00Executive Summary

Almost every UK city’s economic development strategy recognises and prioritises low carbon growth in their longterm visions. These visions are often accompanied by grand narratives calling for a paradigm shift towards a green economy. However, many cities struggle with how to translate these visions and strategies into practical projects.

This report aims to help cities address these challenges.

The report provides pragmatic, practical and proven examples of how cities in the UK and across the globe are tackling the environmental and economic challenges they face.

Cities across the globe, rather than waiting for their national governments to act, are taking action to support economic growth whilst reducing their carbon emissions. The most successful cities combine experiences and examples from other cities with the insights and resources of local partners to develop their interventions.

There are three fundamental criteria that underpin the examples highlighted in the report:

Leadership: Strong leadership is vital to both determine priorities and set an example. It is through clarity and commitment to the low carbon agenda that leaders can ‘set the tone’ for their city. For example, Bristol’s Mayor George Ferguson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York act as demonstrator-champions by publicly backing the vision of going green with practical policies, publicising the city’s green industries and highlighting tangible economic benefits.

Knowledge: Detailed understanding of a city’s industries, businesses and citizens enables better policies to be developed. Good information enables cities to target strategies at the chief polluters, monitor their performance and amend them as appropriate. For example detailed analysis enabled New York to identify that most of its carbon emissions came from buildings (rather than transport or industry). As Mayor Bloomberg of New York said to the C40 network of cities, “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”.

Networks: The scale of the challenge in moving to a low carbon economy requires public, private and third sector organisations to work together. Robust networks allow partners to share information, implement best practice and feedback on which interventions are necessary, and the impact that they are having. Networks can help businesses to address issues which are acting as a barrier to green investment: for example ‘red tape’ (as in Liverpool) or informing partners about the successes and challenges of pilot projects such as low carbon vehicle use and instalment (as in London and Leeds).

Moving from Strategy to Action

This report provides a co-ordinating framework which includes five types of interventions that cities can use to make going low carbon work for the city, its residents and businesses.
Support business

  • Focus on the largest barriers to business growth (e.g. high energy costs or red tape) and find low carbon solutions to those problems. For example, providing planning support, low cost loans and green energy to businesses locating on a sustainable business park.
  • Provide targeted business support that builds networks and partnerships, skills and scale to support local businesses. By ‘spreading the net’ cities avoid the risk associated with specific businesses and instead can support growing industries and practices that promote green growth.
  • Develop local skills and supply chains through working in networks with partners. This could be, for example, further education providers or local universities.
  • Identify and target regulation at the city’s main sources of carbon emissions (for example planning codes for residential buildings). Targeting regulation at specific emitters minimises the overall burden on businesses and residents.
  • Use existing powers as well as advocating for new ones. In the UK, many regulatory options that are available to cities, such as the Code for Sustainable Homes, stem from national government. Cities should maximise the use of these as well as introduce appropriate local regulations (for example Local Plan regulations or those secured through City Deals) that encourage green business practice.

Support policies with related initiatives such as financing advice and assistance that eases the financial, administrative or other burdens on businesses and residents. This helps establish buy-in and reduces unnecessary costs.


  • Help businesses become greener by developing incentives that ‘nudge’ them in the appropriate direction. For example, using planning criteria that supports the provision of cycle infrastructure encourages behavioural changes that have the possibility of aggregating to larger benefits. This can also increase demand for green goods and service providers.
  • Acknowledge the relevant scale of incentive required. It might be appropriate to introduce large schemes, such as residential waste recycling incentives, on a pilot basis. This approach enables the city to measure its success and make improvements before scaling up the policy. Alternatively, reputational incentives often work better at a larger scale that encourages more awareness, credibility and buy-in from businesses or residents.
  • Make sure that incentives are supported with relevant initiatives such as awareness raising campaigns. This enables more businesses and people to engage with the process and a greater understanding about the benefits associated for them and the environment.


  • Choose ‘smart criteria’. It is important to be specific in setting procurement frameworks and criteria so that they reflect the desired goals and minimise limiting factors or unnecessary red tape for businesses, to ensure competition and low prices for the city.
  • Think and act longterm. Providing longer term certainty gives businesses the opportunity to invest in their supply chain, in training and recruitment, and in machine investment.
  • Look for partnerships. Working with public, private and third sector organisations ensures that local businesses capitalise on procurement opportunities through awareness of demand and building contacts within the city departments.


  • Use alternative funding and financing mechanisms such as innovation prizes, co-investment funds and crowd sourcing to lever in both private and public investment to meet goals. This enables funding projects that would be socially useful but not commercially viable.
  • Harness local community support for and involvement in low carbon projects. For example supporting co-operatives can reduce development and investment risks for private partners as there is community ‘buy-in’ and demand.

The examples set out in the report show that moving towards a low carbon economy cannot and should not be implemented in the same way in Newport and New York or San Francisco and Southend.

Ultimately the most effective city policies and projects focused on moving towards a low carbon economy are those that are locally tailored and make good economic as well as environmental sense.