Growing Sustainably – The Elephant in the Room

The ‘Growing Sustainably‘ Cabinet report bound for the Sheffield City Council later this week (15th March) is now available online. It’s the Council’s response to the multi-agency, Council co-ordinated Green Commission which started in May 2014 under Councillor Jack Scott (the then Cabinet Lead) and taken on by Cllr Jayne Dunn subsequently. The Council’s response is prepared for a third Councillor, Cllr Mazher Iqbal.

The Council’s Cabinet report states that “We [Sheffield City Council] understand the vital contribution the Council can make in creating a sustainable future, and by identifying our five priority themes are providing a bold message of our commitment to take this forward.”

Since the Commission began the Council has seen a significant loss of staff with expertise in this area. Those responsible for previous (and similar) strategies have long since left the Council either because of ‘austerity’ or out of sheer frustration at the lack of commitment shown to this agenda since 2012. The Green Commission was, I believe, a sensible way of engaging a wider group of key stakeholders in the city. There are some talented and experienced individuals who contributed to the Commission. However, several have moved on and cut their ties with the city since the Commission reported. Two key partners, Veolia and Amey, appear to be at odds with either the public or the Council, or both at the time of writing.

I have written several Cabinet and Scrutiny reports, including in 2005 a 2 hour session at Full Council on climate change. Writing reports is the easy bit in many respects although the process is often tortuous and subject to the editing, cutting, pasting and redaction of anything that smacks of ambition. This report follows reports I have drafted and delivered on with limited resources, but the resources available to SCC now are less than they have ever been.

The report clearly states:

“There are no immediate direct financial or commercial implications arising out of this policy report as it does not propose to incur cost in respect of specific actions to realise the objectives of the Green Commission. In order to realise some of the city’s ambitions, specific actions will be required and the expenditure associated with these will be brought forward for approval under the Council’s existing Revenue and Capital Budget procedures. This may require the reprioritisation of expenditure as there is currently no budgetary provision for these activities.

So, in truth, this report sets out 5 key priorities (which align well with the previous Environment Excellence strategies), says they are important to a growing Sheffield faced with a changing climate, worsening air quality, reduced public transport patronage and increased carbon emissions. Except this time round there are no officers to deliver it and no budget. I applaud the Council for being prepared to re-state it’s commitment to this agenda but without staff to co-ordinate it or a budget to deliver it, I am afraid this is simply will not deliver the benefits to our city’s economy, health and wellbeing.

 

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Reflecting on 3 Years: Good Progress and Higher Impact.

It’s been three years since I took up post here at The University of Nottingham as Director of Sustainability. Three years in is a good time to reflect on what’s changed, what’s been achieved and what’s still left to do.

What struck me immediately was the sheer scale of the organisation. Spread across three main teaching campuses, but also operating out of Nottingham’s City Hospital and Queen’s Medical Centre, Derby and the King’s Meadow Campus, home of Bullseye, Supermarket Sweep and The Price is Right in a former life as Carlton TV studios.

So, in that 3 year period, what has changed? The Sustainability Directorate has led, supported and cajoled our closest and not so close colleagues to adopt ever more sustainable practices and we’ve achieved quite a bit through quiet revolution and ramping up of activity.

The things we did before I arrived have been stepped up and we’re recognising that where we can’t deliver ourselves we can create opportunity for others to do so. My favourite example of this being our partnership with Enactus Nottingham in delivering our cycle hire scheme. 18 months ago, as the funding from the local authority dried up we had to do things differently and we needed entrepreneurial, customer-focused enthusiasm and energy. We gifted Enactus the assets of 300 or so cycles and created a dedicated facility for them to operate from and the scheme has gone from strength to strength. The scheme now operates closer to where our students are and is run by their peers.

Alongside UCycle, we’ve supported Enactus’ Re-covered project giving them a warehouse/ showroom and providing them with furniture for refurbishment and re-sale that means those with the greatest need in Nottingham have access to affordable furniture that turns a house in to a home.

Both projects have a fantastic impact on the local community, student experience and support the University’s strategic objectives of promoting employability skills in our students. Not only did Enactus Nottingham win the finals of the Enactus Nationals in 2016, they went on to the semi-final of the Enactus World Cup this August when representing the UK in Toronto. Inspiring stuff from them made in Nottingham.

