Global, Scotland Climate action and sustainable development

East Lothian Council’s carbon footprint reduction: tackling climate change in East Lothian


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Jennifer Lothian, Sustainable Energy & Climate Change Officer at East Lothian Council, provides insight into East Lothian Council’s successful reductions in carbon footprint over the past 5 years, in addition to outlining ambitious future plans to meet net-zero targets.

Responding to the Climate Emergency and tackling climate change locally are both fundamentally important and necessary to local authorities. In addition to the statutory duties of public bodies under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 – to contribute to carbon emissions reduction targets, contribute to Scotland’s adaptation to climate change, and to act sustainably – there is a public expectation that local authorities will lead by example in tackling the climate crisis at local level. Scotland’s world-leading climate change legislation, including the net-zero target for Scotland of 2045 as set out in the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019, will be challenging to achieve. We need to work in partnership with our communities, local businesses, voluntary organisations, national agencies and government in order to do so.

East Lothian Council’s Carbon Footprint Reduction

East Lothian Council has successfully reduced its carbon footprint over the past 5 years, as evidenced in our annual Public Bodies Climate Change Reporting to the Scottish Government. Figure 1 indicates East Lothian Council’s significant progress in emissions reduction year on year, despite significant population growth. In 2018/19, our emissions fell by 12.8% from the previous year to 15,007 tCO2e (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent). Since our first year of statutory Climate Change Reporting in 2014/15, our total carbon emissions have fallen by 28%. Measured from our baseline of 44,034 tCO2e in 2007/08, our total emissions have already reduced by 66%.

The Council has also strived to improve the extent and integrity of the data that we collect, and we will continue to do so. This is imperative if we are to successfully design and model future interventions.

Figure 1: East Lothian Council’s annual total carbon emissions, expressed in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e), showing emissions reduction:


How has East Lothian Council achieved carbon emissions reductions?

East Lothian Council’s Carbon Management Plan 2009–2014 (CMP) set out a plan for reducing carbon emissions associated with the Council’s own estate and services. The CMP set an ambitious target to reduce the Council’s carbon emissions by 5% per year over the 5 years of the Plan, starting from the baseline of 44,034 tCO2e in 2007/08.

Various projects undertaken by the Council to meet the CMP reduction target of 25% by 2014 included:

  • Energy efficiency improvement projects;
  • Improved monitoring of energy use in schools and community centres;
  • Improved understanding and increased awareness among staff of carbon management through the establishment of ‘CRAW’ (‘Conserve Resources at Work’) programme;
  • Improved fleet management, including speed limiters on new vehicles;
  • Improved recycling collection and community recycling facilities.

Key Achievements in Corporate Asset Management that have led to a reduction in carbon emissions:

East Lothian Council is already leading by example in acting sustainably, reducing carbon emissions, and contributing to a more sustainable East Lothian through the sustainable management of its corporate assets. The Council owns a diverse range of property, land and other assets, which support the delivery of local services, the local economy and the wellbeing of people in our communities.

The Council is currently carrying out an Asset Review Project to ensure that our assets and estate meet the needs of our customers and services and unlock efficiency savings. We will aim to provide effective workplaces through good design of space, supported by the introduction of new ways of working that will facilitate better core service delivery, further reduce our carbon footprint and improve environmental performance.

Office review and rationalisation, partnership asset planning, improved ways of working

Projects already undertaken to achieve carbon emissions reduction:

  • Reducing the Council’s office footprint and modernising the workplace through the New Ways of Working strategy;
  • Creating a Digital Authority, focusing on increasing web-based transactions and commissioning a new online customer platform in 2018 to facilitate more online access to services;
  • Rationalising of Council offices in Haddington in 2016, releasing accommodation for 10 starter offices for rental by local businesses;
  • Collaborating with the Scottish Police Authority to co-locate operational and Community Police within the existing Council headquarters in Haddington;
  • Relocating the Torness Strategic Coordination Centre from the former Cockenzie Power Station to the Council offices in Macmerry in 2016.

Projects underway to further reduce carbon emissions:

  • Reducing our carbon emissions through good asset management and targeted investment;
  • Continuing the digital transformation with full roll-out of new Human Resources and Payroll system which reduces the need for many paper forms;
  • Delivering Transformational Change and harnessing the opportunities offered by technology in the provision of services, including provision of flexible working practices and rationalising office space to reduce the footprint of our office estate, and looking for opportunities for co-location, sharing assets and integrating services;
  • Stimulating economic growth and regeneration in the area creates a vibrant local economy, reducing the need for people to travel outwith the county for employment;
  • Asset Review Project.

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency of Council Buildings

Projects to achieve carbon emissions reduction:

  • Energy efficiency improvement projects;
  • Improved monitoring of energy use in schools and community centres;
  • A scoping study identified key work streams which form the Council’s Energy Transformation Project, and some of these projects are now being taken forward.
  • Continuation of energy efficiency improvement projects which are underway;
  • The planning process has begun for the installation of more photovoltaic solar panels (solar PV) on the roofs of our existing housing stock;
  • New Council housing developments which are currently under construction and those being planned will generally include the provision of solar PV;
  • Continuation of projects identified by the Council’s Energy Transformation Project, for example, preliminary work is underway on projects to consider the development of a solar farm and hydroponics at a former landfill site. The Council anticipates that the benefits deriving from these projects will be delivered over a 25 year period.

