The Social Business

Our plans for Zero Waste Leeds

I’ve written previously about our plans to get involved with local approaches to tackling climate change in Leeds.

You may remember that I  joined Leeds Climate Commission last year, and that the Board of the social enterprise I help to run gave me some time to explore a range of different environmental business ideas – to see if we could identify an opportunity to get involved with tackling an issue locally.

In short, we looked at three ideas – community energy, transport, and waste & recycling.

Whilst we were very interested in community energy, we reached a stage where we needed more money, and greater expertise, to really take things further, so we stopped exploring that before Christmas.  Having said that, we’re always open to ideas – and it may be that this is one we pick up again in the future – perhaps working with other people with greater sector-specific expertise.   Please contact us if you want to chat about opportunities around community energy in Leeds.

Transport is a fascinating one for me personally, as you’ll notice if you scroll through the #LeedsTransport hashtag on Twitter.  I joined the local Transport Consultation Sub-Committee at West Yorkshire Combined Authority, and I work hard in my own time to keep up to speed with interesting ideas around transport & sustainable cities from around the world.

But,  realistically, this was always going to be an issue for us to campaign on, rather than explore from a business perspective.  I’ll keep exploring it, in my own time, including looking at issues around transport poverty with Leeds Poverty Truth Commission.  And if there are pieces of work that people would like our input into, I’d be interested in being involved.

Waste and recycling proved to be an issue with many more opportunities to explore, as I outlined in this post.  Since we met up with over 30 people working on this in January, we’ve continued to explore ideas under the Zero Waste Leeds banner – whilst we’ve also been working hard to build up a following on Twitter and Facebook.

Our plan is to pilot a range of ideas over a nine month period  – around a number of themes – looking at opportunities to help Leeds as a city to waste less, whilst also reusing, repairing and recycling more.

After a funder expressed an interest in what we were doing, we’ve put together a proposal for the pilot, focusing on the following five areas of work:

  • Engaging social enterprises in the Council’s new Waste Strategy
  • Marketing, communications and community engagement
  • Collaboration, business development and innovation
  • Proving social impact
  • Securing long-term investment and funding

We’re keen to chat with other potential funders, sponsors and investors, so if you are interested in our work, or you have ideas on who we should contact, please get in touch.

We’re confident we can make something happen here.  We know how big a social issue this is – and it feels like there’s an opportunity that wasn’t there as recently as six months ago.  The whole Blue Planet II phenomenon – and the interest it’s generated in plastic waste – has raised public consciousness on issues to do with waste.  We want to capitalise on that interest and turn it into a range of practical actions in our city.

We know it won’t be easy, but we’re confident that  the way we work at Social Business Brokers – tirelessly tapping into our networks to explore ways we can collaborate with others  & change things – gives us a good chance to make stuff happen.

We’ve done it before – most successfully with Empty Homes Doctor – which started with a text conversation between me and my social business partner Gill when we were each sat at home watching George Clarke talking about empty homes on Channel 4.  We took an idea – spotted an opportunity – and turned it into a sustainable social business – that, with Leeds City Council support, has brought back into use nearly 300 long-term empty homes in the last five years.

And – working with a wide range of other people – we helped to take Leeds Community Homes from an idea and establish it as one of the UK’s first urban Community Land Trusts – which raised £360,000 through a pioneering community share offer.

We don’t know exactly what will emerge from Zero Waste Leeds, but we’re confident something – or more likely some things – will.  But, to be frank, we’ll need support to get it going.  We’ve funded our work on this so far ourselves, and we can probably only commit to it for a couple of months more.  If we’re not successful in securing some funding or investment for a pilot, Zero Waste Leeds may have to go back on the “nice ideas” shelf.  I for one would be really disappointed if that turned out to be the case.


 

If you’re interested in what we do and may be interested in supporting our work, please get in touch – our contact details are here

Car hire companies: I’m not a cyclist – I’m your regular customer

We’ve not owned a car for around seven years now.  But that’s not to say I never drive – on average we hire a car around once a month.  Sometimes for weekends, often for holidays, and on the odd occasion for work.

It works well for us.  Neither of us routinely needs a car for work – and our journeys to work are pretty easily made on the bike or on the bus.  My son, whose seven years at school have coincided with those seven car free years, walks the 30 minute journey to school.

But a car is there when we need it.  Both for longer hires from car hire firms like Avis and Enterprise, and for shorter rentals, from our local car club – now owned by Enterprise too.

There’s lots that I like about organising how we get around in this way.  I like the fact that, by and large, we choose the most appropriate mode of transport for each journey.  So when walking makes most sense, we walk.  When cycling fits the bill, we get the bikes out.  Heading into town as a family?  The bus, usually.  Longer weekend journeys?  The train when it makes most sense (practically and financially) – and if not, a hire car.  A small, cheap car if it’s just us, and a bigger car or van if we need the extra room for bikes, Christmas presents or camping gear.

Compare that with what tends to happen when you own a car.  It’s sat there on the drive, waiting to be driven (some studies suggest they spend up to 95% of their life doing nothing).  So when you need to go somewhere, the car is the obvious choice.  It appears convenient, and it appears cheap.  £4.30 return for a 2 mile bus journey – or perhaps a notional 20p in fuel to drive?  It’s obvious what choice most people will make – even if the true cost per mile is much higher.

I would say that is one of the main problems with our current ownership model for cars.  Individual ownership makes traveling in a car the default choice for most journeys many of us make in cities – when, for some of those journeys at least, another mode of transport would be better all ways round.

So I’m hopeful that over time we’ll move away from individual ownership of cars – and move more towards a model where we “buy mobility”.  This is the emerging Mobility As A Service model where, easily organised via your phone, it’s easy to jump on the bus, book a taxi, pick up a dockless bike, hire a car for an hour, buy a train ticket – whichever mode of transport makes most sense for that particular journey.  In a small, low-tech, much-more-difficult-than-it-needs-to-be way, that’s what we currently do as a family.  And on balance, I love it.

But today I’m focusing on cars – prompted by a tweet from car hire company Sixt.

I’m not pretending I was “offended” or anything like that.  I just thought it was a poor piece of marketing.  In large part, because of what I’ve outlined above.

I am 100% their target customer.  I don’t own a car and spend over a grand a year on car hire.  And, in their eyes, I’m a “cyclist” – the customer group they’ve clumsily targeted.

But that’s where they’re wrong.  I am not a cyclist.  I am someone who wants to get from A to B, and I choose the most appropriate way to do that.  I mainly cycle precisely because for the majority of my journeys, (peak time commutes in Leeds)  it’s the quickest option.  I want to go faster.   Effortlessly gliding past queues of stationery cars and getting to work on time is the ultimate performance boost.

Yet I do need a car from time to time, and whilst I’m very happy with a lot of the service I get from the hire companies I routinely use (in particular the consistently excellent staff at Avis in Leeds),  it fascinates me that they don’t better serve the regular, “multimodal” hirer.  This clumsy piece of marketing points to a wider inability to make the most of a growing customer group.

For example, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve turned up a car hire places, on my bike, and asked where the bike parking is.   I find it bizarre that they seem surprised that someone, who, by definition, is in need of a car at that precise moment, may have turned up by another mode of transport.

If they thought it through properly, there’d be all sorts of other opportunities too.  More electric and hybrid cars are an obvious thing to think about.  Reviewing the classification of cars – and giving people the option of not having a diesel car (it’s still often sold to you as a premium vehicle – because of better fuel economy) could be good too.  As would not always assuming that an upgrade (to a bigger, more expensive to run car) is what the customer wants.  A bigger car is sometimes handy, but I’m buying mobility, not a mobile status symbol.  And don’t get me started on the hard-sell of Collision Damage Waiver insurance….

I care about this because I can see the enormous potential of easier access to on-demand cars, rather than ownership of them.  Our cities could be transformed if more of us chose the most appropriate mode of transport for our journeys, rather than routinely jumping into the car.  We could also stop wasting so much of our disposable income on an asset that sits idle more than half the time.  And I think there are big business opportunities for the companies that get their heads around this emerging market and serve it well.

Zero Waste Leeds – change begins at home

As I’ve mentioned before, over the last few months I’ve been looking into various ideas broadly around the theme of “local responses to climate change”.

The theme that we’ve made most progress on is around waste and recycling – and we hosted a meeting last week attended by 30 people interested in exploring the idea of “Zero Waste Leeds“.   I’ve just about finished writing up the notes, and I’ll share more on here soon.

One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that with things like this, change begins at home.  To create real change, action pretty quickly needs to expand beyond the home –  at a neighbourhood level, a city level, the country, universe and beyond…. but you can learn a lot by first of all trying to change things that you have direct control over.

I’m also a big fan of counting things, keeping track of things.  That’s where the journey towards going car-free began – making a conscious effort to record each journey over six months – and then reflecting on what we could change.

So,  given that I want 2018 to be the year when we really get stuck in to helping Leeds create less waste, I thought we’d start at home.  On January 1st we agreed (family buy-in is important!) to weigh everything that we were getting rid of – black bin waste, recycling, compostable waste, glass, and donated goods.

And the results are in….

This first table shows everything we’ve “got rid of” – including donations of stuff that’s been sat in the loft for a while. It shows a total 111kg. (click on the table to enlarge it)

Household "waste" during January, including donated goods.

Household “waste” during January, including donated goods.

This second table is without the donated goods (as this might give a better comparison for throughout the year).

This table shows a total of 65kg of household "waste" during January, excluding donated goods.

This table shows a total of 65kg of household “waste” during January, excluding donated goods.

 First of all, a few bits of explanation

And some overall thoughts

It was a really useful exercise – and got us thinking about the amount of waste that we create as a family.   When you weigh it all up, it’s striking how much rubbish you create – 2kg a day – or closer to equivalent of 4kg a day if you include all the stuff we’ve amassed over the years that we’re starting to get rid of.

And although what you might call our “household reuse & recycling rate” is perhaps not that bad – 64% excluding donated goods, 79% including them), it really focused our minds on how much “residual waste” we were creating.  That, as you’d expect, was made up of all sorts of things.  But the amount of non-recyclable plastic packaging was striking.

As was the amount of food waste.   My guess is that relatively speaking weren’t not that bad on food waste – we’re certainly much more on the ball than we were a few years ago.  But there was still too much.  Leftovers that got forgotten in the fridge.  A third of a tub of cream.  A couple of rashers of bacon from no-one could quite remember when.  That kind of thing.   It all went in the bin – and presumably will mostly be burnt at the RERF, just down the road from our office.

