Can Bristol business capitalise on the city's status as European Green Capital?

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Written by:   | Posted 18-June-2014 8:16

Bristol is a city of contradictions. It is the European Green Capital in 2015, a hard-won accolade of which it is rightly proud. The city is home to successful green businesses in industries such as recycling and renewables.

It’s a leader in technology and research, meaning many of the solutions that lead to smarter, greener cities will likely originate here. Our city council invested in a hydrogen-powered ferry, for example.

Yet the number one complaint from businesses is congestion. The city is home to one of the two biggest aeroplane manufacturers in the world in Airbus, which employs 4,000 people at Filton.

And in a shed in Avonmouth, we’re making the Bloodhound, a car that will travel 1,000mph powered by a jet engine. Hardly the greenest of innovations.

But it is down to Bristol to solve this conundrum, according to Kris Donaldson, above, who has been brought in as director of European Green Capital because of his experience as chief executive of Liverpool’s successful tenure as European City of Culture.

He said 75 per cent of the population of Europe lived in cities. So it was these urban centres, such as Bristol, that would have to drive the green agenda for change.

Kris said much of that drive would come from the business community.

“The reaction to European Green Capital has been fantastic,” he said. “People realise this is a moment in time for the city and for the UK. We are the first European Green Capital in this country.”

He said Bristol was embracing the green capital concept as being about a healthier and happier city, with smarter and better living.

“Businesses understand this more than most,” he said, “because they relate to what happens with their consumers and consumers want better lives and a better quality of life. That means things like different ways of getting to work, the importance of green spaces and healthier food.”

He said one of the biggest opportunities was helping people understand how technology could change their behaviour.

“When you look at solving congestion, it’s not all about infrastructure but, for example, looking at work patterns and tools,” he said.

Jeremy Richards, head of Bristol office at commercial property firm JLL, said infrastructure would need to play a part in that change but he was pleased improvements were being made, highlighting investment in the railways through electrification of the mainline to London and the MetroWest plans for more suburban services and stations.

He said corporations were engaging in the green agenda and the upturn in the economy had helped amplify that shift. “Corporations put green at the forefront of their campaigns for clients and staff,” he said.

That will become more and more important as a driver for change. The generations of employees coming through are increasingly more environmentally aware. It’s a part of their education, thanks to institutions such as UWE Bristol.

Professor James Longhurst, UWE assistant vice chancellor (environment and sustainability), said: “We send thousands of graduates out into the world every year, and whether they understand and are prepared to tackle the big issues is our real legacy. We are embedding sustainability as an aspect of our teaching in all subjects.”

Nina Skubala, initiative manager at Business West and vice chair of Bristol Green Capital 2015, said if companies wanted to do more, Big Green Week was an opportunity for them to find out how.

She said: “Today, customers, business partners and potential staff look favourably on firms that are environmentally responsible. A reputation for taking the right approach can be a key competitive differentiator for businesses. Big Green Week is an opportunity for companies to shout about their achievements.

“There are many businesses in Bristol enjoying the benefits of going green but we would encourage many more to use Big Green Week as an opportunity to consider the environmental impact of their activities.”

Many local companies are already pushing the boundaries.

Rebecca Pritchard, left, head of business banking at ethical bank Triodos – which chose Bristol for its UK headquarters because it shares the city’s sustainable vision – said Bristol was “well placed” on environmental issues. She put this down partly to successive administrations of the city council showing leadership in this area and partly to communities and businesses themselves.

“There’s a very strong professional advisory community here,” she said, highlighting renewable consults Garrard Hassan, which is Bristol-based but has offices all over the world, and the legal sector where firms such as Burges Salmon, Clarke Willmott and Osborne Clarke have leading expertise in advising green industries.

She said: “Professional services make up such a big part of Bristol’s economy so the fact that green industries is a growing sector is helping these businesses to prosper.”

Another local business doing its bit is print and mailing specialist CFH Docmail. Following a two-year research project with UWE, the firm is looking at ways to reduce waste, energy use and the overall environmental impact of its 110,000 sq ft Radstock plant. It has already cut energy use by 23 per cent.

Managing director Dave Broadway said: “Some of the changes are very obvious – such as our switch to using electric vehicles to deliver mail to the local postal depots, switching to LED lighting, and buying our electricity from a sustainable source.”

But he said other less obvious changes had had a big impact too, such as replacing inefficient air compressors, used printing press machines, installing a gas optimisation controller and energy measuring equipment, and implementing a staff cycle-to-work scheme.

Perhaps the firm’s biggest strides have been in the introduction of its Velopost service, which delivers 20,000 pieces of mail by bicycle in Bristol and Bath.

Innovation of this kind will help Bristol square the circle of living up to being Europe’s Green Capital.

The title will bring opportunities to show what we can do. For example the RBS Innovation Gateway, where the bank is offering SMEs the chance to test their energy efficiency and other green ideas on its portfolio of 2,500 buildings nationwide. The scheme was launched with an event at Bordeaux Quay in Bristol’s Harbourside yesterday (see page 4).

Andrew Garrard, above right, of Garrard Hassan, is chairman of the Bristol Green Capital 2015 board. He said innovation from business would drive the green agenda.

“If you look at what Airbus is doing,” he said, “they are trying to make their machines more and more economical.

“Fundamentally, the green thing to do would be to stop people flying but they are not going to do that. So if people are going to fly, then let’s fly in a more efficient way.”

He said research from such industries benefited others too. At the National Composite Centre in Emersons Green the aerospace industry is sharing technology with the renewables sector, for example.

And he revealed hopes to stage a clean technology expo as a centre piece of Bristol Green Capital next year, to showcase the best new ideas the city has to offer.

“We want to get together the clean technology industry in Bristol as a platform for local industry and for innovation,” he said.

So yes Bristol has its contradictions. But for business, being green is about doing what you do better and in a more sustainable way. Airbus’ latest planes still burn tonnes of fuel, but 15 per cent less than the older ones did.

It has been said that being environmentally aware gives firms an edge. This may no longer be the case. Increasingly it is simply expected and not to be green would be a barrier to success. It’s not easy being green. It’s essential.


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