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More and more local authorities are starting to take action in light of growing concerns about climate change. Mike...
More and more local authorities are starting to take action in light of growing concerns about climate change. Mike Scott reports on what some of the best are doing in four key areas

Cutting Emissions

Kim Williams, carbon reduction manager at North Yorkshire CC, is the first full-time officer dedicated to cutting carbon dioxide emissions at a council.

'Members have been supportive and because of the decision they took, I have had free rein to focus on carbon management, while my counterparts at other authorities often have other jobs as well,' he says.

Since his appointment in April 2005, he has been implementing the Carbon Trust's Local Authority Carbon Management Programme. North Yorkshire is one of 98 councils that have been through the programme.

Mr Williams' first task was to gather together the energy bills from the council's 800-odd premises and set a baseline for energy expenditure, which came to£5m for the year. Then, with Carbon Trust consultants, he looked at where the council could save energy and what techniques it could use.

'I set a target of reducing emissions by 10% by 2010 and then worked out what the financial benefits would be.' This aspect of the programme is very important, Mr Williams says, 'because however much we want to help the planet, we have to show we are providing value for money as well.' He told councillors their energy bill would be£17m by 2010 if no measures were taken, but if his targets were met, the figure would be only£10m.

Among the measures Mr Williams has introduced is a lighting upgrade across the council's premises to T5 lighting, which use half the energy of normal bulbs - important when 30% of the energy used in

offices is taken up by lights. The upgrade will save 2,700 tonnes of CO2 and£780,000 a year, from an initial payout of£675,000. A building insulation programme is expected to save 3,800 tonnes of CO2 a year and save£640,000 a year, from a payout of£1.1m.

The council has switched to green electricity at all sites that use 50KW or more a year, and has installed a Power Perfector voltage optimiser at County Hall in Northallerton, which has cut electricity usage by 14.6%, saving£12,000 a year. The council is responsible for energy use in 390 schools, which account for 60% of the council's total emissions. But, as Mr Williams says, 'schools are not focused on energy - quite rightly, they are focused on education'. To address this, he has managed to obtain funding for a full-time schools carbon reduction officer and hopes to save£900,000 from energy efficiency measures in schools.

Overall, Mr Williams has identified investments of£2.4m which should yield savings of£4m and 20,000 tonnes of CO2.

Boosting renewables

As well as implementing energy efficiency measures and improvements to insulation, lighting and power management, councils also have the resources to provide a boost to the UK's renewables provision.

To that end, the Carbon Trust launched the Partnership for Renewables (PfR) in September, to help public sector bodies that want to develop renewable energy resources. PfR funds the development costs of a given project, with each project being assessed on its own commercial merits. Revenues for a project come from the production of renewable heat and electricity and their associated green certificates across the portfolio.

Nottinghamshire CC is one authority that is looking at options for replacing fossil fuels with other sources. The focus of the effort is schools, where new projects have wood-burning boilers for hot-water heating and a programme is under way to convert coal-fired boilers in existing premises. The council hopes to save 2,500 tonnes of carbon a year this way, while a£500,000 bio-energy grant to convert and install biomass boilers is expected to save another 3,000 tonnes.

'We have also set up a company called Renew to source local wood for the boilers,' says Rob Crowder, sustainability team manager at the council. 'We are concentrating on schools because 70% of our energy use comes from our schools.' The council has installed in schools a number of 5KW wind turbines made by Leicestershire company Iskra, while one school even has a 3KW micro-hydro electric scheme.

The council is awaiting the results of a study examining the opportunities for using council land for

renewables projects, as is Sheffield City Council, which has also already implemented a number of projects. 'We currently have one area that uses district heating being fuelled by woodchip, and another one coming on line this month,' says Mary Lea, the council's cabinet member for a sustainable environment.

Sheffield has a target of 10% renewable energy to be incorporated into new-build projects and a number of premises already use ground-source heating and 'living roofs', which have plants growing on them and have a number of benefits. They retain up to 80% of rainfall during summer and 40% in winter, they reduce energy use by providing better insulation and lower the heat island effect (the urban heat island effect is the difference in temperature between urban areas and the surrounding countryside - up to 5--C) as well as filtering pollutants from the air.

'We have had our environmental excellence strategy go through cabinet recently, which aims to put our own house in order,' says Ms Lea. 'We also actively encourage planning applications with an environmental aspect - we take climate change very seriously.'

Sustainable procuring

When it comes to sustainable procurement, Belinda Miller, head of services, economic and environmental sustainability at Aberdeen City Council, favours 'a carrot-and-stick approach'. As part of the council's four-year-old sustainable procurement policy, the central procurement team bought a series of docu-centres from Xerox. As well as being made from recycled plastics, they were meant to bring huge energy savings by replacing fax machines and printers and reducing paper use.

But because 'everyone was attached to their own 'private' printers on their desks, we are not seeing the savings we expected', so Ms Miller is swinging into action. 'We are taking away the private printers and the IT department is going to change the default settings on everyone's computer so they automatically print double-sided to the document centres,' she says. To further encourage people to change their behaviour, it has carved off a chunk of each department's printing allowance. 'It won't be popular initially, but this tough stance is not necessary with all procurement decisions.

'With most of the changes we have made, such as recycled paper, or the switch to fairtrade and locally sourced food, no one has really noticed,' Ms Miller says.

This is just one example of how the council now assesses the impact of all the services and products it buys. All of the city's street lighting and premises are now powered from renewable sources, for example. The policy has empowered the procurement team, which always felt under a duty to get the lowest cost but now it can take into account other factors, with a council policy to back them up, Ms Miller says. 'We have an important role to play, because we have such a lot of purchasing power - we can help to change behaviour outside the council as well.'