On a positive note, it confirmed to us the importance of home composting.  By weight, 8% (excluding donations) of the waste we produced made the journey to the compost bin at the bottom of the garden.  And having emptied some beautifully rich compost from the bin a few months ago, I need no convincing of the value of carrying on doing that.

And then there’s glass.  Talk about recycling with anyone in Leeds and it’s the first thing they’ll mention – why don’t we have kerbside glass collection?  The recent Council report into recycling confirmed how much Leeds glass doesn’t get recycled.  Our month (no Dryanuary in this house) confirmed the obvious – in weight terms at least, glass is significant.  By weight glass accounted for 11% of what we got rid of (excluding donated goods).  And I promise, we don’t drink that much…..

So there you go.  We haven’t quite decided whether we’re going to continue weighing everything (if anyone wants to join us in the experiment let me know – that might help us to maintain the motivation!) but it has been a very useful exercise.

We’ll keep thinking about it, but our main immediate reflections have been:

  • We need to keep doing what we can to buy things with less packaging (and of course, consider alternatives to buying some stuff in the first place).
  • We need to work harder on reducing the amount of food we waste at home.  We didn’t track how much of our residual waste was food waste – but I know it was too much.
  • We’d be interested in knowing how we compare, and in getting other people’s ideas and experiences.  If you’ve done this as a household – or fancy doing it this month – say hello on Twitter and follow #ZeroWasteLeeds.

 

 

How can we stop so many people being killed and seriously injured on our roads?

Alongside my interest in transport,  I spend a fair bit of time campaigning on issues around road safety.

You could argue it’s pretty much a lifelong interest – given that I was knocked out of my pram and sent bouncing down the road by a driver who failed to stop at a pedestrian crossing when I was ten weeks old.

But that would be pushing it a little bit.   When I finally got my hands on the £100 of compensation that was put in Trust for me until I was 17, I spent it all on driving lessons.  I couldn’t wait to experience the freedom that a car can offer….

In reality I only really took an interest in these issues – alongside the broader transport and city design issues – when we got rid of our car in 2011.   Over a few months we went from being a family that mainly got around in a car, to a family that mostly got around Leeds on the bus, on foot or on bikes.

I cannot emphasise enough how changing how you get around your city also changes how you look at the place.   I’d always been pretty sympathetic to arguments about the negative impacts of cars, particularly from an environmental point of view.  But like most people I mostly got around in a car.   Suddenly,  without one on the drive, I was seeing Leeds from a whole different perspective.

I’ve written before – and will no doubt write again – about transport – and all the reasons we should be investing in high quality public transport, whilst also making cycling and walking a much more attractive option for short journeys.  But today I want to focus on another aspect of a car-dominated city – the impact on vulnerable road users – people who walk and cycle around their city.

Someone asked me the other day if I’m “angry” about transport in Leeds – as they thought my #LeedsTransport tweets suggested that I was.  In fact I’m not – I’d say I’m exasperated and impatient for change, but mostly not angry.  I’ve certainly (in the main) learnt not to tweet whilst angry at least.

But when it comes to the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads, I’m angry.   When I consider how the justice system tends to deal with cases where people have been killed by drivers, I’m angry.  And when I see much of what’s being done in the name of reducing the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads, yes, I’m pretty angry.

It’s hard to summarise such a complex issue.  But in short, I think we have come to accept violence (I choose that word carefully) on our roads  in a way that we would never accept such regular violence in other parts of our lives.

Recently shared statistics suggest that 305 people were killed or seriously injured on Leeds roads in 2017.  That’s down on the previous year, but still significantly above the “target” figure.

I won’t pretend to have considered all the statistics in detail, but another fact stands out – pedestrians and cyclists accounted for 47% of those killed or seriously injured, even though they only account for 13% of journeys made.

And what are we doing to change things?  Again, it’s complex, and again, as much as I try to keep on top of this, it’s something I’m doing in my spare time and as an “amateur”.  But you can read  a summary of what’s being done in the Safer Roads Action Plan at Item 7 here.

I think there’s some good stuff in there – in particular I think the work to redesign streets  (including a focus on “district centres” where there are plenty of people walking, shopping etc) sounds good.

But, as always, there appears to be far too much emphasis on what you might call “educating vulnerable road users to stay safe”, rather than dealing with the source of much of the danger – tackling driver behaviour through enforcement activity.

It’s something that I’ve tried to raise before, particularly with the local Police and Crime Commissioner.   And it’s been raised before by the Council’s Scrutiny Panel – with a report expressing concern about the lack of enforcement activity – caused by a lack of police resources.

My concern is that things will continue to get worse.  We appear to be in a bit of loop – with the Council and their partners focusing on what they do (particularly around road re-design and education) whilst pointing out, year after year, that the lack of police enforcement is an issue.  

It will be interesting to see if this gets raised again at this week’s Scrutiny Panel.

As I make clear, I’m no expert on this.  But day after day, walking and cycling around Leeds, I am put at unnecessary risk by a significant minority of drivers – and I’ve had enough of it.  Too many streets are designed in ways that facilitate the movement of vehicles, at the expense of people walking and cycling.  Whilst the stats I’ve pointed to above confirm the particular impact unsafe streets have on vulnerable road users.

I don’t know what to do – but I think we need some radical action.  Maybe it’s time to look at initiatives like Vision Zero – and start thinking about how we can work towards a target of no-one being seriously injured or killed on our streets.  I can see why such a target might sound ridiculous.  But I think we’ve gone too far the other way – as a society we seem to accept that “accidents” happen.   I think we can do better than that.