Transport: Council Vehicle Fleet

Projects already undertaken to achieve carbon emissions reduction:

  • The Council’s Transport Services are actively engaged in developing Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) options across the Council, including utilisation of full EV (electric vehicle) and hybrid technology for pool cars and operational vehicles for staff use. This is providing staff with the latest vehicle technology, with associated fuel savings, reducing our carbon footprint;
  • The Council has put in place an electric pool car fleet for staff use at the Council’s Randall House office in Macmerry and John Muir House, Haddington;
  • Dedicated EV charging points are currently being installed;
  • An electric bike (e-bike) trial for staff.

Projects underway to further reduce carbon emissions:

  • Electric vehicle leasing is optimised through Transport Scotland funding, with 17 new vehicles being utilised within the Council at present with further funding being secured for additional vehicles;
  • An ongoing review of the Council’s vehicle fleet is taking place, with options for the most fuel-efficient vehicles (Euro 6 vehicles) being investigated;
  • Electric bike (e-bike) options for staff are under consideration.

Reaching Net Zero

East Lothian Council approved its Climate Change Strategy 2020–2025 in January 2020. The Strategy sets out the Council’s commitment to tackling the Climate Emergency at a local level and sets out the vision and overall aims for a ‘Net Zero Council’ and a ‘Carbon Neutral East Lothian’, and the specific outcomes, key priority areas and actions over the next five years towards achieving these overall aims.

The Council has committed to reducing its overall carbon emissions from the Council’s own estate and operations over the 5 year period of the Climate Change Strategy to contribute towards making all our Council Services net-zero as soon as reasonably practicable or in any case by 2045. We will work with the Scottish Government to set interim targets as required and in line with their updated Climate Change Plan, which is anticipated in the coming months. The Council is also developing an ‘East Lothian Climate Change Charter’, which will set out what the Council will do and what communities/individuals can do to tackle climate change and reduce emissions. We are also working with young people to tackle climate change locally through the East Lothian Youth Council, in partnership with our Scottish Youth Parliament representatives, to harness the ideas and enthusiasm of our young people, and to identify and deliver their local priorities.

East Lothian Council is a relatively small Scottish local authority. In 2018/19 East Lothian Council’s carbon footprint of 15,007 tCO2e is already relatively low; in comparison the carbon footprints of the large city authorities of Glasgow City Council and City of Edinburgh Council were 119,455 tCO2e and 151,342 tCO2e respectively (according to their 2018/19 Public Bodies Climate Change Reports). Despite this difference in scale, reaching net-zero will be challenging for East Lothian Council, particularly due to the rural nature of the authority area and the significant anticipated growth in the county. Carbon offsetting may be necessary to reach our net-zero target.

East Lothian has a rapidly growing population and this is expected to continue, as it has the second-highest projected population increase of any Scottish local authority area. Forming an integral part of the Council’s growth agenda, an additional 10,050 new homes are anticipated to be built in the county by 2024.

Reducing the emissions from transport, and encouraging the modal shift to more active and sustainable travel, are key priorities for East Lothian Council. East Lothian has a relatively high proportion of carbon emissions from transport, which may be due to the increasing use of cars in particular. Car ownership levels in East Lothian are above the national average, reflecting the rural nature of much of the county and the resulting car dependency that this creates. East Lothian is also a relatively affluent county, with a third of households having access to more than one car. East Lothian Council is tackling this by working with our partners to promote active travel and to further improve bus and rail services in the county. The Council is well underway with the installation of a network of electric vehicle charge points through our Electric East Lothian initiative, aiming to be one of the leading local authorities in the UK that will enable people to make the switch to electric vehicles by providing a comprehensive network of modern and reliable EV charge points across the county.

However, it will become more and more challenging to meet the Scottish Government’s net-zero target unless further guidance and legislative changes are in place. It is noted that Climate Change is a rapidly moving area of national legislation and policy and the Council sets out the commitment in its Climate Change Strategy to work closely with the Scottish Government to

  • Ensure measures and resources are in place for existing homes and buildings to be zero carbon;
  • Ensure mitigation is embedded in planning and infrastructure legislation;
  • Ensure local authorities have the resources and powers to lead on climate change mitigation and adaptation in their local areas.

In the meantime, the Council will continue to progress towards reducing its overall carbon emissions through its own policies and actions to tackle the Climate Emergency locally, and will work in partnership with communities, local businesses, organisations and national agencies towards a carbon-neutral East Lothian that is prepared for the impacts of climate change.


One thought on “East Lothian Council’s carbon footprint reduction: tackling climate change in East Lothian

  1. This plan seems good, we need to act fast. Please can you confirm that the new plan for beach food outlets in East Lothian) will not allow diesel generators? Supplying a local electricity source for these outlets is essential for carbon reduction, pollution and noise.

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