Nor has it led to a huge cost increase.

'If you start at an early enough stage, the costs come back to normal,' says Ms Miller. 'If you try to alter an existing contract, though, the price will rise.'

While it has been a struggle to change the behaviour of 'some who have been in the system for some time, new employees expect it', she adds. 'Over time, it has come to be seen less as a green thing and more as a normal part of our operations.'

Ironically, Aberdeen's role as the centre of the British oil and gas industry has helped its commitment to sustainability policies.

'Aberdeen recognised that it would not be able to rely on oil and gas indefinitely, so we have started looking at how we can leverage all the fantastic engineering experience that we have here - we want to become an energy city rather than an oil and gas city,' says Ms Miller.

Resident responsibility

Although councils can do a great deal to reduce CO2 emissions, a key driver in cutting them is getting residents to change their behaviour. One of the most high-profile examples of this has been Richmond upon Thames LBC's proposal to charge more for parking permits if residents have a more polluting car.

Leader Serge Lourie (Lib Dem) says the controversial proposal was part of a programme of measures to cut emissions in the borough.

'It was a key policy offer of the group that we would aim to become the greenest council in the country, so we are looking at a whole range of areas to reduce emissions, from education and planning to a review of car-parking. This measure is a sensible way to help reduce emissions.'

Under the proposals, which are currently under consultation, those with the lowest emitting vehicles will pay nothing while others will qualify for reductions of up to 50%. There will be a sliding scale for higher emission vehicles, with the highest being charged up to three times what they currently pay for their annual parking permits. The council also plans to charge households an extra 50% for permits on second and subsequent cars - on top of the adjusted payments for emissions.

'Richmond is one of the highest CO2 emitting boroughs in London,' Mr Lourie adds. 'For too long, it has been seen as a problem that only central governments or international organisations could address. But it is important for individuals to take responsibility and take action themselves.

'It is not just about more and less polluting cars - we want people to think about whether they need to make the journey at all, or whether it can be done on foot or by public transport.'

Meanwhile, in Chester, the city council has offered all of its residents free access to a carbon reduction system known as CRed, which has been developed by climate change experts at the University of East Anglia. The system acts as a personal trainer, encouraging and helping users to make pledges to gradually cut their greenhouse gas emissions and highlighting the financial and environmental benefits of their actions.

It also calculates the carbon reduction value of their pledges and gradually tots up the total emissions savings of the entire community. Residents will be able to sign up for CRed and view a special 'going carbon neutral exhibition' at Chester town hall. More detailed work has been undertaken under the direction of one of Chester's parish councils, Ashton Hayes, which aims to become England's first carbon neutral village. Here, the carbon footprints

of about 168 households have been measured with the intention of monitoring them annually.

Championing the reducing carbons cause

Kim Williams, the first council officer dedicated to tackling carbon management, started out as an electrician. He then moved into the semiconductors business before working for an energy analysis company. An Open University course increased his interest and knowledge of the environment.

'When I saw this job advertised, I thought it was just so me - it covered everything I was interested in.

'North Yorkshire trust me to get on with my job without breathing down my neck - I have my brief and they let me get on with it.'

Cutting carbon is important, he says, because burning fossil fuels accelerates climate change. Economically, it matters because the council has to deliver services for residents. 'Our fuel bills have doubled since 2003 and if we do nothing, they will double again by 2010. Not acting to cut our fuel bills reduces our ability to provide services.'

You can make a real difference, says David Miliband

Climate change is a massive issue and it is sometimes difficult to see what we can do to make a difference. But everybody - from government to businesses and individuals - has a role to play and this includes councils who spend billions every year on public services and goods.

If energy efficiency and renewable energy formed a bigger part of these contracts it could have a huge impact on climate change as well as saving individuals money on their energy bills.

The most important thing councils can do is lead by example, whether this be by reducing energy use across their buildings and operations or adopting green travel plans for staff and using small-scale renewable energy - just fitting low energy light bulbs can make a huge difference. They can also demonstrate leadership by encouraging business, the voluntary sector and residents to save energy and use renewable energy.

In September, we announced the Partnership for Renewables programme, run by the Carbon Trust, [page 27] which will help local authorities, hospitals and other public sector bodies develop onsite renewable energy projects in partnership with the private sector.

Climate change is fundamentally an economic and social issue and must be an issue for leaders and chief executives, not just environment portfolio holders. It is also worth remembering that tackling dangerous climate change should be viewed as a driver for economic prosperity, not a block on it.

To help councils identify the steps they need to take, the seven authorities that were awarded beacon status (Cornwall CC, High Peak DC, Leicester City Council, Lewisham LBC, Nottinghamshire CC, Shropshire CC and Woking BC), the IDeA, Defra and the DTI have been working together to produce a draft benchmark and toolkit that draws on their good practice.

This will enable officers to evaluate their performance and provide specific guidance on improvements.

Also, this year (2006-2007) Defra is sponsoring the LGC Sustainable Community Awards which include an award on tackling climate change.

Aimed at authorities that have recently started to engage on climate change, particular recognition will be given to those that have shown local leadership and can demonstrate the benefits to their community. Applications for this year's awards have now closed, but I would encourage every council to take part in future as this is one issue none of us can afford to overlook.

David Miliband Environment secretary

>> For further top tips on how to tackle climate change, visit

>> For more details of all Carbon Trust programmes featured in this issue, visit or call its free advice line 0800 085 2005.

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