That was the overwhelming view of sustainable leaders from UK cities who gathered at an event hosted by the London Borough Sutton to share experiences, strategies and case-studies of best-practice approaches to delivering sustainable cities.

Speaking at the Energising the Sustainable Economy in Cities event was Duncan Booker, the manager of Sustainable Glasgow, a council-led initiative formed in 2010 to make Glasgow a world-leading centre for sustainable policy and innovation.

Glasgow City Council partners with a number of businesses on diverse sustainable projects which provide job creation and green capital growth. Previous initiatives include Green Investment Bank’s (GIB) funding for 10,000 LED street light replacements, and £154m funding for renewable projects such as an energy-from-waste facility which diverts more than 90% residual waste from landfill in the process.

Booker believes that city leadership, in collaboration with the private sector, is a “crucial factor” in delivering sustainable economic progress.

“This for us in terms of green business growth is very much about building inclusive economic growth,” he said. “More jobs mean better paid jobs, a better city, more investment, profits run up for local companies – that’s a virtuous circle.

“To ensure this growth, we work with the Chamber of Commerce to develop a surplus scan of our economies to ensure we can build a circular economy in Glasgow. Crucially, that was with the private sector. It was not initiated by the public sector. Often I find myself in a house of mirrors with other public sector colleagues wondering how to reach out to the private sector. It’s key that SMEs can profit from the green economy.”

City at large

Glasgow recently ranked inside the global top 25 cities for environmental sustainability, alongside Manchester, a British city where local firms have saved more than £100m in energy efficiency through local initiatives.

Manchester Climate Change Agency’s programme director Jonny Sadler spoke at the event, and suggested the business community will play a “critical role” in helping the city achieve a 40% target in CO2 reductions by 2020. Sadler commented that the low-carbon sector is worth about 37,000 jobs and £5.5bn per year in Greater Manchester.

Manchester Council previously invited local businesses to provide advice on a long-term climate change strategy for the area, which culminated in a decision to create a zero-carbon city by 2050. Sadler admits the target is “incredibly challenging”, and concedes he “doesn’t honestly know how it’s going to get there”, but he remains adamant that collaboration through public, private and academic partners will help the City achieve its bold objectives.

“This can’t be the domain of typical policymakers,” he said. “This can’t just be the County Council and the usual suspects working together to solve challenges. This can only be adequately addressed by the city at large coming together, including businesses large and small, residents and communities in order to tackle climate change.

“Our climate change strategy is full of opportunity. It is our role as the council to create challenges and invite the market to deal with challenges. It’s important to invite key players around the table. Climate change is different to other issues as it is an all-pervasive structure, which is why it is crucial to think differently about how to bring change.”

Circular city

Manchester will hope to follow the lead of other UK cities which have advanced the low-carbon transformation through public and private sector collaboration. Nottingham, for instance, recently surpassed its climate change targets four years early, thanks to wide range of organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors working to reduce the city’s environmental impact.

In Swindon, the UK’s first ever council solar bond was launched earlier this year, offering councils and local authorities the chance to raise capital for a 5MW community solar farm. Moreover, Bournemouth’s positive action to tackle climate change has enabled the town to reduce carbon emissions by 32% since 2009, and attracted leading sustainable businesses in the process.

Another pioneering city which has energised a local low-carbon economy is Peterborough, which is striving to create the UK’s first circular city by 2050. The city has undergone a number of initiatives to help it achieve the vision, such as Share Peterborough, a B2B platform which enables local organisations to maximise the use of resources by exchanging goods and services that are under-utilised or no longer needed.

The local council has also forged strong partnerships with organisations in businesses across the country. For instance, a collaborative pilot initiative with leading contractor Skanska, the Environment Agency, Highways England and construction firm Aecom is set to result in the UK’s first circular highway.  

Future Peterborough Officer Emma McKenna, who also spoke at the event, explained that joint circular-thinking forms part of the city’s aspiration to create the UK’s environment capital.

“The idea for creating a sustainable city stemmed from our work with businesses looking at how they could become more sustainable in every aspect,” she said. “It was very much something we thought would be a good way to tackle the challenges they were putting forward.

“We are dedicated to creating the UK’s first truly circular city, in line with our aspirations to create the UK’s environment capital. Such a vision is inherently collaborative and needs a bottom-up approach to be owned by each group of stakeholder within the city.” 

George Ogleby

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