External recognition is helpful and it’s always nice to be recognised for what you’ve achieved. In 2014 the University’s massive open online course, or MOOC, ‘Sustainability, Society and You’ was highly commended at the Green Gown Awards held in the stunning Whitworth Hall in Manchester. In 2015 we were Highly Commended for our work on Carbon Management and a finalist for our famous Creative Energy Homes as well as Highly Commended for our innovative helium recycling scheme. Enactus Nottingham impressed the judges in 2015 with their wonderful work in the enterprise and employability category and this year’s awards brought around our first ever student-award, with Andy Stride, Enactus President winning the Student Sustainability Champion Award whilst we picked up final placings for the creation of our Diamond Wood in the Community Category and for our work on transport and sustainable mobility in the continuous improvement category.

The University is renowned for its attractive campuses worldwide and it’s something that is cherished by the University. Both University Park and Jubilee campus have retained their Green Flag status and the University has been a key component of the Nottingham in bloom success.

We have seen significant improvements to the campus environment and the beginnings of realising our ambition to develop University Park into an arboretum of national importance. Following the creation of the Trent Parterre in 2014, in 2016 a new centre piece Theatre Garden was opened between the Trent Building and Hallward Library adjacent to the walled garden. This project has created an inspiring and useable space for outdoor performance and socialising and has significantly enhanced the external environment of the centre of Campus. Similarly the central landscape enhancements at Sutton Bonington have created a central boulevard of both hard and soft landscaping that enhances the centre of campus creating a social space that is used for events such as the award winning farmer’s market held monthly on the campus.

In addition to the Theatre Garden, numerous projects have been completed over the last year that enhance the environment of the University including:

  • A fitness trail at University Parkimg_20150910_102820
  • A trim trail at Sutton Bonington Diamond Wood
  • Working with the conservation society on habitat clearance works
  • Landscaping works along the newly opened tram line
  • Enhancements to the Science and Engineering areas of the campus

Nottingham, officially Home of Sport has seen both the city and the University invest in new facilities. We’ve invested both in terms of indoor facilities and external playing surfaces. I was delighted when we picked up our first prestigious award from the Institute of Groundsmanship for the management of our artificial surfaces at the University.

We’ve promoted our wonderful campuses with the production of two wildlife calendars in both 2016 and 2017, with photographs taken by talented members of staff from across the University. The profits from these go to the University’s Impact campaign raising millions of pounds to support medical research in childhood cancers, dementia and other health related disciplines. The University’s commitment to fundraising through its ongoing and annual endurance cycle rides is undiminished and personally led by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir David Greenaway.

Over the past three years the capital programme of the University has been without precedent. Last year alone we invested around £100m in the completion of the George Green Library development, enhancements to the chemistry façade and windows, the completion of the David Ross Sports Village, the opening of the Ingenuity Centre, Jubilee Campus and the completion of Barn at Sutton Bonington.

IMG_3318Perhaps, of all the buildings we have created in the past three years, the one closest to my heart has been the The GlaxoSmithKline Centre for Sustainable Chemistry. It’s a stunning building, unique in so many ways and, in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), The University set about delivering a carbon neutral laboratory building. In order for the carbon neutral concept to be achieved the building needed to make no overall contribution to greenhouse gases or the acceleration of climate change throughout the entire carbon footprint of the design, from offsite procurement, site construction, occupation and to eventual demolition.

The building has been constructed to achieve both LEED ‘Platinum’ and BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ status, as a result of which high standards of construction and site management must be achieved. Throughout every stage of the project, from its inception to completion, great care was taken to minimize the impact of the building on its environment (both in the local and wider contexts).

The energy supply for the building is met from over 1000m2 of photo-voltaic panels to provide energy for running the building during its operational life. img_3325A Combined Heat and Power (CHP) engine has also been installed to operate on low-carbon fuel (fish oil) to heat the laboratory building and the nearby Romax and Ingenuity buildings. The building is a naturally ventilated laboratory and is seen as a landmark development and the first of its kind.

