The Bournemouth Identity: Building a green business hub on the south coast

Climate change may be consuming shores and islands at a faster rate than ever before, but nestled on the southern coastline of the UK, Bournemouth Council has extended its climate change strategy beyond just delivering local efficiency improvements through to a long-term vision to become the nation's green economy leader.

Surrounded by picturesque beaches, community gardens, the New Forest and the Jurassic Coast, it is fair to say that Bournemouth relies on its immediate environment to be a successful tourist attraction.

Tourism is a central factor in Bournemouth’s economy, providing more than £500m annually. But at a time when evenWorld Heritage Sites – including the Jurassic Coast – are at risk from climate change, the town’s Council has pushed the sustainability agenda towards the private sector as a platform for the area to thrive as a green economy – as well as protecting the diverse surroundings.

The Council originally introduced its climate strategy back in 2001, but as the severity of climate risks grows, so does the response. Now benchmarking against 2008/09, a quick flick through the Council’s recently published ‘Green Credentials Report’ reveals that carbon emissions have fallen by 32%.

The Council’s in-house electricity consumption has decreased from 19,037MWh in 2008/09 to 11,734MWh in 2014/15. An impressive feat, but energy management won’t attract tourists or business.

However, the Council has been slowly implementing a new strategy that reaches far beyond its council buildings. Taking inspiration from cities such as Vancouver, Stockholm and Copenhagen, Bournemouth recently announced a plan to position itself at the vanguard of environmental protection; a wholesale economic transformation to attract businesses, talent and investment.

Green Economy Leaders

The aforementioned European cities have been defined as ‘Green Economy Leaders’ by the London School of Economics, due to their abilities to compact urban form, innovation, skills and employment into a radical carbon reduction and environmental enhancement plan.

For Copenhagen, the title of Green Economy Leader looks set ignite a population boom, with more than 100,000 people expected to migrate to the city by 2025. The Danish capital clearly has confidence in its ability to drive forward the low-carbon agenda, aiming to become the world’s first carbon-neutral city in that same timeframe.

Bournemouth may not be ranked alongside these cities yet, but it has been identified as the fifth-fastest growing area for jobs in the UK over the past 10 years by Centre for Cities. Global accounting and consulting firm Grant Thornton claimed that the region would be placed in the top 10 areas from an economic and talent growth view point back in 2014. The Council is eager to capitalise on this growth. Bournemouth will have an average age of 34 for the next 20 years, and for the Council’s head of economic development and sustainability Chris Shephard, these generational individuals can catalyse green economic growth in the area.

“We see it anecdotally time and time again,” Shephard tells edie. “People move from London, but also from across the world. We have a very diverse culture and community here. It is early days as far as the is message goes but it’s resonating, which is helping business grow and develop. Industry is recognising Bournemouth as a place for growth.

“It’s about identifying the right environment and talent. Businesses are crying out for the right talent in England, the need to get hands on great talent is a real driver for businesses right now and people want to work in nice areas with sustainability credentials.

“We’ve got the area but we don’t make the most of it. We’re trying to send the message that we can improve talent attraction and retention and hopefully attract people to this beautiful part of the world, with a high quality of life by the sea in an affordable place.

“We’re doing everything possible to attract the best people in the hope that it makes business flourish.”

In order to do so, the Council has utilised the expertise and the influence of the private sector through its Sustainable Business Leadership Group (SBLG) – which pulls members such as Kiteleys Solicitors, Bournemouth Water, Organix, the NHS and Bournemouth University together to accelerate a low-carbon transition in the area.

The Group is designed to align strategies, plans and resources across the public and private sector, and was introduced after the Council realised that leading cities were using local authorities to facilitate the green business movement by letting businesses interact and set the course. The members of the Group will frequently come together to share best practice in order to enable green growth. Through the SBLG, Bournemouth hospital was named as one of the first NHS Trusts in the country to be awarded with a green flag procedure for maintaining its green spaces to the highest possible standard.

Bournemouth University

All of the businesses are proving invaluable to the SBLG, but Shephard believes that Bournemouth University is acting as a cornerstone in the town’s climate ambitions.

“The University is a leader – perhaps more so than us – but together we make a powerful team with businesses as well, which we see every couple of months,” Shephard adds. “We want to share best practice and put Bournemouth into the conversation where people can do this kind of stuff and looking into detail as to how businesses can help each other out through standards and supply chain commitments. It’s proven to be quite useful so far.

“These days, universities have to compete for students so having the right surrounding environment is key. New buildings are fantastic and the subjects that they specialise in are part of the message and the Uni’s are part of the DNA here – which we can benefit from.”

The Council has directly benefitted from the University, which is increasingly gearing its teaching towards sustainability. As well as offering a Green Economy Masters Course, the University has also provided research and resources to the Dorset Local Natural Partnership – including two reports as to how the environment has helped the local economy and why natural capital should be built into business decision making.

The University has just installed a new 95KWp solar system on a new £22m “fusion building” which opened in June 2016. The array will provide the University with more than 100,000kWh of electricity annually.

Two of Shephard’s team have graduated from the Masters course, while others from the university are currently volunteering to aid the council with its Sustainable Food Cities initiative – a partnership to connect sustainable food producers with local businesses and communities. With Bournemouth Council’s sustainability team latched onto the economic development team, it is easy to see why they are so keen to drive the sustainability agenda to businesses around them.

The Council has since introduced a 34% carbon reduction target for the town for 2020, which Shephard claims it is on track to meet. For internal operations, the Council will strive for a 30% reduction. Shephard claims that these targets were influenced by European Union reduction targets and the aims of the Paris Agreement.

The Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport, Sustainability and Carbon Management, Mike Greene, has previously told of his desire to “ensuring visibility of Bournemouth’s positive action in the global effort to tackle climate change and so enabling the town to attract, retain and develop leading green and sustainable businesses with world class talent”.

Climate compliance

This visibility has been heightened further through the Council’s involvement with the Compact of Mayors – a global coalition of city leaders dedicated to making their cities more resilient to climate change, with around 400 areas signed up to the initiative. It has since been fused with the EU’s Covenant of Mayors.

Bournemouth is a member of the initiative and is currently undergoing the final stages – including sending off a final submission to CDP – to acquire the fourth and final badge in 2017. This would see Bournemouth become one of the first cities in the UK to reach full compliance. Bournemouth was one of the first “key” cities globally – of which there are 22 in total – to be involved with the Compact.

By comparison, Rio de Janeiro became the first city to reach full compliance with the Compact of Mayors in August, and has a population of 6.5 million compared to the near 200,000 of Bournemouth. With global cities involving themselves in the sustainability movement, Bournemouth can carve out their own niche in the market alongside some heavyweights.

While Shephard notes that Bournemouth is yet to make plans to talk with the London School of Economics and actually be accredited as a ‘Green Economy Leader’ by the School (he cites the financial costs involved), he does note that aspiring to levels of cities in that bracket will introduce the holistic benefits that the Council is seeking.

“We want to be seen in this club and seen internationally, so we need to benchmark ourselves against the best,” Shephard adds. “Being a sustainable organisation is business as usual for the Council. We are working with other sustainable businesses and organisations to show leadership and profile the town as a sustainable place to live, work, and do business.”

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie