Ways to cut your carbon footprint

Parks services can slash expenses, benefit the environment and at the same time make green spaces more attractive, says Sid Sullivan.

Like anything else, parks and green spaces have a carbon footprint. Reducing this can help both the reputation and performance of the green space in question.

While those of us involved in parks services are facing difficult economic times like everyone else, this will also bring with it opportunities and progress that can be advantageous both for our budgets and the environment. Parks services can benefit from current circumstances - they will force many people to look again at their spending and to rediscover low-cost alternatives for their leisure time.

By adopting some of the ideas and proposals that follow here, our parks and green spaces can be made more attractive and welcoming to the local community and appeal even more to environmentally minded users.

Too good to be true? No, but it is not going to happen overnight. What is needed is a change back to the traditional ways in which parks and the staff who maintain them are managed - a tradition that seems to appeal to a rather narrow community of users. Change requires time and patience, but it is worth your while. And here comes the crucial point: we need to invest in people, in time and in funding. None of them is of much use on its own.

What is usually most influential in changing behaviour is the economic advantage that a new course of action will achieve. Saving the world does appeal to a small number of people, but in marketing terms it is not a mainstream market yet. Therefore, we have to tailor our message to fit the majority of the people who we hope to influence. And that means looking afresh at our parks from a marketing viewpoint.

In essence we have two opportunities; we are creating a brand with a mass-marketing appeal - ie our parks and green spaces and the benefits they bring - but, at the local community level, parks are a niche market that, most of the time, are the preserve of the immediate community.

What's more, local parks are generally incapable of handling vast numbers of people without expensive and prohibitive maintenance regimes. The answer to this dilemma is to market our parks as part of a series of "products" that have a varying capacity to please and delight our audience and contribute to our environmental reputation and, ultimately, a lessening of our carbon footprint.

There are a number of things we can do immediately, while some longer-term changes will enable us to reach out to potential users and sustain their interest as we move forward.

While some people at this point might lean back and assume that because they are ISO 14001-registered, they must therefore be meeting their environmental obligations, the simple answer to that reaction is, not necessarily. ISO 14001 is an excellent system to raise environmental standards but it is not sufficient on its own. What is required is a regular, more proactive, local approach to reducing polluting practices and carbon-dependent technologies.

Take action

Four steps you could take immediately to reduce your carbon footprint:

1. Plan routes for all grass-cutting regimes that minimise distance and optimise outputs;

2. Instruct your grass-cutting teams to drive their machinery slower - not only will it reduce your fuel bill and noise emissions, but it will almost certainly produce a better standard of cut;

3. Start with the presumption that no vehicles will be allowed in your parks, and if they really must drive in, they must be solar-powered in some way;

4. Where possible, use natural means, ie your horticulturists, to undertake tasks and in so doing contribute to your staff's health and well-being.

The fourth action raises important issues about staff care and the part it can play in promoting your organisation's reputation.

Taking care of your workforce

Next to the parks themselves, staff provide that crucial link between your strategy and its implementation at a local level. As employers, we have a duty to ensure that our staff are adequately trained to undertake the tasks that we employ them for, but we also have a duty to ensure that they are fit enough to carry out the tasks we set them. Staff fitness should be an important part of your human resources policy, not least because the benefits that arise from healthy staff are many.

A fit and healthy workforce is a more productive, safer, and reliable workforce and one that is better able to promote a positive image of your service. So promoting schemes to improve your staff's health and well-being is important. Care must, of course, be taken to ensure that you are not "preaching" to them, but experience shows that a well-presented scheme as part of an overall HR policy is invariably well received by employees.

This approach should also extend towards your contractors, encouraging them to take an interest in their employees' health and fitness. After all, their staff are, in effect, your staff and responsible for your "brand" and reputation while they work in your parks.

Action plan to improve your staff's health and well-being:

1. Provide free membership to your council's sports centres and fitness programmes.

2. Provide a free annual health check.

3. Provide low-cost or free access to a physiotherapist and chiropractor for all staff - this is important in an industry where staff are prone to back injuries and muscle strains.

4. Promote safe lifting and handling techniques and an annual programme to keep all staff updated.

The supply chain

Organisations are increasingly facing questions about the sustainability of their suppliers and the supplier's approach to reducing their carbon footprint.

In circumstances where you have an external contractor that undertakes your maintenance it is vital that you review with them ways in which their work could cause the least amount of damage to the environment. In fact, it should be an important part of your assessment process before you appoint a contractor.

Four steps to improve the performance of your supply chain:

1. With your next round of landscape maintenance contracts, add a requirement for contractors to measure and report on their current carbon footprint,

2. Require contractors to make proposals to reduce the impact of their carbon footprint (and, therefore, yours, because they work for you) over time.

3. Use this approach in your assessment and marking scheme when you evaluate the contractor's proposals,

4. Audit it.

Keeping up standards

One approach that enables you to have confidence in the performance of the contractors is to encourage them to register under the Carbon Trust Standard (see www.carbontruststandard.com).

This scheme's approach makes it possible for your activities, either directly or indirectly, to demonstrate your commitment to, and achievement of, carbon emission reductions.

Assessment for the standard is undertaken by independent third-party assessors and is based on the evidence you provide.

To achieve their standards and to achieve certification your organisation must meet the requirements in three key areas:

Measurement

The minimum footprint required for initial certification measures the following emission sources:

- electricity consumption;

- gas consumption;

- other on-site fuel consumption (eg heating oil, diesel etc);

- fuel consumption in vehicles owned by the organisation, which are based at premises covered by the assessment.

Once you have achieved initial certification, you will be required to increase the coverage of your carbon footprint for the next certification period, to include management as follows.

Management

This means you need to provide evidence of activity such as:

- investment in new equipment;

- maintenance programmes that apply the manufacturer's recommended frequencies;

- staff training.

Reduction

Your organisation must be able to show a reduction in emissions over time.To achieve certification, your operation must pass all three sections and be reassessed every two years.

Reaping the rewards

We are seeing an increase in the community's awareness and concern about the environment and the impact that publicly funded services make.

By demonstrating your environmental credentials to the community and your employees, you can improve their view of your organisation's future, attract the best employees to your organisation and in the process reduce your carbon impact.

An organisation that is planning sensibly and is in a position to deliver environmentally sustainable services because it has strategic and operational policies to deal with the issues surrounding climate change is already ahead of the game.

- Sid Sullivan is a parks consultant.


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