How can we help Leeds to become the Best City For Motorists?

There’s an opinion piece in today’s Yorkshire Evening Post on the current state of the transport network in Leeds, written by the Assistant Features Editor Chris Bond.  Chris,  by the sounds of things,  drives four miles into the centre of Leeds to work every day.

The arguments will be familiar to anyone who lives in and travels around Leeds, a city which, as the author suggests, has lots going for it, but has a real issue with traffic congestion, inadequate public transport provision, a lack of high quality cycling infrastructure and, to top it all, issues with poor air quality.

It won’t surprise you to learn that I don’t agree with quite a lot of what’s in the article.  However, I do largely agree with the headline, that Leeds is failing to meet the needs of people who drive.

One of my favourite quotes, from Canadian urbanist Brent Toderian is this one:

“A city built for cars fails for everyone, including those who drive. ”

That’s so true for Leeds.  The arguments are well-rehearsed, and there’s no time to go into them here, but Leeds – Motorway City of The Seventies – is reaping the rewards of that period in which the future appeared destined to revolve around the car.  Efforts to shift that balance (again, well-documented elsewhere) have failed spectacularly over the last 25 years.  So we are where we are – in a city that’s the largest in Europe without a mass transit system.  Where, for many people, for many of their journeys, the car seems like the best bet.

The cause of the near-daily congestion isn’t, as Chris suggests, a car broken down on the inner ring road, or whatever today’s excuse is.  It’s the fact that there are too many people traveling alone in cars, so that when there’s a problem (traffic light failure, collision, broken down car) the system collapses.  There is no resilience – because too many of us are traveling in a way that the system just can’t cope with.

So I agree it’s no fun driving around Leeds.  Where we disagree, by the sounds of things, is around what should be done to sort things out.  Let me pick out a few points where I think we may see things differently.

Parking

It’s a common argument – “It’s so awful driving into Leeds, and when you get there, there aren’t enough parking spaces.  Why don’t they build more?”  As outlined above, the primary cause of congestion is too many people driving into and across the city centre.  Inviting more people in, by making it easier for them to park, will only make the problem worse.  We need to be reducing the amount of city-centre parking, not increasing it.

People, not motorists

The opinion piece is written from the perspective of a “motorist”.  As if we’re defined by one fixed mode of travel.  I don’t think it’s like that.  Most people just want to get from A to B as quickly, comfortably, safely and inexpensively as possible.  We need to stop thinking of people as “motorists” – or “cyclists” for that matter.  We are people trying to get around our city.  The problem is, the more of us who choose to drive, the worse it gets for all of us. 

You’re not in traffic, you are traffic

As is common in articles such as this, the author appears to believe that problems are all to do with other people, and nothing to do with personal choices.  As someone who hasn’t owned a car for seven years, I know the buses aren’t as good as they should be.  I know cycling doesn’t feel as safe as it should. 

But I also know that if I hire a car and drive it into Leeds at 745am, I’m part of the problem.  I am traffic. 

I’d like people to take a bit more responsibility for the impact of their personal choices. I know life’s complicated,  and I don’t expect everyone to rush to the bike shop and suddenly start making all their journeys on two wheels.  But I also don’t buy the common narrative around “no choice”.

Amsterdam wasn’t always like Amsterdam

One thing it sounds like Chris and I can agree on is that Bordeaux is a great place.  I’ve visited twice in the last couple of years and it really is beautiful.  And it’s a great place to get around – when by all accounts a few years ago it certainly wasn’t.

What’s changed?  It’s invested in public transport, cycle infrastructure and decent, pedestrianised public space.  It’s prioritised sustainable forms of travel and made it more difficult to drive into the centre, or park there.  It’s one of the reasons why I want to keep going back.

Similarly Amsterdam was a very different place 40 years ago, dominated by cars.  Years of investment – and prioritisation of sustainable forms of travel over inefficient travel modes like cars, have turned it into the place we know today.  Same for Copenhagen, and, more recently, to a certain extent, for London.

I know that’s not a great deal of use for this afternoon’s commute home, but it’s a reminder that cities can change – but there are choices to be made, priorities to be agreed upon.  Making it easier for people to drive into the city centre and to park isn’t going to help.

A large part of the issue with buses is that they’re stuck behind single-occupancy cars

The best way to make life easier for people who drive around Leeds is to make life easier for people who don’t.  You can do that by, for example, investing in more bus lanes.  By creating a joined-up network of high quality cycle lanes.  And, yes, by taking away road capacity from cars.

As I’ve suggested above, for most of us our travel modes aren’t fixed.  We just want to get from A to B.  Give us a better alternative and we’ll use it.  But that will involve tough choices over limited road space, which will probably upset a lot of people, because they’ll see lanes re-purposed for more efficient modes of transport like cycling and buses.

But if measures like more bus lanes mean that buses don’t get stuck behind big queues of people sat alone in cars, then more people will choose to take public transport, because it will be become relatively more attractive.  This will take cars off the road – leaving road space for those who do drive.

So although it may not like sound like it at times, I do have a lot of sympathy for people like Chris.  It really is not fun driving around Leeds.  So let’s make Leeds the Best City For Motorists.  By making it less attractive to drive.

Could a Latte Levy work for Leeds?

