Low carbon economy and sustainability – the same thing?

Last week I attended the annual SCPnet conference in the West Midlands. SCPnet stands for Sustainable Consumption and Production network and is a partnership network dedicated to promoting the philosophy of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) at a sub-national level.

I must say that I found the conference very interesting and insightful and the quality of the speakers was outstanding. This conference gave me a great opportunity to reflect on what is sustainable consumption and production, its importance, and how it links to the low carbon work we are doing at the Observatory.

Sustainable consumption and production

‘Securing the Future’, the UK Government sustainable development strategy, states:

‘Increasing prosperity, in the UK and across the world, has allowed many people to enjoy the benefits of goods and services which were once available to just a few. Nevertheless, the environmental impacts from our consumption and production patterns remain severe, and inefficient use of resources is a drag on the UK’s economy and business. We need a major shift to deliver new products and services with lower environmental impacts across their life cycle, while at the same time boosting competitiveness. And we need to build on people’s growing awareness of social and environmental concerns, and the importance of their roles as citizens and consumers.’ (DEFRA (2005) Securing the Future, p.43)

An alternative definition by Constanza (2000) says:

‘Probably the most challenging task facing humanity today is the creation of a shared vision of a sustainable and desirable society, one that can provide permanent prosperity within the biophysical constraints of the real world in a way that is fair and equitable to all of humanity, to other species, and to future generations. This vision does not now exist, although the seeds are there.’

Sustainability and the low carbon economy

So going back to the question in the title, are sustainability and low carbon the same thing? I believe the answer is no.

The West Midlands Regional Observatory recently published the research The Low Carbon Economy in the West Midlands. The research highlights that a low carbon economy is one where businesses deliver products and services while reducing their level of carbon emissions.

In this sense, the low carbon economy is just one element (an import one) of sustainability. In the same way that the environment is much more than only carbon emissions, sustainability is much more than just environmental issues.

Climate change, carbon emissions, environment impacts, social issues, waste, recycling, population growth, lifestyles, supply chain, energy, environment quality and deprivation are just a few examples of topics that have an impact on sustainability.

Also, businesses, government, people and the third sector must all work together. Sustainability is not something it can be delivered by only a few people in isolation.

In 2006 the report I will if you will presented the ‘triangle of change,’ a framework where people, business and government interact in a coordinated effort to move towards a more sustainable society.

If you want to know more about sustainable consumption and production, here are some websites that can help:

We are planning to add more posts about the 2010 SCPnet Conference soon. If you’re interested keep an eye on this blog.

What is the low carbon economy?

The low carbon economy has increased its importance in recent years, but do you know what it means?

A low carbon economy is one where businesses deliver their products and services while, at the same time, they reduce their level of carbon emissions.

A question I’m often asked is ‘which are the sectors included in the low carbon economy?’.

However, it is not easy question to answer. The definition shows that the low carbon economy is not a list of sectors, but a distinctive characteristic that crosses over a wide range of sectors. As long as businesses achieve reductions in their carbon emissions, they are part of the low carbon economy.

In this sense, the low carbon economy is much more than just the traditional environmental products and services such as energy generation or electric cars.

The Observatory recently published a report about the Low Carbon Economy in the West Midlands. The research found that:

  • The low carbon economy can deliver opportunities across a wide range of business sectors, not just to those seen as being in the ‘traditionally’ environmental technologies sector.
  • The sectors with clear opportunities in the West Midlands include: Non-​metallic mineral goods; Automotive & transport equipment; Metals & metal products; Construction; Environmental Goods & Services; Food & beverages; Transport, storage & communications; and Public services.
  • Businesses can benefit from the low carbon economy in two ways: diversify into new low carbon products or become more efficient in their current processes (decarbonise).

The West Midlands has an important manufacturing legacy and businesses in this sector are already taking part in the low carbon economy by increasing their efficiency related to processes, resources, utilities and waste.

Evidence supporting this is presented in Measuring Performance – Environment Survey 2009, a report produced by EEF.

The survey asked about environmental issues across manufacturing companies in the UK. The survey identified that businesses are increasingly aware of the benefits to gain by adopting resource efficiency improvements.

Key findings include:

  • Manufacturers are adopting a range of environmental strategies mainly around recycling, reduction of business waste and energy efficiency improvements
  • Manufacturers have reported cost savings from adopting environmental strategies

The low carbon economy can be the vehicle with which the West Midlands can achieve economic growth without compromising our natural environment. Would you like to take part in it?

The importance of historic farm buildings

Three farm buildings

Thanks to Amanda Smith from English Heritage and member of the Environment Group for providing this guest post.

Historic farm buildings make a fundamental contribution to the landscape character and local distinctiveness of the region, and are an important part of our cultural heritage. They also represent a significant asset in terms of their capacity to adapt to accommodate new uses.

Traditional farm buildings, however, are under great pressure for change due to the restructuring of the agricultural industry and the high demand for their adaptive re-use, especially for housing. Only a small proportion of the historic farm building stock is subject to listing and statutory protection, and national studies have demonstrated that these designated assets have already undergone significant change.

Until recently there was a lack of an evidence base on the character and condition of the whole stock of historic farm buildings (not just designated assets) on which to inform the sensitive management of change and the effective targeting of conservation resources.

English Heritage is leading a collaborative project that will develop an evidence base for historic farmsteads across the West Midlands region.

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State of the Region dialogue on climate change published

Illustration: solar panel, wind farm, tractor, farming, person saying 'walk the talk'We’ve published the State of the Region dialogue Challenge or opportunity? How to plan for climate change (pdf, 1.3mb).

