Saturday, 4 July 2009
I wrote a series of linked articles for the new Bristol Green Capital website. Fifty short pieces highlight businesses and initiatives that make the city a centre of the new Green Economy:
Bristol has a well-developed, resilient green economy, one that is rooted in small business, environmental technologies and cooperation at the city scale between local authorities, universities, NGOs and business. It is very much a Bristol economy, but with a global reach.
As energy prices increase and governments worldwide endeavour to cut CO2 emissions, the city’s renewable energy sector is well set for expansion. Nimbyism may be rife in the UK but on a global scale wind power has become a major industry with Bristol-based companies like Garrad Hassan playing a decisive role in its development. Tidal energy is on the verge of becoming a cost-effective, low-carbon source of electricity, with Bristol companies again to the fore.
The council has been active in promoting and encouraging this development, with its pioneering Bristol Environmental Technologies Sector (BETS) initiative. International interest in the debate over tidal energy generation in the Severn could be of great benefit to local companies.
Bristol is home to a disproportionate number of organisations working in the fields of energy efficiency, recycling and environmental education, in part thanks to the council’s development and support of the CREATE centre. The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) and the Resource Futures (formerly the Recycling Consortium) have grown into nationally important consultancies, and Bristol a city of environmental expertise.
This is true also in the fields of wildlife conservation and natural history film-making, with Bristol Zoo about to start work on the UK’s first conservation-led wildlife park and the BBC’s Natural History Unit continuing to lead a booming international industry. The Wildscreen Festival is the most important event of its kind and attracts inward investment of £1m.
Bristol also gains hugely from the presence of the Soil Association and its annual Organic Food Festival, which provides excellent exposure and impetus to the city and region’s growing organic sector. Indeed, Bristol is arguably the capital of the local and organic movement, with pioneering restaurants like Bordeaux Quay and the world’s first regular Slow Food market.
Conversation with stallholders at the city’s Wednesday farmer’s market reveals the breadth and quality of food production in the region, and the willingness of farmers to embrace new markets. Gloucestershire and Somerset are today among the UK’s top counties for organic and artisanal food, with Bristol enjoying a happy position between the two.
Perhaps most importantly, Bristol businesses demonstrate that it is possible to be both green and prosperous. Sawdays offers an excellent role model of an innovative, successful, efficiently run business, while the recent efforts of Bart Spices in response to its Green Capital Pledge show how efficiency in energy, transport and other areas saves money and increases profitability.
If you're in Bristol look out for the brand new Bristol Green Companion. It's full of listings and information, delivered in a lively and entertaining style. I compiled the listings of 250 Green businesses and organisations, and wrote this introduction:
Bristol has long been renowned as a hard-working industrial city, set in beautiful surroundings and open to new influences and ideas. No wonder then that Bristol today is a powerhouse of the new green economy. Some people still associate the green tag with ‘doing without’, but here in Bristol the message is about making life better. We have the world’s first regular Slow Food market, which brings the region’s top producers of organic and artisanal food into the city, and an award-winning Farmers’ market. We can dine in style at restaurants and cafes that offer exciting menus and ecological good sense. We can choose from a growing range of organic and fairtrade clothes, beauty products and household goods.
But a genuinely green economy is not just about consumer goods and services. It has to spread into other aspects of life, and in Bristol we’re beginning to see amazing changes in the way we build, travel, deal with waste and use energy. Over the last thirty years or so a quiet revolution has been going on in the way we produce and use energy, and much of this work has been done in Bristol. It’s fitting that travelers on the M5 can now admire wind turbines at Avonmouth docks, since Bristol companies are at the forefront of windpower development around the world. And as debate hots up over the best way of harnessing the tidal power of the Severn Estuary, it’s Marine Current Turbines of Bristol that is successfully trialing the world’s first commercial tidal turbine.
In fact the city is rapidly becoming a national centre for environmental technologies, with over 300 companies specializing in renewable energy, waste management and recycling, energy control and sustainable transport. Some of these are famous names, like Sustrans, which started life here back in the 1970s, and the Soil Association - an internationally important organization and a setter of global standards. Most of course are small and unknown to the public, but together these businesses form a network of expertise.
And alongside them are hundreds of non-profits, community groups, educational projects and one-man bands - a fantastically diverse, creative response to the challenge of climate change. Which was the first Transition City? Bristol.
The city council has taken a lead, and has won awards for doing so. Its CREATE Centre houses both its own Sustainability team and a number of pioneering Green organizations. Some, like the Centre for Sustainable Energy, have outgrown this first home and moved out, making space for new ventures.
Working with Bristol Zoo, the Avon Wildlife Trust and other partners, the council has put together an exemplary Biodiversity Action Plan. Meanwhile, its plans for the UK’s first local authority-owned wind turbines are well advanced. The council has made dramatic improvements in the energy efficiency of its public buildings, schools and housing stock.
But perhaps the city’s greatest achievement has been in recycling. In just a few years we have gone from dumping most of our rubbish in landfill to recycling well over a third of it. Food waste is now collected separately and composted, significantly reducing emissions of greenhouse gases from landfill. This success – in effect a revolution in the way we handle waste – was a major factor in Bristol being named the UK’s most sustainable city in 2008, and this in turn has spurred the city council to greater efforts, focused on the Bristol Green Capital programme.
The main aim of this pioneering initiative is to accelerate the pace of change in our economy and our communities towards a low carbon future. A new website offers advice and encouragement for businesses and organizations in the public and private sector, with an excellent range of resources geared towards everyone from beginner to expert. Businesses and organizations of all kinds are finding that going green means less waste, lower costs and higher profits. Sustainability is not just an eco-buzzword but the common sense approach to a difficult economic climate.
Some thought recession would be a disaster for the green movement, but they were wrong. Hard times have produced a new breed of practical visionary, with one eye on a greener future, and the other on the bottom line.
So what’s next? This year and next look out for Bristolians on bikes, as we start to see the benefits of becoming the UK’s first Cycling City – new bike routes, cycle training and a rent-a-bike scheme. Meanwhile the government has pledged to introduce a feed-in tariff for domestic energy producers next year, so expect to see solar panels appearing on homes, churches and public buildings across the city. Many questions still need to be answered, particularly about transport. But one thing is clear: the city is changing and will continue to change. What will it be like in 2020? That’s up to us.