The year is only a few days old and already we’ve had at least two big news stories about waste.

The first concerns plastic – and the possible impact of China’s decision to no longer accept our plastic for re-processing.  Then today we’ve had news of a potential 25p Latte Levy – to “nudge” people into reducing their use of non-recyclable coffee cups.

Waste reduction is an issue that interests me a lot.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve had a bit of time over the last few months, courtesy of the social enterprise that I help to run, to explore “green” business ideas – things we could get involved in locally that would help in one way or another to tackle climate change.

We’ve been looking in particular around community energy, waste, and transport.  Waste and recycling is the one where we’ve made most progress – and I’ll be putting some more time into it over the next few weeks.

We’re interested to see what more could be done to help Leeds as a city create less waste,  and increase the amount of waste materials that gets recycled.

The context is that in Leeds, as elsewhere, recycling rates have stalled in recent years.

Up until recently,  year-on-year progress was impressive – with close to 44% of Leeds household waste recycled in 2013/14 – compared to 22% in 2006/07.  Yet this dropped to 38.5% in 2016/17.

This is pretty consistent with the national picture – as these Government statistics demonstrate.

I’m not sure why we’ve hit this plateau.  My guess would be that years of central Government cuts haven’t helped – and that the continued investment that’s needed to ensure that householders are able to recycle more just hasn’t happened.

On this, it’s interesting to compare what’s happened in Wales – where improvements in recycling rates are much more impressive.  So it would seem that it can be done, if there’s political will and investment.

Locally, Leeds City Council are currently working with WRAP – and are undertaking a review of their Waste and Recycling Strategy this year (see item 17 here).  So it seemed to us that it was timely to explore whether there were any ways we could help to work out how to waste less and recycle more.  I summarised some of the key points in the council report in this thread.

Our starting point has been to chat with the wide range of social enterprises that are active in Leeds on waste and recycling.  There’s loads going on already – with really impressive social enterprises such as SCRAP, Seagulls, and Revive doing loads of good work to make good use of stuff that other people are throwing away.  And, of course, Leeds is the birthplace of the Real Junk Food Project – who through projects including Fuel For School and the Sharehouse have saved tonnes of food from going to waste.

But could we do more?  That’s what we’ll be exploring at a meeting we’re hosting later this month.  We’ve invited the Council along too to chat about the review of their waste strategy  – and to find out more from them about the challenges the city faces around waste & recycling – alongside opportunities to do more.

One really positive thing in Leeds is that a lot of social enterprises already have a strong relationship with the Council – for example Revive has reuse shops at two of the Council’s household waste sites.  And it’s that kind of co-operation that has a big impact.

As today’s focus on coffee cups has illustrated, this is a really complex issue.  There are no easy solutions – and progress will probably come (if it does come) in a range of different ways.  Businesses have a role to play, as do all of us as consumers.  Local and national government will play their part too.

That’s why I think the coffee cup issue is such an interesting one.  I think it’s going to be a really tough one to solve.  As Jo from The Greedy Pig outlined in this Radio Leeds interview, (from 2hrs42min),  the issue of disposable coffee cups is a bit different to plastic bags.  It’s the “on-the-go” consumption that makes it such a difficult issue.

There will be solutions.   But I think we’re going to have to think really creatively.  There are plenty of interesting ideas in this post by Hubbub, who’ve been working a lot on the issue.  I think they’re right that there’s plenty of scope for city-level action – and I’m already talking with a couple of Leeds indie businesses who are up for working out how they can reduce the amount of packaging waste that they create.  Many independent businesses already take a lead on this (eg offering Vegware packaging) – and it’s great to see there’s an appetite for doing more.

There are other interesting ideas out there too – like Cup Club – and again, I’ve been in touch with them to see if there’s scope for trying something out in Leeds.

It’s a massive challenge, but I sense a change in public mood – thanks in no small part to David Attenborough.   There will be things we can do to increase recycling rates – but even more importantly there’ll be ways to reduce the amount of waste we create in the first place.  And the thing that interests me is that I think it’s in cities that we’ll be able to do the collaborative, joined-up work that will help us make progress on this issue.  Starting in Leeds of course….

What does #LeedsTransport look like to a 12 year old?

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that one of my favourite topics is #LeedsTransport.  It shouldn’t really be this way.   Getting around your city should be one of those things that’s incidental to the rest of your day – leaving you time and energy to get on with the important stuff.  But in Leeds, like in so many other cities, it doesn’t really work like that.

I mainly weave my way around the regular congestion on my bike.  But I use public transport a lot too.  As we’ve not owned a car for the best part of seven years, the quality of public transport, and the ease with which you can walk or cycle around Leeds, matters to us a lot as a family.

It’s why I do my best to campaign, read up on and ask questions about all things to do with transport.  Not because I have some kind of transport fetish (although just look at that tram) but because I think cities which get public transport right are better places for everyone to live in – however they choose to get around.

It’s also why I recently joined WYCA’s Leeds consultation committee on public transport (we meet quarterly – the next meeting’s in mid January).

One of the many reasons I’m interested in this is because I think it’s much easier to be a child or young person growing up in a city if it has decent public transport.  And, of course, what’s easy for a child is likely to make life easier for a parent.

As has been said many times, by Guillermo Peñalosa amongst others, if you design a city for eight year olds (or eighty year olds) it works for everyone.