The University’s carbon management plan (CMP) was refreshed in 2015/16 and includes targets for reductions in emissions of CO2 from energy consumption.  It identifies the principal areas of energy use and our investment programmes to improve energy efficiency, reduce consumption and generate energy from lower carbon and renewable energy sources.

In 2015/16 our Scope 1 and 2[1] carbon dioxide emissions have shown an absolute reduction of 9% (5,312t) from 2014/15 and down 15,714 t from 2009/10 baseline of 67,998 t CO2. In the programme’s sixth year The University made its biggest annual investment to date with £4.4m in projects across all areas of the CMP. This included our single biggest project (Sutton Bonington CHP and district heating scheme) with predicted annual savings totalling £400k and 1,616 tonnes of CO2.  Since 2010 our CMP has invested in excess of £15.2m, with estimated annual savings in the region of 12,673 tonnes of CO2.

Over the past year investments have continued to focus on energy and carbon intensive buildings and processes across our campuses. These have covered a range of areas, including boilers and chillers upgrades and replacement, lighting upgrades and the continuation of insulation and double glazing projects along with energy saving fume cupboard upgrades. Targeted action at the Medical School continues with projects to replace the large centralised chilled water production which achieved carbon reductions this summer of 460t CO2.

With the investment in energy efficient equipment and subsequent investment in CHP the University was able, for the first time in recorded history, reduce its consumption of grid-delivered electricity by just over 3%.

p1020959Since the publication of the first CMP in 2010 the University has continued to grow in size and the carbon associated with the University’s development exceeded its projected additional carbon of 3,000 tonnes by the end of 2012. This trend has continued though to 2016 and can be explained by the impact of increased activity especially in areas of energy intensive research.

The University’s challenge of feeding over 30,000 students every day is not a small one. We’re working hard to do that ever more sustainably and the development of our sustainable food policy and strategy in 2016 was a step up in our commitments.

We continue to see our overall landfill diversion rates increase with more than 99% of the total waste generated through our main waste contract being diverted from landfill, with just under 40% of that waste segregated at source through our comprehensive bin provision for recyclable material and food waste.  Further recovery and recycling by the waste contractor ensures that a very small amount of waste, around 8 tonnes out of total of 3,100 tonnes in 2015/16, is sent to landfill, resulting in a very low carbon waste disposal process.

We have seen a continued year-on-year increase in the amount of food waste that is being diverted from general waste to dedicated food waste collection, which not only cleans up the general waste but also allows the waste to be processed and its energy recovered via anaerobic digestion thereby creating usable energy. We have continued to roll out more on-street and internal recycling infrastructure to further enhance the opportunities for the University community to recycle. It hasn’t all been about recycling and recovery, we have been working with suppliers to reduce waste associated with products and goods we receive and also reuse more items.  Our on line waste exchange facility continues to attract more and more users and now has over 300 active members.

Significant research around alternative fuels is on-going throughout the University with one of the first hydrogen refuelling stations in the UK in operation on the Jubilee Campus.  Electric Estates Vans 07-2015 (6)Over the last year the University welcomed nine electric vehicles to its fleet. These vehicles used by the Estates office and catering teams on a daily basis and have many benefits over vehicles which run on fossil fuels like petrol and diesel including: zero CO2 emissions at the tailpipe resulting in cleaner air and cutting the University’s carbon emissions. They’re cost-effective and quiet running, reducing noise pollution. This is just one example of how we’re promoting sustainable transport alongside the wider provision of extensive cycling infrastructure, public transport (including the tram network now serving the Medical School, University Park and Highfields Sports Ground).

In the coming months, we’ll be working with the City of Nottingham’s Go Ultra Low programme to further develop our electric vehicle charging infrastructure whilst continuing to research and develop prototype hydrogen fuels for both vehicles and buildings.

In fact, The University is working with the City on a number of fronts, including the exciting Trent Basin housing development and the creation of a smart city vision drawing on the University’s expertise in data, energy and transport and the City’s political commitment to sustainable travel, low energy homes and innovation.

Looking back over the three years I have been delighted to see us develop a rigorous, targeted and evidence-based approach to reducing our negative impacts. We’ve identified those high carbon buildings and worked hard to reduce their emissions through investment in energy efficiency and on-site generation.

