08Bristol: European Green Capital


Bristol has the ambition of becoming a European hub for low carbon industry and has enjoyed some success, with a 4.7 per cent growth in its ‘green economy’ in 2012.73 It has also received accolades such as being the first UK city to be designated the ‘European Green Capital 2015’ and became the first UK ‘cycling city’ in 2008. The importance of the green agenda is also reflected by the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership which highlights low carbon as a key sector for growth in the city.74

The city has a long term low carbon strategy – much of which was started before the Mayor took office – including the Bristol Climate Protection, Sustainable Energy Strategy and the Local Transport Plan 2026. It was this longterm vision and commitment spanning local government, businesses and the community that was integral to the success of the European Green Capital 2015 bid. The city council worked with a range of stakeholders including the local LEP, Low Carbon South West, the Environmental Technology Innovation Network, third sector organisations and neighbouring authorities such as Bath to ensure that objectives were closely aligned to the city and the wider area’s needs.

Pulling it all together: Combining the roles of local government

This report has set out how cities in the UK and elsewhere are meeting low carbon objectives whilst supporting their economy by intervening in five different ways (supporting business, regulations, incentives, funding and finance, and procurement). This case study explores the extent to which Bristol is using these five interventions in combination.

Supporting business: Home Energy Upgrade Scheme – the Green Deal implemented locally

To date nationally, the Green Deal has been slow to take off. But Bristol is adapting the Green Deal to make it work for the city. As a Green Deal Pilot, the Bristol Home Energy Upgrade Scheme has already completed over 120 retrofits and converted over 20 energy systems.75 The early successes are due to Bristol City Council working with Green Deal customers to make the system as easy as possible to navigate. The council has implemented a Case Manager to help customers work through the process rather than leave them to deal with several different organisations. The council also produced a guide for the Planning Department to streamline the system and is looking to offer a low cost loan to further increase take up. Together these administrative, financial and planning strategies have helped Bristol bring forward the Green Deal at a faster pace than otherwise.

This business support strategy works because:

  • It works to overcome a problem businesses face by simplifying the system
  • It is focused, but it does not ‘pick winners’ in the industry
  • It targets the underlying reasons why consumers do not change behaviour and reduces the effort required for change

Regulations: Planning – new developments with renewables

Whilst local authorities in the UK lack regulatory power in many areas, they do have the power to legislate in land-use planning. For example, Bristol Council has set planning regulations in its Core Strategy to reduce the environmental impact of new developments. The Policy (BCS 14) states that “Development in Bristol should include measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from energy use in accordance with the following energy hierarchy: 1. Minimising energy requirements; 2. Incorporating renewable energy sources; 3. Incorporating low-carbon energy sources”.76 In addition, new developments are required to produce enough renewable energy generation to reduce energy related CO2 emissions by 20 per cent.

This policy is working because it is:

  • Targeted and specific in its objectives
  • Limited to what the local authority can directly influence and implement
  • Focused on the largest local contributors of carbon emissions.

Whilst the policy regulation is proving effective, it was a challenge to get these policies approved by the Planning Inspectorate. Councils looking to replicate this approach need to ensure they have a robust evidence base showing it will not adversely affect development viability (in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework). Significantly, despite now being operational and successful, these policies could be undermined by the Housing Standards Review which is currently under consultation.

Incentives: Carbon Challenge

The West of England Carbon Challenge (WECC) was set up by the Forum for the Future with Bristol City Council and partners. The incentive is similar to the New York initiative (Chapter 5) in that businesses pledge to reduce their emissions by at least 10 per cent over four years (2009-13) and, in return, make savings and embolden their ‘green credentials’. The competition also gives an award each year which can be used by the winner in its marketing and branding. It is these networking and cost-saving benefits that WECC has increasingly sought to sell after feedback showed that pursuing a purely ‘low carbon’ agenda was less attractive to businesses. @Bristol (one of the 2013 winners) was motivated primarily by the networking benefits of the scheme’s business community.77

This incentive works because it is:

  • Low cost to the local authority
  • Targeted at specific business behaviour
  • Making a difference at the margin
  • Encouraging business buy-in

Procurement: Hydrogenesis — the Bristol-made hydrogen fuelled ferry

Bristol is currently trialling the high profile hydrogenesis (Bristol-made) hydrogen ferry. The ferry was commissioned as part of the Green Capital bid and is sponsored by the city council. The consortium of local businesses claims it is “putting Bristol on the world map amongst the pioneers of the emerging hydrogen economy”.78 The ferry is a high profile symbol of a wider message promoted by the city that Bristol is a ‘laboratory for change’. However it came at considerable cost and is not envisaged as a trial for the introduction of a fleet of hydrogen ferries. Instead the ferry is the nation’s first of its kind and showcases local low carbon, maritime and advanced manufacturing industries in the city in an eye-catching way.

This procurement strategy works because the council is:

  • Supporting innovation where the market wouldn’t
  • Attracting investment to local businesses
  • Raising the profile of the city’s key industries

Finance: Bristol Energy Services Company

The city used a €100 million ELENA investment from the European Investment Bank to form the Bristol Energy Services Company. Whilst this initiative was introduced before the election of the Mayor since taking office he has been a strong advocate for the company. As well as meeting ‘green objectives’ by using renewable energy (e.g. Bristol Solar city) the city hopes to benefit from creating up to 1,000 new jobs in the long term.79 Bristol City Council also believes localised energy production will help the city plan its finances with greater certainty in the longer term and provide local businesses with stable fuel prices.

This finance strategy works because, the council is:

  • Willing to accept higher risks in return for higher rewards
  • Levering in significant public and private investment funds
  • Supporting local businesses with by reducing energy costs
  • Challenges to pursuing low carbon economic growth

Although Bristol has enjoyed some successes in moving towards a low carbon economy and delivering green jobs, there are significant challenges to this city-wide approach.

It’s a long term commitment with significant risks. Many of these policies require upfront investment and will not produce tangible returns within traditional political cycles. Whilst Bristol benefits from having a Mayor who can instil his vision, it is the culture and networks across businesses, residents and the public sector within the city that ensure ‘low carbon goals’ remain a priority beyond political cycles. Maintaining this city-wide ethos requires significant community and business support. If low carbon values are held and shared, it is easier for local government and businesses to prioritise measures that drive green growth.

It can be difficult to make evidence-based decisions which cut through the ‘green wash’ of inflated claims. Bristol has benefited from good relations and ensured information is shared with businesses through its active networks. This has enabled informed decisions. Good quality information and independent monitoring is crucial to support targeted strategies and ensure realistic and practical policies are implemented and improved upon.

Co-ordinating complementary interventions is important to support the low carbon agenda. Bristol’s successes as both a ‘green city’ and a low carbon businesses hub show that for a city to create an environment for businesses to thrive, a strategy of policy co-ordination is required. Underpinning the five levers of change is a long term culture of environmental awareness and strong leadership in the field which ensures that the policies have a larger impact together than separately.


A city’s ability to reduce its carbon emissions are, in many ways, limited by the parameters of the national agenda. However, the case studies in this report show that increasingly cities in the UK and across the globe are not waiting to be told by national government what to do. They are taking action themselves, working with their business and residential communities to find practical responses to global issues.

Cities operate under financial constraints, with less money and resources than they have had in the past. Nevertheless, there are many ways to work towards carbon reduction targets with minimal costs. In turn, many of these projects offer financial as well as environmental returns.