Is Greater Manchester’s plan to be a zero carbon region feasible?

Monday, 12th November 2018

By Ilona Alcock, Sector Group Manager

Mayor Andy Burnham is determined to make Greater Manchester the first zero carbon region by 2038. To do this, we need a 15% year on year carbon reduction and the clock has already started ticking. It is an ambitious goal and one that requires everyone in the region – individuals, politicians and businesses –  to make immediate transformational changes.

pro-manchester’s Green Economy committee brought together a cross sector panel of experts to unpick what this means for professional services. Hosted by Steve Connor, Creative Concern, the panellists were first asked to share their Big Hairy Ambitious Goals.

Jon Fletcher, Big Clean Switch, noted that we have only 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate change and so the conversation has to become part of the business plan. Switching to renewable energy – both as individuals and businesses – is an easy first step to transformational change.

Transport gets a lot of bad press in Manchester so it was wonderful to hear about all the positive activity and plans. Nicola Kane leads on long term strategy at TfGM and sees the green agenda as an opportunity for change. Her key focus is on reducing the number of short car journeys. Currently a third of journeys under 1 km are made by car. That’s 600,000 journeys per year in Greater Manchester. Kane would like to see this figure vastly reduced by improving walking, cycling and public transport options.

City of Trees is on a mission to plant 3 million trees in the region: quite literally a green agenda. The benefits include air quality, carbon reduction, improved biodiversity and an increase in physical and mental wellbeing. Sian Day is keen to engage more businesses in fundraising and volunteering.

Joy Woods, Galliford Try, is a carbon literate trainer and passionate about not just constructing sustainable buildings but passing that ethos on to clients, employees and the sector as a whole. Her big as is to get all companies to start viewing sustainability as an essential part of the business and to take signification action to reduce their carbon footprint.

Steve opened the discussion out to the audience to hear what is already being done by businesses in the region.

  • Barclays employ 200 people in Spinningfields and are promoting agile working to both improve staff wellbeing and reduce pollution through travel
  • DWF will be running a “12 days of carbon reduction” programme in the run up to Christmas with a variety of small changes everyone can make. pro-manchester will be promoting this initiative across their network and the Carbon Literacy Trust will share resources to measure the impact
  • The Carbon Literacy Trust will continue to work alongside the GM Low Carbon Hub to educate public and private sector leaders and motivate them to make changes within their organisations
  • Both GM and Oldham Community Power groups were in the room discussing the opportunity for businesses and individuals to invest in projects such as installing solar panels on schools. There are a number of administrative barriers and further collaboration – or a barrier breaking taskforce – is needed to make these a success

Nicola is also considering barriers preventing more widespread adoption of electric cars. They currently make up just 1.8% of the market with concerns around range, future proofing infrastructure and performance. She noted that TfGM must invest heavily in alternatives to cars – walking, cycling, public transport – and to link these together. The Sustainable Journeys team will go out to business to offer specific, tailored advice on travel plans.

TfGM is particularly focused on bus reforms as over 80% of GM public transport journeys are made by bus. There will be investment into a green fleet as part of the clean air strategy to being launched in the new year.

The panel were asked to consider how technology and innovation can create both solutions and new business opportunities.

Joy noted that Galliford Try use a variety design and technology options for construction clients. However, she is always keen to hear more case studies showing that smart buildings are worth investing in. These are particularly important when securing upfront investment from public sector bodies for long term environmental benefit.

City of Trees have used new software, iTree, to run a survey of 1,600 plots across Greater Manchester. This enables the charity to estimate the number of trees in the region, the canopy cover and biodiversity. Perhaps most importantly, it enables them to give a quantifiable financial value to trees, including the health impact, flood reduction and heat savings. Whilst it can be expensive to plant trees in city centre locations – upwards of £10,000 on some sites – this product will allow City of Trees to calculate the return on investment.

Technology clearly has central role in tackling carbon reduction and Jon expects huge scale innovations over the next 5 years.  New products help to both reduce demand and to make demand more visible. However, it must not be forgotten that smart devices still need people to install them and to implement the changes. There is a danger of giving a people big list of changes and allowing them to pick the easy options, without considering whether it will make a significant impact. Further education is needed for people to feel better about making the bigger, harder choices.

Innovation at heart of the long-term strategy for TfGM. Nicola noted that whilst technological developments form part of the solution, it is still about mindset. For example, autonomous vehicles could be used to provide cheaper, more efficient public transport services – or they could lead to an increase in private car ownership and be used for even more short journeys.

One very positive impact of technology though has been seen in the ease of engaging the public and ensuring mass participation in consultations. Over 6,000 comments have already been uploaded in relation to the Beelines project (considering walking and cycling routes across Greater Manchester) which has given a depth of local knowledge that would not have been gathered through traditional routes.

Brad Blundell, co-chair of pro-manchester’s Green Economy sector committee and Director at Anthesis, highlighted the importance of collaboration through events and networks like these. He shared the excellent example set by Bridget Jackson, Head of Corporate Sustainability at PwC who makes all manuals available for public download through their website.

To close the event, Steve passed over to Mark Atherton, Director of Environment at GMCA, to share his thoughts on the agenda and the next steps for the business community. Mark joked that Andy Burnham has the Biggest Hairy Ambitious Goal of all… to make Greater Manchester a zero carbon region by 2038.

This means that during our working lives, we need to stop using any form of carbon based fuel. We have to stop talking about educating our children – who tend to know a lot more about climate change anyway – as they will not be in decision making roles in time to make an impact. Instead, we need to start taking action ourselves.

To meet this target, everyone in the region needs to start reducing their carbon footprint by 15% year on year. Mark was pleased that the panel offered a cross sector approach and echoed the importance of collaboration.  He invited all delegates to the next GM Green Summit, being held on 25th March 2019, and noted they are keen to engage with companies with a national footprint already working towards zero carbon.

Mark also noted that financial services firms have an important role to play in creating more innovative ways to fund developments now, and to reap the long term benefits. He recognised that the public sector must lead the way and improve energy efficiency across their own estate.

Work currently being undertaken by GMCA includes new build standards, projects to meet 70% of heat demand locally, and a viability study with Arup to assess using real estate across the region for energy and heat generation.

Speaking regularly across the country about Greater Manchester’s zero carbon plans, Mark is often asked whether Greater Manchester can actually do something different. His answer, of course we can!

And on that note, it’s over to the businesses, organisations and individuals in our region to make it happen.