We’ve continued to be ambitious in our construction programme, not least in the creation of the carbon neutral laboratory and look out for the Passivhaus designs for our next Research Acceleration and Demonstration (RAD) Building on the Jubilee Campus. We’re re-shaping the landscape at University Park with the creation of a wonderful new amphitheatre north of the Portland Building and the creation, over time, of an arboretum across the campus.

Whilst other sectors have been tasked with downsizing the university sector has been given the opportunity to grow, to innovate and to develop and to be part of that is an exciting thing.

You can read more about the University’s sustainability programme at www.nottingham.ac.uk/sustainability

[1] Scope 1 combustion of Natural Gas. Scope 2 ‘Grid’ supplied Electricity consumption

‘Significant opportunities’ for low-carbon cities

Switching to a low-carbon economy offers cities ‘significant economic opportunities’, an assessment says. Low-carbon markets was worth US $33bn (£26bn) to London’s economy, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) says in its latest report. The report, It takes a city: the case for collaborative climate action, added that the cities spread over 89 nations had identified more than 1,000 economic opportunities linked to climate change. Almost 300 cities featured in the report were also developing new business industries, such as clean technology.
Source: http://environmentjournal.online/articles/significant-opportunities-for-low-carbon-cities/

The secrets of Nottingham’s sustainability success

This blog was written for the Environment Journal in August 2016. 
You can read it here.

Nottingham is earning a reputation for being a city with sustainability at its heart. So what makes it different to the other core cities in the UK?

Newly published government data shows that since 2011-12 there has been a significant fall in the city’s carbon emissions due to a reduction in domestic energy use. It indicates a 33% reduction in carbon emissions since 2005, beating a target set by Nottingham City Council to reach a 26% reduction by 2020.

Councillor Alan Clark, portfolio holder for energy and sustainability, said of the news: ‘It’s a great achievement to have met this important target four years early. Nottingham is at the forefront of sustainability awareness and these latest figures maintain the city’s position as the UK’s most energy self-sufficient city.’

Without doubt, there is political commitment to the agenda in the city where Robin Hood Energy has become a pioneering and leading, if small, player in the domestic electricity and gas markets and has fast gained a reputation for value for money, as shown by a recent Which? report. Borne out of the council’s quest to tackle fuel poverty, it’s a not-for-profit success.

But providing cheaper fuel on its own doesn’t reduce carbon emissions. It’s investment in low carbon alternatives and improving building stock that’s achieving that.

It’s no coincidence that Nottingham’s carbon emissions reduction coincides with its programme of ‘energy saving investments in social housing such as external wall insulation programmes which have also been open to private owners and the installation of solar panels on over 4,000 of council house roof tops’, said Clark.

But here’s the real insight – Nottingham has been prepared to acknowledge that carbon reduction goes hand-in-hand with economic success. You won’t hear people in the city saying ‘we can’t do that it will scare off developers or investors’. Quite the opposite, it’s attracting the sort of businesses who want to be part of this responsible growth. Its confident approach follows from investment in human capital as well with a number of experienced and respected officers joining the council to lead the agenda and support its cabinet’s ambitions.

Councillor Nick McDonald, portfolio holder for business, growth and transport said: ‘A significant part of this reduction – around 13% – is due to the popularity of public transport, cycling and walking in Nottingham. We have Europe’s largest fleet of electric buses, the addition of the new Chilwell and Clifton tram routes and £6.1m invested in improving cycling routes to provide great alternatives to using cars to get around the city.’

It’s also galvanising the efforts of long-standing businesses in the city, like Boots and its two universities – both of which are considered to be amongst the most committed and highest performing universities in terms of sustainability.

The University of Nottingham has been placed first in the University of Indonesia’s Green Metric for the past three years and has never been out of the top two places since its inception. Nottingham Trent University consistently performs well in the index and, with a combined total of students well over 60,000, that’s a good proportion of the city covered.

Nottingham’s political commitment and clear strategy have brought confidence and a long-term approach that has enabled the city to invest its own money wisely as well as attract government funded programmes like Go Ultra Low.