This report aims to help decision makers understand how climate change will impact on their areas and also give practical ways of adapting to, and taking advantage of, the opportunities and challenges presented by climate change.

The report covers six policy themes:

  • Built environment
  • Natural resources (water, land use and food)
  • Transport
  • Health
  • Energy and waste
  • Business, skills and education

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Environment and economy: Fit for the Future?

Environment & EconomyThe 2009 Observatory conference, West Midlands: Fit for the Future?, provided a forum for debate on economic recovery in the West Midlands.

One element of the debate concentrated on how to link the environment and economy better, based on chapters 4 and 9 of the Fit for the Future? book.

Delegates at the Environment and Economy workshop discussed Green Infrastructure, leadership and the value of the environment, aiming to understand how to embed the environment into regional policy making more effectively. Discussions ranged from the best way of doing this to overcoming what’s currently standing in the way.

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Challenge or opportunity? How to plan for climate change

Blog ACtion Day 2009 on Climate ChangeToday is Blog Action Day 2009, when more than 8,000 blogs from 146 countries are discussing issues around climate change.

Here’s our contribution to this global initiative.

In a few weeks’ time, we’ll publish the findings from our state of the region dialogue on climate change titled Challenge or Opportunity? How to plan for climate change.

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Debate on the future of the region is picking up pace

Fit for the Future? Green InfrastructureThe West Midlands: Fit for the Future? debate is picking up pace, with the Observatory today publishing an eleventh chapter to add to the original book of ten chapters (pdf, 5.7mb).

The Forestry Commission’s Bill Heslegrave felt so strongly about the inclusion of green infrastructure in a debate on the economic recovery of the West Midlands, that he submitted a chapter of his own (pdf, 928kb).

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Blog Action Day ’09 Climate Change

Blog ACtion Day 2009 on Climate Change15th October is Blog Action Day 2009, an annual event when bloggers around the world post about a common issue on the same day.

The aim is to raise awareness and encourage discussion around a global issue.

This year’s topic is climate change.

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Future proofing rural communities in Warwickshire

Warwickshire Rural Community Council logoWarwickshire’s rural dwellers are being encouraged to move to the forefront of the battle to address climate change by creating a ‘cheaper, greener, more sustainable’ future for their countryside communities.

Warwickshire Rural Community Council (WRCC) says that, historically, rural communities have always been willing to embrace change and see the strong community spirit at the heart of many villages as key to their future success.

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UK Climate Projections 2009

UKCP09 report

UKCP09 report

Today saw the publication of the long awaited UK Climate Projections 2009 (UKCP09).

UKCP09 is the fifth time such climate information has been produced for the UK.

Funded by Defra, and based on sound science and projections provided by the Met Office, UKCP09 aims to meet the needs of a wide range of users who want to assess potential impacts of the future climate and explore adaptation options to address those impacts. Continue reading

Tracking a plant disease across Cannock Chase using GISlp

GIS (Geographical Information Systems) is helping to track and treat a plant disease, previously unknown in the United Kingdom, which is infecting and killing bilberry across the northern part of Cannock Chase Country Park.

Bilberry plant showing symptoms of PhytophthoraStaffordshire County Council’s Environment and Countryside team, with help from many volunteers, have been surveying the outbreak of Phytophthora pseudosyringae in the bilberry on Cannock Chase.

This alga-like fungus can cause the rotting of roots of some deciduous trees in Europe, and is associated with the condition known as oak decline.

It is rare in the United Kingdom. Few previous records on the infection of bilberry seem to exist.

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Guidance for local authorities undertaking research into culture

Stratford Royal Shakespeare theatre at nightEver read through a research report and wished that you could have the same types of information for the geographical area that you live and work in?

With this in mind, the West Midlands Cultural Observatory has just published a guidance paper (Word, 226KB) aimed at local authorities in the West Midlands who want to replicate the research presented in the two recent evidence papers:

This includes, for example, research into:

  • Numbers of people employed by cultural and creative industries.
  • Rates of participation in cultural pursuits such as visits to museums and art galleries and participation in sport.
  • Cultural attractions based in the area.

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State of the natural environment in the West Midlands

West Midlands Biodiversity PartnershipOn Thursday 23rd April 2009, I attended the Annual Biodiversity Conference organised by the West Midlands Biodiversity Partnership (WMBP) at the Botanical Gardens in Birmingham.

Key speakers included Olwen Dutton (Chief Executive of the West Midlands Regional Assembly), Roger Owen (Regional Director of Natural England), David Pape (Head of Ecology, Hampshire County Council), Conor Kretsch (Director of Cohab Initiative) and Heather Webb (Coordinator at Bedslife).

During the day the speakers highlighted the key role that biodiversity plays in the development of the West Midlands.

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‘Green’ firms fight the recession

Wind farmThe environmental technologies or “green” sector is showing greater resilience to the recession than the manufacturing sector as a whole, according to recent skills research by the West Midlands Regional Observatory.

The environmental technologies sector comprises companies concentrating on renewable energy, pollution monitoring and waste management, amongst others. Although the sector has been adversely affected by the recession, companies are fairing better than their counterparts in other sectors.

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Climate change dialogue underway

Discussion at the eventWe had so much interest in our new State of the Region dialogue on climate change on Monday, that we had to move it to a bigger venue!

The dialogue got off to a great start, and there seemed to be real concensus amongst the forty or so delegates on how to progress some of the issues raised.

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