Leading academic city now leads the way in carbon reduction.
In 2011, Oxford City Council achieved its target of reducing its own carbon emissions by 25%. It is now working with local private, public and non-profit organisations to reduce Oxford’s overall carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 to become an exemplar low carbon city.
In 2008, Oxford City Council (CC) began working with the Carbon Trust, setting out a Carbon Management Plan for how it would reduce emissions from its own estate and operations by 25% against a 2005/6 baseline by 2011. Upon reaching this target, Oxford CC are using these achievements to act as a catalyst for city-wide engagement in reducing carbon emissions. “ The Oxford Strategic Partnership (OSP) adopted a target to reduce Oxford’s overall carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 and felt that the best way to encourage efforts towards this was to demonstrate that we could continue to make significant reductions in our own emissions,” says Jennifer Carr, Sustainable Energy Officer for Oxford City Council.
“We have always been passionate about reducing our carbon footprint but the Carbon Trust gave us the structure and advice to develop a five year plan that would turn those ambitions into real change,” comments Jennifer. Their 25% target was achieved through a combination of investments in low energy lighting, fleet efficiency improvements, a Carbon Champion network and IT and office rationalisations.
Oxford CC also utilised £200,000 of its own funds, matched by Salix funding, operated on a revolving loan basis, to invest £700,000 in energy saving measures that include large scale LED and low energy lighting upgrades in the Council’s buildings, swimming pool covers, variable speed drives, building insulation and boiler controls. Oxford CC believes these investments have saved £285,000 in annual energy bills and 1,420 tC02 each year. Oxford CC has also made significant investment in solar panels on its sheltered housing and leisure centres.
Jennifer believes that their success was due to not only implementing the most cost-effective options, but due to their unique staffing structure and ongoing staff engagement. “Without engaging your staff sufficiently, at all levels within the organisation, it is very difficult to achieve significant reductions. So we made sure that staff were involved and informed of any changes we were implementing, updating staff via our intranet and newsletters and we were always quick to celebrate success.” In addition to this, Oxford CC sustainability team have worked to break down silo working by jointly funding a Domestic Energy Efficiency Officer post in the Housing department and managing a Workplace Travel Coordinator post funded by the HR department. This has helped everyone understand joint priorities and ensure that all departments are engaged as a whole in their efforts to reduce emissions.
Looking forward, Oxford CC have a target of implementing measures to reduce emissions by 5% year on year for their own estate and operations. They are achieving this target through ongoing staff engagement, effective monitoring of the consumption of each department and ongoing investment in the most cost-effective technologies and generating energy through onsite renewables.
Whilst continuing to reduce its own emissions, Oxford CC have a parallel concern for city-wide carbon emissions. In an effort to achieve the 40% target for Oxford’s overall emissions, Oxford CC led the establishment of Low Carbon Oxford, a collaboration and network of local organisations working together on three strategic and interconnected themes: energy, food and people.
As well as encouraging its own members and other stakeholders to work together towards the city wide emissions target, each of the member organisations, known as ‘pathfinders’, has committed to reduce its emissions by 3% year on year. To date more than 40 organisations have currently committed, which includes the Oxford MINI Plant, who recently installed one of the largest roof-mounted solar farms in the UK, boasting 11,500 solar panels that cover an area the equivalent of five football pitches. “Low Carbon Oxford enables organisations to learn from each other about the benefits of reducing carbon emissions and how this can be, and has been, done effectively,” says Jennifer.
Oxford CC also worked with local community groups to help set up the Low Carbon Hub, a social enterprise that helps develop community renewable energy schemes. As well as solar PV schemes at local schools, the first of these was a 140kw solar PV scheme on the Oxford Bus Company’s roof, providing low cost green electricity to the business and an income to the Hub to re-invest in future projects. In 2014 Oxford CC provided a £2.3million construction loan facility to the Hub to enable them to put solar PV on 18 schools in Oxfordshire over the summer, in advance of the Hub launching a community share offer in September.
Nothing is more important than tackling climate change and Oxford is determined to play its full part. The City Council is working with other key players to create a low carbon green city. If we leave it to governments cutting carbon emissions it just won’t happen fast enough.
Oxford City Council’s ambitions have spread even wider, as they recently secured £1.24m in European Union funding to develop more local renewable energy and energy efficiency projects across Oxford city and county in a project known as OxFutures. One of only nine in Europe to win first-round funding, Oxford CC believes this could attract a further £15m of investment to the area during the three year life of the programme and is hoping it will inspire others in the UK to engage in local renewable energy schemes.
In June 2014, Oxford CC organised their first Low Carbon Oxford Week, bringing together over 50 organisations across the city to build enthusiasm and raise awareness of how people and organisations can reduce their carbon emissions. Over 80 events ran throughout the week, with contributions from many member organisations of Low Carbon Oxford. Oxford CC believes that over 5,000 people attended throughout the week and are they already planning the event for next year.
In addition to reducing the annual carbon footprint of new council buildings by 60% through energy efficiency measures, Oxford CC are currently undergoing a solar PV project for its social housing stock. In 2014 it ran a pilot project and has now identified a further 1,000 homes that are suitable for solar PV. As well as generating clean energy and saving tenants around £150 a year in energy bills, the scheme will provide income for the Council through Feed in Tariff payments, helping to drive future investments.
Looking forward Oxford CC is hoping that through the networks it has established and the reductions it has made to its own emissions, residents and organisations across Oxfordshire will be encouraged to join in the effort to significantly reduce carbon emissions. “Though we are very proud of our achievements so far, there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve our target of a 40% reduction in Oxford’s carbon emissions by 2020. Looking further down the line, we aim to reduce Oxford’s carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, so we will need to find ways of engaging Oxford as a whole to ensure this target can be met,” concludes Jennifer.
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