The city council, together with Nottinghamshire County Council and Derby City Council, are among the UK’s exemplar Go Ultra Low Cities, implementing a wide range of new initiatives to make electric vehicles and sustainable transport more accessible. This is also embedded in the recent Metro Strategy for Nottingham and Derby recently put out for consultation.
At the same time, more than 50 gas-powered buses are heading to the streets of Nottingham after a successful bid for government funding was confirmed to augment the 50+-strong fleet of electric buses in the city.
Nottingham City Transport, in partnership with the council, has been awarded funding under the government’s OLEV Low emission bus scheme, meaning £4.4m has been awarded to buy 53 bio-methane fuelled double deckers and to install the fuelling infrastructure at its Parliament Street garage. The city council was also successful in its bid for £920,000, which will fund on-street rapid charging infrastructure, improving the range and flexibility of the council’s electric bus fleet – currently the largest in the UK and Europe. This funding will also be used to construct the charging base for the 13 new electric buses which are shortly to arrive in Nottingham.
The new gas double decker buses will be quieter, smoother and cleaner and will ultimately provide an estimated carbon emission saving to the city of 23,204,856 kilograms over the lifetime of the vehicles compared to conventional diesel buses.
Councillor Nick McDonald, portfolio holder for business, growth and transport, said successful bids like this are ‘enabling Nottingham to become a centre for low carbon, future-proofed transport, shaping our future as the UK’s greenest transport city with environmentally positive transport’.
He believes it will have a knock-on effect on the local economy and skills base, providing local opportunities to develop local pathways into employment, with bus companies also offering apprenticeships and work experience connected directly to this new technology.

The city is already making waves towards becoming a trailblazer Low Emission City through:

  • Europe’s largest battery electric bus fleet with 45 fully battery electric buses in operation on our Linkbus network and 13 more electric buses on order
  • Expansion of the electric NET tram system to three lines spanning 34km
  • Inclusion of ULEVs as part of the council’s current fleet makeup
  • Electric vehicles operating in our growing car club
  • Electric vehicle charging infrastructure already in place at key Park and Ride services, workplaces and destinations
  • Two local private hire companies operating six full electric and 150 hybrid vehicles
  • Only Go Ultra Low shortlisted city to be awarded Lighthouse City status by EU. Funding secured for REMO Urban project for smart low carbon transport, energy and ICT projects
  • Local commitment to the electrification of the Midland Mainline
  • Local Authority owned, Robin Hood Energy and Enviroenergy generating and supplying local sustainable power for residents, businesses and transport
  • The council has prepared a prospectus highlighting the key investment areas which will help to support Nottingham’s ambition for becoming a low emission city.

All of this is impressive. The city, led in the main by the council, has made the low carbon agenda a priority. It makes good business sense to reduce its own consumption and bills, to reduce fuel poverty and create an environment that business can buy-in to and support. While other provincial core cities have downsized their capabilities, Nottingham has invested and is clearly reaping the rewards in the triple bottom line. Reduced costs, happier citizens, better business.

Derby/Nottingham Metro Strategy – Out for Consultation

Derby and Nottingham haven’t always been so prepared to work together. As cities, they have a reputation as rivals not collaborators. This manifests itself when the respective city’s teams play each other in football and in cricket but it’s also been felt to be an uneasy relationship between the leaders of both cities – both competing against each other for ever diminishing funding and investment opportunities.

That all appears to be coming to an end though. Whilst the football rivalries will no doubt be as strong as ever, the leaders of both cities have made a significant step in developing a shared ‘metro strategy’ that fundamentally recognises that the two cities can thrive together rather than strive apart. The publication of the first Metro Strategy, now out for consultation, invites comment and input from citizens, community groups and businesses and will, no doubt, further strengthen the offer the Local Enterprise Partnership, D2N2 presents. It shows ambition, acknowledges the challenges and isn’t ducking any issues. Skills, connectivity, economic growth and an a commitment to improving the environment sit together well in a coherent strategy.

This first draft of our Metropolitan Strategy Action Plan outlines what we want to work on together over the next three years. It is based on the four themes of our Vision: Enterprise, Talent, Connectivity and City Living. As well as identifying areas for immediate collaboration, it lays the foundations for our longer term ambitions by exploring areas where a joint approach might bring longer term benefits.