Back to the story.  We hired a car over Christmas – as we usually do – and handed it back to Avis on Tuesday.  My son was due to go to see his friend over the other side of Leeds later that day.  So I set him the task of getting us there by bus.

The context is that for for a while we’ve been keen for him to be more independent – including about how he gets around his home city.  He started senior school recently so we’ve been preparing for a while to ensure he could travel independently to school.  As it happens he’s ended up walking to school most days – and in doing so has ended up encouraging a few of his friends to do the same.  Which is an interesting thing in itself – so many human behaviours are contagious (and walking is a sociable thing).

But back to buses.  I set him the task of getting us to his friend’s house so that in future he could go there on his own.  Research the options – sort out tickets – work out where to get on and off etc.  More independence for him – more time for me – and no need for another car on the road for the rest of us. I documented how we got on in this thread

The detail’s there – but I wanted to pick up on a few key points. For people to choose public transport – over the car – it has to be easy.  It has to be lots of other things too – reliable, clean, good value etc – but the ease with which you can just hop on a bus is vital.  I think it’s fair to say we’re getting better – but there’s still a long way to go.

On the positive side, things like Google Maps – with their  decent transport planner – make it a lot easier to work out how to get to places by bus.  It was no surprise that his first response to solving the problem was to Google it.

Yet on the downside ticketing is still far too complicated.  If my son didn’t already have a decent bit of bus wisdom, he’d have never worked that bit out.  If we assume you already had an Under 18 photo card, you’d then need to know that the first bus that Google Maps recommended is run by a different company to the second bus you’ll need to get.  So you’ll need a different ticket.  But you can ignore Google and get a different bus – that’s run by the same company as the second bus.  And you can get that day ticket on your phone.  Even though you couldn’t get a single ticket on your phone.

I do hope you’re keeping up.

It took around 45 minutes door to door, when a car journey would have taken 15.  But we’re playing the long game here – think of the independence and the benefits of that for him and for us.

But it was useful to see things through the eyes of a child.  How are you supposed to work out where to get off, when there’s no next stop info and the windows are steamed up?  Who might you ask if you’re not sure?  Can the driver even hear you through the security screen?

But we got there.  And it was fine.  So next time he wants to visit his friend he’ll be going on his own.  Good news all round.

And to round it all off a lovely thing happened on my bus home.  As a creature of habit, even when I’m on my own I tend to go upstairs and sit at the front.  So that’s what I did.

A few stops later I could hear two excited children coming up the stairs.  I realised immediately.  Here I was, sat at the front, on my phone, not making full use of those precious front seats.

The first child got to the top of the stairs, and we turned to eachother.  She said “Oh”, had a quick think, and then as politely as you like asked me if I’d move so she and her sister could sit there instead.   I was only too happy to oblige, knowing full well that her gift to me of a Twitter vignette was far greater than what I was offering her.

I walked down the bus and spotted a woman laughing – with me not at me – or at least that’s what I told myself.   I sat with her and we had a good chat about what had happened.    And it reminded me of that great Twitter hashtag #GreatThingsThatHappenedOnTransit  – and why better public transport is such a key ingredient for making Leeds a better place for us all to live in. 

Ideas to tackle climate change in Leeds – a second update

I’ve written two posts – here and here – over the last couple of months about how I’m keen to get more involved locally in tackling climate change.  I’ve also outlined how the social enterprise I work for has given me a bit of time to explore a few ideas, to see where there is scope for us to get involved with things that are already happening, or set something up ourselves.

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent a bit of time each week exploring a few ideas, so with the launch of the Leeds Climate Commission this evening, I thought it was time to give another update on where we are up to.

Big picture first – talking with people, and reading up on this issue has left me more convinced than ever that this is something I want to focus on over the next few years.  Whilst there are no shortage of issues to worry about in the world right now, I’m convinced that climate change is the biggest threat we face.  So I’m more keen than ever to try to get involved in things locally that could make a difference.

But how do you make a difference?  That’s something I’ve been thinking about a fair bit too.  Rather than just concentrating on social business ideas, I’ve been thinking – what actions are most effective?  When, for example, is it best to focus on lobbying politicians, or campaigning?  When does it make most sense to focus on changing what you do personally – what you eat, how you get around your city, etc?  When should you concentrate on teaming up with neighbours and friends to do things locally?  And when might it make sense  – in our case – for us to set up a new social business?

It won’t surprise you that I haven’t come to any conclusions on all of that, other than to confirm that all of the above are important!  But I think it’s a useful starting point – a reminder that making progress on such a big issue will require a whole host of approaches – whether that’s at a global scale, or at the scale we’re focusing on primarily – Leeds.

That said, our Board will be expecting an update next month.  So is anything emerging around the themes I explored in previous posts?

Energy remains the topic where there’s most, well, energy.  Most conversations have included discussion of opportunities to generate more renewable energy locally, and to involve local people in financing this activity – through for example community shares.

Given our recent experience with Leeds Community Homes and #PeoplePoweredHomes, this is clearly an opportunity that interests us a lot.  And, in summary, at the moment it’s definitely the main avenue we’re exploring.  But we’ve also been given plenty of advice to tread carefully – given that the business models for community energy have become more difficult to sustain, due to reductions in incentives like Feed in Tariffs.  It would have been an obvious one to explore five years ago when the policy environment was very different – but it’s a little more difficult now.

