Businesses ‘Go Green’ in Bristol’s year as European Green Capital

Bristol's year as European Green Capital has recently seen the launch of Go Green, a major initiative to bring about positive change for Bristol's business community. Here, Go Green project co-directors Amy Robinson and Nina Skubala explain how the year will provide a platform for those who want to share their experiences, as well as giving help and support to others trying it for the first time.

Bristol has long been home to ‘green’ businesses and organisations with DNVGL, Sustrans, the Environment Agency, Triodos Bank and the Soil Association all headquartered here, but what really makes this city stand out is that so many other businesses and organisations, from all sectors, identify themselves as being ‘green’ – as illustrated by the business membership of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, which has jumped from 300 to 800 in just 12 months.

This is just one of the many reasons Bristol is the first city in the UK to become European Green Capital.

Why Bristol won

The European Green Capital Award was launched in 2010 by The European Commission to promote and reward the efforts of cities and their local authorities to improve the environment. Nominated cities face stiff competition from all over Europe and Bristol is the first ever UK city to win the award.

With its high concentration of independent shops, local currency, city farms, extensive parkland and waterways, Bristol has long been a pioneer in sustainable city living. The city has over 9,000 people employed in its low carbon economy, one of the lowest carbon emissions of the major UK cities and around 50,000 residents already involved in green activities.

This long heritage in environmental thinking and action was fundamental in the success of the city’s bid, as was the willingness to seek out new ideas, and Bristol’s ambitious plans for the future. However, Bristol’s unique spirit was also singled out by the European Commission – as one of the judges said: “The award of European Green Capital 2015 goes to the city with the sense of fun.”

Go Green, a partnership between Business West and Low Carbon South West, is a key part of the 2015 European Green Capital Programme. It is helping businesses do their bit to make the Bristol city region become healthier, more competitive and more sustainable. We wanted to create a programme that would celebrate the success of Bristol’s greenest companies, but also encourage and enable many more to seize this opportunity to become greener, save money and find new customers.

We designed Go Green to help businesses of all sizes and types, irrespective of how ‘green’ they already are. And we’re looking to ensure that every business in the region has the chance to benefit from the awareness created by the European Green Capital award. Our aim is to make it more straightforward for businesses to take those first vital steps towards making a positive impact on the city and gain recognition for their efforts and achievements.

But crucially, this is not just about energy efficiency – the project looks at a wide range of issues, from sourcing policies, to business planning, to staff welfare. It’s about working with businesses and guiding them to a wealth of advice that will help them to make them more sustainable, more resilient and more prosperous.

Driving change

The key to the programme is how it interacts with the region’s existing network of organisations and businesses, whose achievements to date have cemented Bristol’s reputation as a sustainable city.

The strength of this scheme is that it has been designed to tie together all of the great assets we already have, promoting green growth in not-for-profits and businesses alike. The Go Green online tool works by signposting each participant to the organisations, projects, companies and funding bodies that are most useful to them. This means it is geographically relevant and that we can also keep it current by adding new opportunities whenever we find them.

In addition to the online tool, we are running a programme of Go Green events including seminars, workshops and behind the scenes tours of Bristol’s most sustainable buildings. These events cover the whole spectrum of subjects covered by the scheme, divided up into: Sustainable Sourcing, Planning & Resilience, Happy & Healthy, Travel & Transport and Energy & Efficiency. This enables businesses to think about a whole range of things they can do to improve, and start with the ones that matter most to them.

Focused approach

There are three stages of involvement for any organisation taking part:

Say It – making a statement that your business is committed to becoming greener and more sustainable.

Do It – identifying what your business can do to improve, and taking action. 

Prove It – demonstrating the changes that have been accomplished, and the efforts that are being made to share the experience with others.

The practical focus of Go Green has already helped us create a real impact and resonate with a wide range of businesses. Our launch was attended by 400 delegates representing 300 businesses and organisations across the region and the take up of the scheme has also been impressive , with over 130 businesses creating action plans in the first month. Organisations as diverse as banks, colleges and estate agents have found the tool beneficial when looking to implement sustainable projects within their organisations and connect with local initiatives.

Bristol Airport case study

A great example of one organisation that’s really got behind Go Green is Bristol Airport. The Airport is committed to controlling the adverse effects of its operations and minimising the impact on the environment and the local community and has done a range of innovative things that capture the imagination such as re-using aircraft parts in their buildings and creating a bat hotel.

It has also acquired a new electric vehicle for use by its in-house Information Technology team and implemented a suite of energy saving measures including LED lighting to illuminate Bristol Airport’s logo, chiller replacements, numerous energy awareness campaigns and more efficient air conditioning systems to name but a few.

The initiatives Bristol Airport has put in place have made a reduction in its electricity consumption from 12,750,000kWh to 11,850,000kWh in just two years between 2012 to 2014.

Looking forward…

The popularity of our launch event is testament to the demand that exists in the forward-thinking businesses of the region who know that their future success depends on building a greener, more resilient business community, fit for the changing times in which we now live.

Our aim is to engage with over local 1,000 businesses during the European Green Capital Year and we see a real opportunity for this model to be adopted by other cities in the UK and further afield.

Amy Robinson and Nina Skubala are the project co-directors of Go Green.

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