 

The commitment to creating a ‘smart’ approach to urban living is welcomed. It is, in my view, the only way we will reduce the inefficiencies and increase the integration of systems – energy, water, waste, transport, data, good and services, etc.By committing to the value of information technologies to achieve this Nottingham and Derby can catch up on the cities that have taken the pacemaker’s role such as Bristol, Manchester and London.

Whilst many cities seem incapable of committing to a low carbon agenda for fear of scaring businesses, my own home city of Sheffield included, I was particularly pleased to see real commitment to reducing carbon emissions (something Nottingham has made significant commitments toward in achieving its 2020 target 4 years early) and for tackling poor air quality. With 40,000 commuters moving between the two cities on a regular basis there is a fantastic opportunity to create a low emission east-west corridor between the two cities linking into the Toton HS2 site through improved rail and tram services as well as further investment in electric and biomethane/biogas technologies to support low emission private vehicles too.

If I have one criticism of the document, it’s that, on the whole, it sees almost all of the key actions residing with either one of the city councils. If this strategy is to be delivered effectively it will require the commitment of the biggest and smallest stakeholders in the Derby/Nottingham conurbation. There is clearly a significant opportunity for all three of the universities to play a lead role in committing their buying power and operational scale to this agenda. More importantly, they have a significant intellectual contribution to make in shaping the metro strategy’s commitments to creating a climate resilient, blue-green space plan as well as supporting the challenging agenda to upskill and ensure opportunities for learning.

The strategy and action plan are here: http://www.derby.gov.uk/media/derbycitycouncil/contentassets/documents/consultationpapers/consultationdocuments/metro-strategy-action-plan.pdf

Mitigating the impact of Shanghai’s rapid growth – Environment Journal

My blog re-blogged from the EJ – It’s one of the world’s largest cities and can amaze and appall in equal measure. But there are signs Shanghai has environmental ambitions to match its economic goals.

 

Source: Mitigating the impact of Shanghai’s rapid growth – Environment Journal

MPs call for councils to have power to create clean air zones

MPs in the UK are finally coming to terms with the need to address air quality in our towns and cities. They ask that clean air zones should be introduced in UK cities to tackle the problems caused by air pollution, according to a new report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee.

The new report warned that air pollution is a “public health emergency”, linked to the early deaths of 40,000–50,000 people every year from cardiac, respiratory and other diseases, as well as harming the environment and agriculture.

It also found European Union limits on nitrogen dioxide pollution were breached in 38 out of 43 UK areas.

It’s all well and good for this call to come but it’s not going to be the UK Government, nor its MPs who set the policy or invest in the infrastructure needed. It will be the local councils, the Metropolitan authorities and city councils who will be tasked with that.

I blogged on this almost three years ago (see here) “here is no one solution – it will be a combination of many, many interventions. Every city taking this issue seriously will be looking at a range of options to tackle this problem – and some are easier to introduce than others. To inform those choices, it is important to understand in fine detail the sources of your air quality problem”.

These local authorities, at a time when money is short to invest and when they are wholly reliant on income from, for example, car parking charges, will be required to introduce policies which many of their electorate will find unpopular – such as restricting diesel vehicles in areas where pollution is already high. This might include taxis (wait for the Uber-lobby), buses (wait for the public transport lobby), trucks (wait for the Chambers and Business ‘leaders’ lobby) and, of course, the electorate to vote accordingly.

Interesting timing then, that this should be put on the table now, one week from local elections. How many people will choose who they vote for based on their commitment to improved air quality? Well, in London, Khan, Goldsmith et al are being pushed on it so it’s only a matter of time before other cities such as Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Bristol, Sheffield all face it becoming a manifesto challenge.

For years local politicians have called for the Government to take the policy lead on this. If they do there will be nowhere to hide for local councillors and they will have no more excuses to put off measures that will see local air quality improve.

You can read my thoughts of some three years back (https://aardvarknoseface.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/sustainable-cities-need-low-emission-vehicles/). In summary though, local authorities have got to redress the balance between walking, cycling and the car. Investment in public transport (and not dirty 25 year old diesel buses) and infrastructure for refuelling low emission engines (preferably electric, gas and hydrogen) with the right policy incentives is absolutely central to this debate.

Who wouldn’t vote for a cleaner, pedestrian/cyclist friendly city centre afterall?

Source: