Energising the Sustainable Economy

By Andrea Crump, Sustainability Manager and LondonGreen houses

Circular Economy Champion at the London Borough of Sutton 

 As populations continue to rise and public purse strings tighten, local authorities are having to balance ever-increasing demands on services with fewer and fewer resources – all of which places significant pressure on our environment.

The London Borough of Sutton recognises that by supporting the development of the sustainable economy local authorities will be able to balance these demands while helping to create new jobs, exploit competitive advantages, build resilience, improve resource efficiency and contribute towards environmental targets such as carbon and waste reduction.

However, the immense size of the challenge means that tackling it will require local authorities to work across geographical and sectoral borders.

This belief drove Sutton to work with the Covenant of Mayors Office to co-host the Energising the Sustainable Economy in Cities summit to explore opportunities for growing the sustainable economy.

The summit, held in Sutton on 18 October, was attended by more than 100 representatives from across the UK and Europe. Sustainability experts, local authority officers and stakeholders from a number of pioneering cities including Vienna, Glasgow, Copenhagen, London, Ljubljana, Peterborough, Gothenburg, Manchester, Almada and Brussels came together to share strategies and case studies for innovation and best practice.

During the event five critical elements emerged as key to allowing local authorities to catalyse and energise the Sustainable Economy. They are:

 

1. Leadership

Governments and local authorities can act as a driving force to galvanise and convene local partners and regulation behind local policy and delivery. Commitment to a long-term vision is crucial. In 2009 Sutton committed to becoming a One Planet Living Borough by 2025. This commitment is one of the council’s four corporate priorities and has helped the borough to reduce CO2 emissions by 27 per cent since 2007.

All delegates identified a clear link between the ability to show leadership and progress sustainable economy at a local level, and the need for a clear policy direction set by central Government. The recent energy policy changes by the UK Government were widely recognised to have damaged investor confidence, and the financial sector has sent a clear message that it is reluctant to invest until confident that the Government has a long-term energy strategy.

 

2. Ownership by citizens

As funding for councils decreases it is even more essential for citizens to be engaged and take responsibility for delivering actions such as local sustainable energy. Manchester Climate Change Agency has worked with citizens to create a climate change plan 2017-2050, which invited citizens and the public and private sectors to create the plan together. Manchester sees its role to facilitate all sectors of the city to come up with the solutions needed so that delivering sustainability is everyone’s responsibility. Leadership also comes in to play here so that local authorities can build on the grassroots action being taken by the community to create a structured and coherent approach.

Linked to this is a clear need to mainstream the sustainable economy and focus on delivering liveable cities/boroughs. To move sustainable economy opportunities forward it is important that this is not seen in isolation as a “green” issue but more widely as a key contributor to quality of life and economic development.

 

3. Partnerships and collaboration

Local authorities cannot transition to sustainable economies on their own. They will need to work with businesses, academia and citizens, and across geographical boundaries to gain the skills, knowledge and contacts required for success.

In Glasgow the City Council has partnered with the Chamber of Commerce, Zero Waste Scotland and a variety of businesses on projects that aim to provide jobs and growth in the sustainable economy sector. Private sector involvement has been crucial for the city to progress findings from its “Circular Glasgow” study to identify opportunities to use waste from one business as a resource for others. Pioneering companies are now involved in a range of projects including using waste bread to brew beer.

 

4. Creative funding models

New delivery and financing models are needed as we move away from central Government funding. Green finance opportunities being used by other areas include Green Loans offered by Brussels Council that can be used to finance energy efficiency improvements in homes by tenants and owners with a rate of interest linked to the applicant’s income.

In Gothenburg the Treasury works with the local authority to deliver financial investment in environmental initiatives. Green Bonds have been used to finance electric vehicles and large-scale biogas through gasification. These models are only possible in partnership with financial organisations.

In many European countries local authorities are already much more involved in delivering critical infrastructure. In the UK there is a current move to the remunicipalisation of energy services, with this returning of the supply of local, sustainable energy by local authorities themselves already being delivered in cities such as Bristol and Nottingham.

It was clear that there is no right answer on the delivery or funding structures needed to deliver local, sustainable energy. But there is an appetite from local authorities for more guidance on the options available for taking forward local energy.

 

5. Need to incubate innovation

While entrepreneurs and new SMEs can provide innovation and kick-start growth, to do so they need help to turn ideas into business models. Within Sutton, Dearman is a company developing a revolutionary new engine that runs on liquid air, a concept originally created in the founder’s shed. In Sutton we are developing a scheme that will provide a support programme to new businesses such as Dearman to provide workspace, advice and funding to grow.

The summit highlighted the role local authorities have to play as a key enabler of the sustainable economy by ensuring opportunities for sustainable growth are maximised and stimulated through key policies, infrastructure, leadership, partnerships and support.

Sutton aims to create a community of urban sustainable economy leaders to work with South London to collectively take forward and develop this agenda over the coming months and years.

 

Andrea Crump is Sustainability Manager and London Circular Economy Champion at the London Borough of Sutton. She can be contacted on 020 8770 6379, andrea.crump@sutton.gov.uk

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