy provides useful leverage to engage commercial partners.

2. Share best practice across government and industry

Sharing best practice on contracting with industry across government, in a self-styled sustainability centre of excellence, would help break down departmental silos. Additionally, exposure by MOD personnel to industry best-practice on sustainable operations during training, along with MOD work placements with industry and PAGs, would build trust and understanding to underpin integration.

3. Collaborate on technology solutions

Integrated hubs with public and private sector collaboration on the research and development of sustainable technology solutions would be a realistic, practical step towards mutual benefits for the public and private sector.

4. Harness the Whole Force

Harnessing talent from industry under the Whole Force, by encouraging reserve service, would help share and nurture the insights and niche capabilities in MOD required to meet sustainability goals. Recent success in areas like cyber with recruitment of experts as reservists point the way ahead here.

Creating a new reality for MOD and sustainability

The MOD’s emerging adaptive ways of working provide a good framework for delivering integrated action on sustainability. By learning from COVID-19 responses, building an MDI-like network and focusing on principles of adaptive working, the MOD can build an adaptive approach and the industrial base that will help the UK defence ecosystem meet the greatest challenge of our generation.

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