Our next steps around energy are to continue to look in more detail at other community energy schemes around the country, and also talk with Leeds City Council (we have a meeting on Monday) to see if they would be interested in partnering up with us in some way – eg on a rooftop solar scheme.

We’re also looking into insulation – in the news again this week.  Given that it makes so much sense  – and brings all sorts of benefits – is there more we could be doing in Leeds to insulate more homes?   For example some of the empty homes social enterprises we’ve worked with have developed expertise in insulation hard-to-heat homes – could we help them to do more?

Waste remains an interesting topic too – and as I suggested in the two previous posts it’s an area where as a city we’re pretty strong, in terms of having a whole host of social enterprises turning “waste” into useful resources – including of course the Revive re-use shops at 2 household waste sites.

This is one where it feels like if there is an opportunity, it is in supporting the organisations already doing good stuff in Leeds to do more.

As I’m reminded every time I look in a skip on our street, plenty of good stuff still gets thrown away.  That costs us all in a whole range of ways.   How could we make it easier for more people to reuse more useful goods, instead of throwing them away?  I’d be interested in chatting more with the Council and others on that one, as it’s an interesting problem to explore, around behaviour change and effective marketing.

Transport is another key theme – particularly so in a city like Leeds with public transport provision which is nowhere near good enough.  Reading up on things over the last few weeks has confirmed to me that, personally, this is the particular issue that interests me most.  It’s such a crucial issue for so many reasons – carbon emissions, pollution, economic growth, making the city child-friendly etc etc.

Yet, from a social business start-up perspective, opportunities are probably limited.  It might be one where we focus more on lobbying and working with others to make the case for significant investment in public transport and active travel.  I’ll hopefully be able to use my membership of Leeds Climate Commission to continue to get up to speed with the issues, and also influence the debate around transport in Leeds.

So that’s a quick update.  There have been plenty more conversations which I haven’t got time to share now but hopefully that gives you a bit of a feel of where we’re up to.  There’s a fair bit of detail for me to keep exploring over the next few weeks – to then discuss with our Board in October.

As always, we’re keen to chat with people who’d like to work with us on this – so if you’re interested in exploring how we could work together in Leeds to come up with practical ways to tackle climate change, please get in touch.  And don’t forget to follow the Leeds Climate Commission launch on #LeedsClimate.

 

Ideas to tackle climate change in Leeds – a quick update

I wrote recently about how the Board of our social enterprise has given me a bit of time over the next few weeks to explore how we could get more involved in initiatives in Leeds to tackle climate change.

I thought I’d give you a quick update on how I’m getting on.  Partly because it’s a useful way to think things through myself, and partly because I think being open about what you’re doing is one very important way of making interesting things happen.  There’s no point trying to do this stuff in secret.

I’m in the stage that we’ve called Looking for Clues – looking around to see what’s going on, what the issues are, and trying to explore where there may be opportunities to improve things.  And as is always the case, conversations and introductions have led me in all sorts of different directions.  I’ll share a few of the more interesting and promising ones below.

Starting with the big picture, the people from Leeds Climate Commission pointed me to research done in Leeds a couple of years back – The Economics of Low Carbon Cities – A Mini Stern Review For The Leeds City Region.  I haven’t considered it in detail yet, but it’s a reminder of the expertise that already exists in the city around how we can create a low carbon economy.

Then at a national level, the Committee on Climate Change produced a report for Parliament last month.  Again, beyond a quick read of the summary, I’ve not had time to take in the detail – but there are clear messages in there about the opportunities that could come from decisive actions and investments – but also the increasing risks of not doing enough, and not doing things quickly enough.

So that’s all useful context – which I clearly need to get to grips with.  In the meantime, I’ve been having conversations around a number of themes.

One issue that keeps coming up is community energy – with a few people I’ve spoken with suggesting that there’s potential in Leeds to do more on this – around energy generation (community-led solar schemes for example) and around energy reduction (investment in insulation of hard to heat homes).  There are plenty of interesting co-operative initiatives around the country to learn from, including ones that have involved Local Authorities.

Again, I need to explore this more, but one of the key things to understand will be where the sustainable opportunities lie – given that the investments and subsidies that made some of these schemes viable in the last few years (Feed In Tariffs etc) are far less generous than they were.

It’s possible we may have missed the boat on this one – or we may just need to think a bit more creatively.  I’m following this one up with a few people who know the community energy world inside-out – like energy4all – and I’ll feed back more soon.

I’ve had a good few conversations around waste and recycling too.  I started by having a think about all the great social enterprises and voluntary groups in Leeds that help us to reuse and recycle things that would otherwise go to waste.  People like Seagulls, Scrap, Leeds Repair Cafe, Leeds Freegle, Revive, Re-work Office Furniture, Real Junk Food Project and Slate.

They – and plenty of other organisations – all help to reduce the amount of useful stuff that goes to waste in Leeds – saving the city money, and bringing a whole range of other benefits too.  But like with all these things, there’ll be loads of Leeds people who don’t know about them.  I’m wondering what more we can do to more widely promote all the reuse and recycling organisations in the city – so that reusing and recycling becomes as easy as throwing something in the bin.

And again, context is important here.  It emerged this month that Leeds’ new, PFI funded RERF (Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility) has missed its recycling target by quite some way – and looks like it will miss it again this year.  That’s a lot of potentially recyclable goods that have instead been thrown in the fire.  And this is against a backdrop of what appears to be declining recycling rates in Leeds.

