Bath & North East Somerset Council (B&NES) is on an ambitious path to carbon neutrality by 2030 having declared a Climate Emergency in March 2019.
Actions to deliver this commitment are reflected in the council’s corporate strategy (2020-2024). Taking lessons from their 2018 Clean Air Zone (CAZ) project and recognising the council cannot do it alone, the communications team is amplifying its reach through committed and enthusiastic partners.
With ambitious targets, the council wants to achieve carbon neutrality across the entire district, but they recognise their control over the target is limited. They needed a series of targeted and impactful campaigns - led by influential groups and organisations - to instil key behaviour changes.
Establishing a partnership approach with the University of Bath was a key step, as their academic insights were influential in setting the council’s approach. Since declaring their climate emergency, B&NESC has received pro bono analysis from the university on how they can use citizens’ assemblies or juries to inform action planning.
They also worked with local businesses on a ‘Shut the door’ campaign which asked shops to make sure doors were shut in order to conserve energy. The Bath Business Improvement District visited shops and restaurants in the area to ask them to take part in the campaign and provided them with window stickers.
They worked with Surfers Against Sewage on their national campaign to achieve 'Plastic Free Communities' status. This involves the council engaging with businesses and community organisations and once a business or community group has provided appropriate evidence of their pledge and subsequent actions, they become ‘Plastic Free Champions’. The council will apply for 'Plastic Free Communities' status once the five objectives have been met; including achieving the target number of 'Plastic Free Champions.'
Another aspect of B&NES collaborative approach is providing advice to parish councils in the area. The council has put together a toolkit which highlights actions that parish councils and communities can take to reduce emissions and energy consumption as well as where they can go to get financial help for local projects. In November 2020, the council also hosted a free, day-long, online event to help town and parish councils develop an action plan to reduce carbon emissions and tackle the climate and ecological emergencies in their area.
The council has also been hosting its own webinars focusing on tackling the climate emergency with a panel made up of local councillors. These webinars are available for everyone to watch.
B&NESC also has an active role in amplifying messages from Energy at Home who provide free advice on energy related issues for Bath and North East Somerset residents, Bath and West Community Energy, a not-for-profit organisation who focuses on developing clean energy and Energy Sparks, a campaign for schools which includes making students into energy sufficient champions.
Although B&NES runs, and contributes to, widely differing campaigns, it is working towards its overall goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, as well as the priority action areas in its climate action plan.
The council believes that face-to-face conversations held with local businesses have been instrumental in getting them on board with its campaigns. For instance, the ‘Shut the door’ campaign was hailed as having ‘an overwhelmingly positive response’ by Councillor Sarah Warren, cabinet member for climate emergency, after 130 shops and businesses across Bath agreed to back the scheme.
In July 2020, B&NES also unanimously declared an ecological emergency, a commitment which complements its existing climate emergency work and will tie into the existing ‘climate and nature emergency’ framework set out in the council's corporate strategy.
B&NES took a lot of lessons from its Clean Air Zone (CAZ) project, launched in November 2018. This project has helped the council shape its approach; it strongly believes it is important to build on people’s existing strengths and enthusiasm rather than attempting to completely convert them to a different way of thinking. They believe that it is important to be aware of the complexities of campaigns and to keep talking to residents throughout.
Andy Thomas, Head of Strategy, Engagement and Marketing for Bath and North East Somerset Council:
It’s an emergency so you have to do things differently, be clear on what you want the behavioural change to be and make sure individual campaigns are not separate from the overall goals of the organisation.