Living on an island as I do can make you especially aware of the need to work with, and not take for granted, our natural resources. The sea that surrounds us on Islay, for example, brings great opportunities for tidal power, but also can be so rough that it stops ferry travel to and from mainland services.
In Argyll and Bute, we want to do more than stop climate change. We want to be proactively climate-friendly.
Our geography gets us off to a good start. Argyll and Bute is one of the lowest carbon-emitting regions in the UK, due to low numbers of polluting industry and large areas of forest, and we generate a huge amount of renewable energy via wind farms and hydropower. Developing the growth of climate-friendly industry is a key economic driver for us.
As a council, there’s obviously a lot for us to get involved with in partnership with others, from energy-efficient housing to walking and cycling paths.
As an organisation, we want to lead by example. We are looking across the whole range of our services to develop sustainable ways of working with and for our communities. There’s a lot of work still to do but I am pleased to say that there are clear signs that we are moving in the right direction.
Overall, in the past five years, we have reduced our carbon emissions by 27%. There hasn’t been one main action that’s achieved this, it’s down to a combination of actions.
The council’s estate accounts for over 20% of our carbon footprint, because of electricity, gas, heating oil and water use, so we’re making our buildings more energy and heat efficient.
For example, we have installed more than 30 biomass boilers in schools and offices and are moving oil boilers to air source heat pumps. We are also installing solar technology in council properties – we generate over 1MW of renewable energy using solar panels on our buildings and plan to grow this via schools, leisure centres, and offices.
We are replacing traditional lightbulbs with more efficient LED versions, in our buildings and across our network of street lights. We are moving to electric or hybrid vehicles. We are reducing food waste – we ask young people to order school food so we don’t prepare excess food. And we are reducing the use of disposable and single-use plastics, for example plastic cutlery, plates or straws.
Processing household and other municipal waste is responsible for around half of all the council’s carbon emissions, so we are progressing a sustainable waste strategy: more recycling, less to landfill, and encouraging reuse rather than throw away habits. We have installed our own ‘Miss Hoolie’ wind turbine to power our waste disposal site on Mull.
Our decarbonisation plan sets out these and other actions, and remains a work in progress. We’ll continue to look for and create opportunities to develop sustainable ways to live and work.
Taking climate-friendly actions can come at a cost to budgets, which is a challenge given the huge scale of savings councils are having to deliver year on year.
Taking climate-friendly actions though can also bring new meaning to ‘invest to save’. As part of reducing our energy use, we invested £1.2 million this year in efficiency improvements for our buildings. We expect this investment not only to achieve climate-friendly energy savings, but also to deliver financial savings that will cover the cost in ten years.
As a council we must become a net zero emissions organisation by 2045. This is an ambitious target. We need to be ambitious to achieve the climate-friendly lifestyles a sustainable future needs.
With COP26 planned for later this year, this is a good time to ask the questions, “What can I do?”, and “What can we do together?”
With that in mind, while I am sure that many councils are taking the same kind of actions we are, I take this opportunity to say that we would be happy to share our experience with others, and would welcome learning from others’ good practice. Any councils interested are very welcome to visit our website https://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/climate-change or contact us at email@example.com