Regional perspective: West Midlands


What are the carbon issues we have to tackle in the West Midlands region? And what opportunities are available?

The West Midlands has an aim to achieve a 30% reduction in its emissions by 2020 to be in line with the national target set in the Climate Change Act. A report published by West Midlands’ Regional Observatory (WMRO) (Understanding the West Midlands’ Carbon Gap, March 2009) indicated that the shortfall between what can be achieved by implementing regional, national and international policies, and the desired reduction, amounts to 1.75 million tonnes of CO2 a year. A variety of strategies to address this imbalance have been suggested, among them: increasing renewable energy consumption in the region; focusing the need for change on people who work from home by encouraging recycling and waste reduction; and, encouraging sustainable forms of transport.

New opportunities

Further research carried out by the WMRO and Atkins for Advantage West Midlands sought to discover the opportunities for the West Midlands’ economy from; and identify possible barriers to; transition to a low carbon economy. (Low Carbon Economy in the West Midlands, March 2010) The report provided a detailed breakdown of the sector-specific barriers; as well as recommending solutions, highlighting that it would be “necessary to overcome the barriers in the transition to low carbon practices and products” and that “a coordinated policy response by local authorities and other support bodies” would greatly help this. The report suggests Midlands’ businesses can benefit from the low carbon economy in two key ways: by diversifying into new low carbon products, or by making current processes more efficient. The research suggested that a wide range of business sectors, not just those ‘traditionally’ seen to be in the environmental technologies sector, could maximise opportunities made available by a low carbon economy, these included: public services, the metal industry, nonmetallic mineral goods industry and the food & beverages industry.

Working in partnership with universities

The environmental technologies sector is estimated to contribute £8.5billion to the region’s economy, and to employ 74,000 people. The WMRO report called for employers and academics to work together to support companies in the region that are looking to retrain existing, and take on new staff.

Rosie Paskins, chief executive of the Observatory, said: “Research has indicated that environmental technologies is a growth sector with a wealth of market opportunities for businesses. However, if the sector is to fully capitalise on this potential, we need to make sure that businesses can access the skills, training and other support they need. The role of the region’s universities, many of which have developed an expertise in this area, will be integral to this process.” (* BBC News, February 2010)

Whether your business is big or small, carbon reduction is an issue that is here to stay, so rather than ignore the issue, maybe it’s time to seek out help and tackle it early. Although it appears the challenges to businesses in the West Midlands are acute, the opportunities and support available may also provide unexpected benefits not only for the environment, but also for your business.

Stamping down CO2

The launch of the University of Wolverhampton’s Carbon Management Plan in May 2010 formalised its commitment to reducing its carbon emissions by 25% over the next five years. This equates to a saving of 4,783 tonnes of CO2 and £3.5 million!

The University’s plan aims to raise awareness of climate change and encourage collective responsibility and action among staff, students and visitors. Projects include installing combined heat and power units, voltage optimisation, managing energy consumption by PCs, staff and student recycling initiatives and awareness campaigns, improving timetabling efficiency and extending the use of Building Energy Management Systems.

Over thirty individual carbon reduction projects have been established. A recent awareness-raising week received great support from staff and students, with many signing personal pledges to make a simple lifestyle change to reduce their own carbon footprint.

Jane Nelson, Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Affairs, is thrilled with the response: “We’re well on the way to achieve our one-year reduction target. The support that all those involved are receiving from both staff and students has been fantastic, and the work of the Energy Champions working at departmental level is really raising people’s awareness of the impact we all have as individuals, and as a broader community on the environment.”