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Special report: What has Bristol's year as European Green Capital done for business?

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Written by: Gavin Thompson | Posted 22 December 2015 17:44

Special report: What has Bristol's year as European Green Capital done for business?
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As Bristol’s tenure as European Green Capital draws to a close, Gavin Thompson assess how much, or how little, impact it has had on business in the city

IT’S almost over. 2015 draws to a close it little over a week and with it Bristol’s year in the limelight as European Green Capital.

Does that mean we can all go back to leaving the lights on when we leave the office, throwing our paper cups in the bin and printing out our emails willy-nilly? Hopefully not. So what, if anything, has 2015 meant for businesses?

Dave Broadway, managing director of bicycle mail delivery service Velopost, which sponsored the Bristol Post and Bristol 2015 Green Capital Awards, thinks the title has been positive if his own green business is any benchmark.

Dave Broadway of Velopost

Pictured: Dave Broadway, of Velopost,which has seen an increase in its mail by cycle delivery service

“Velopost has seen an increased level of recognition in Bristol, particularly since the Green Capital Awards dinner,” he said. “We have won a number of new customers as a result. The difference in recognition between Bristol, and our Bath and Edinburgh sites has become very noticeable.

“Overall I think the green capital year has been good in bringing green issues to the forefront, and hopefully leading businesses to take action as a result. Although it’s a shame that in the year when Bristol is leading the world, our Westminster government is reducing support for renewables while increasing support for fossil fuels and fracking.”

Not everyone is so convinced. Paul Matthews, head of commercial property firm Bruton Knowles’ Bristol office, said gridlock on the roads that has blighted the city centre in recent months makes the title hard to justify.

“We already have the second slowest commuting times in the country – it’s quicker to get around London than it is to cross Bristol,” he said. “Endless queues of traffic in every direction are making a mockery of Bristol’s Green Capital credentials. Nobody wants to sit in traffic for an hour and three quarters twice a day.”

Of course much of those roadworks are part of creating the Metro Bus network which is the great white hope to ease the city’s congestion problems. Hope being the key word. The mischievous might think the plan is the make the traffic so bad that either we all abandon the car in the interim or for long that we when the roadworks finally go we think Metro Bus is wonderful because we can’t recall what it was like before.

To fairly measure the success of 2015, let’s look at what the ambition was. The green capital programme has been managed by Bristol 2015, an organisation led by executive chairman, and local businessman, Andrew Garrad.

At the end of 2014, Business asked him what the aims were and how it related to the business community. He said there were two main business strands, one to nudge everyone else to become more sustainable and the other to promote and celebrate the city’s green industries.

The latter saw a number of showcase events, of which the spectacular Venturefest was the biggest and brightest.

The main way they tried to achieve the former was through the Go Green project, run as a partnership between Low Carbon South West and Business West.

Project manager Amy Nicholass is bullish about the results. “Through Go Green, Bristol’s year as European Green Capital has enabled businesses in the region, of all sizes and from all sectors to focus more keenly on the sustainability of their day to day operations,” she said.

“From small local cleaning companies to international law firms and a global bank with Bristol offices, we have seen a diverse mixture of businesses engaging with the Go Green programme through our free online tool and monthly events.

“It was fantastic to see more than 40 organisations across Bristol taking part in Business Green Week in June, running fun events for their staff about different green topics each day, and they all shared their experiences through Twitter, helping them to feel part of a bigger community of green businesses.”

Go Green meeting

The organisation ran 27 events at venues around the city talking to businesses of all sizes about the programme, with 1,525 people attending. It helped with the launch of Refill Bristol, a campaign encouraging a network of free mains water refill points to stop people buying bottles then throwing away the empties.

Amy said: “Some of our members with a national presence have even started rolling out initiatives trialled this year in Bristol to other parts of the country which is really exciting.

“All in all we’ve been blown away with the level of engagement and good will this year, enabling us to smash our original target to engage 1,000 businesses. We have clearly demonstrated that, whatever the motive, there is a clear appetite from the business community be greener.”

The programme has three phases. Businesses first say what they want to achieve, then do it and finally prove it.

So far, 1.200 businesses have reached the Say It stage, 268 at are Do It and 29 have gone right through to Prove It, being accredited for their achievements.

One company to go through the process is Natracare, a organic tampon manufacturer. It’s headquarters in Almondsbury, Bristol, has gone fossil-fuel free and the firm has been so impressed with the response of staff that it set up its own green team.

Jessica Gitsham, from Natracare, said: “We’ve seen creativity, collaboration between different areas of the company, and most importantly a rise in staff happiness. During a Happiness at Work survey, many staff members commented, without prompting, on how their participation in the Go Green team had helped them feel more engaged at work. And, since increased happiness has shown to equate to increased productivity, I’d say there is no reason for companies not to get on board.”

Another organisation which has embraced green capital is the University of the West of England.

During 2015, more than 4,000 staff and students have attended presentations or stalls about Bristol Green Capital 2015, nearly 200 events on related themes have taken place, either led, coordinated or facilitated by UWE; more than 3,000 students have engaged, volunteered, interned or undertaken projects related to the Green Capital and 1,400 people registered for its new green city open online learning course.

Vicki Harris, UWE’s green capital strategy co-ordinator, said, “Bristol 2015 has inspired and energised students and staff, engaging them in the issues at UWE, in the city and beyond - above all it has provided a solid foundation on which to build in 2016.”

And that’s crucial. 2015 isn’t meant to be just a one-year showcase for Bristol, but create something that lasts.

Go Green will continue into 2016 and beyond and will be reaching out beyond the city boundary with the aim to become a self-sustaining project.

Amy said: “We will deliver across a wider geographical area within the West of England and help stimulate a green industries marketplace by bringing both suppliers of environmentally friendly products and services together with companies that are demanding these products to become more sustainable.

“Business Green Week, we are sure, will be even bigger and better in June 2016, and in addition we will be building on momentum from this year with a packed programme of business breakfasts, workshops, behind the scenes tours and evening events throughout the year.”

Andrew Garrad

Pictured: Andtrew Garrad, chairman of Bristol 2015

So how does Andrew Garrad reflect on the year’s success in engaging businesses?

He said: “The success of Go Green during Bristol’s Green Capital year won’t just be attributed to the numbers, which are very impressive, but also to the way that attitudes and behaviours have changed and will continue to change for many years to come.

“Our Green Summit in October also demonstrated how dedicated businesses are to the green agenda. Sustainability and business make very powerful partners, and I believe Go Green will be judged to be one of the great legacies of Bristol’s year as European Green Capital 2015.”

There’s no doubt Bristol’s year as green capital has raised its profile as a home for green technology and sustainable practices. And many businesses have engaged in it.

The Go Green project has reached more than 1,500 people but it’s worth noting the West of England area has around 32,000 businesses. The year may be over, but there’s still a long way to go on the journey.

The Go Green team are celebrating success stories with an awards ceremony taking place in February. You can find out more here

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