This is a complex one.  But I’m interested in what more we can do to reduce waste – and stop reusable and recyclable goods being incinerated.  I also noticed in this Council report that the money that the PFI contractor will pay to the Council, having missed its recycling target, will be “ringfenced for the delivery of front-line services, or environmental projects that contribute to recycling.”  So there may be potential there for some of the social enterprises I mentioned above to bid for funds to help the city to improve its recycling rates.

Food and drink is another issue that I’ve been exploring.  I met up with one of the people behind Growing Better CIC – a new social enterprise that aims to grow micro leaves and herbs for local restaurants.  It’s an interesting one because of the well-documented benefits of short supply chains – but they also recognise the therapeutic benefits of growing food – and have an explicit aim around improving people’s mental health.

I’ve also been researching ideas around reducing the use of single-use plastic bottles – after spotting this news story about calls to install water fountains in city centres.  A few years ago I spent a couple of days in Paris with Danone staff from around the world – and one of the workshops I went to explored ways to increase the amount of “on-the-go” recycling.  Even those of us who enthusiastically recycle at home often end up buying single-use plastic water bottles whilst we’re out and about – and then throw them in a street-bin – with little chance of them being recycled.

So I’m interested in ideas to reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles – and water fountains sound like a good one.  It’ll no doubt come down to money – but initial responses from Leeds BID and Yorkshire Water were positive.

I also discovered Refill – a Bristol based social enterprise that works with local cafes and other businesses to offer people the opportunity to fill up their water bottle for free.  It sounds like a great idea to me so I’ve been in touch with them to let them know that I’d be interested in exploring how we could help if they decided to expand to Leeds.  Leeds Indie Food are keen to find out more too.

If you follow me on Twitter, it won’t surprise you to know that I’ve had a few conversations around transport too.  I’ve written before about what I think about transport in Leeds – and how things need to change in the city.  Short of setting up a crowdfunding page for a tram system, what more could be done to explore socially innovative ways to improve what Leeds is like to get around?

Again, it’s been a busy month for this kind of thing.   Leeds Council launched its long awaited Cycling Starts Here strategy.  I shared info about it in this thread – where you’ll see that it soon emerged that what I thought was a summary of the strategy was actually the strategy.  There was a nice aspirational Tube Map of what a comprehensive cycle network could look like, plus 24 “objectives” which covered just about anything and everything to do with bicycles.

Let’s see where it goes.  I can’t pretend I’m that hopeful to be honest – just a few days later we learnt (or at least I think we learnt, if I’ve read the notes correctly) that cycling infrastructure plans for the city centre have been scaled back, at least in the short term.   As Brent Toderian has said, look less at the vision, and more at the budget, if you want to see where a city’s aspirations truly lie.

So what are my reflections there?  Transport’s clearly a harder one to change.  There may be fewer direct opportunities for community-led approaches to changing things, but instead it might be about continuing to lobby for change, hold people to account, and point to what’s being done elsewhere (like Mobike in Manchester, the Workplace Parking Levy in Nottingham, or the Mobility as a Service pilot in Birmingham).  For me it will also continue to be a personal thing – continuing to reduce as a family the number of journeys we make by car.  I’ll also keep working to try to tackle issues around road danger near where I live.

So that’s where I’ve got up to.  Plenty more to explore – plenty more conversations to have – plenty of detail to digest.  But I’m more convinced than ever that getting involved in local responses to climate change is something  we should be doing – we just need to work out what it’s best to get involved with.  As before, if you’ve got thoughts, please get in touch.

How do you solve a problem like climate change – in Leeds?

Of all the social issues I’m involved in and care about, climate change is the one that matters most to me.  It is an existential threat – and we’re already seeing a whole range of negative impacts that have their roots in man-made climate change.

But it’s also one of those issues where it’s easy to feel hopeless.  It’s hard to know what to do.  And even if you do something, it can feel pointless.   So inaction, or disengagement, become ever-more attractive.  And the less we engage, the more time we waste, the less chance we’ve got of coming up with solutions.

Over the years I’ve tried to “do my bit” (see – even the language is problematic).  I’ve written here before about how we’ve tried to make our home more green (more problematic language).  I’ve written too about reducing our car use – and selling our car – and about big issues in Leeds – like transport and recycling.

And I’m pleased I’ve done all that.  It’s got us thinking about this stuff as a family.  It’s made a difference at a micro-level.  It’s saved us some money.  Made us feel a bit better about ourselves. And it’s got us into conversations with people we know.  Including difficult conversations, some of which probably haven’t done done much good.

But, of course, all of the things we’ve done are micro-scale, personal actions in a world that needs so much more to happen.  And they were all probably cancelled out by that flight to France last May.

It’s complicated isn’t it?

So I’ve been thinking again this year about what more I can do, particularly through work.

With this in mind, I recently joined the Leeds Climate Commission.   It’s due to launch publicly in September (if you’re interested in this kind of thing and would like an invite to the launch please let me know and I’ll pass on your request) and in broad terms it has a remit based around exploring how as a city Leeds does all it can to reduce its carbon emissions.

There are people from businesses and organisations across Leeds involved, with the Council and Universities taking a lead on bringing it all together.

My main aim in joining the Commission is to explore how we can come up with social business solutions to climate change in Leeds.  Sustainable ideas in both senses of the word.  I don’t know what they’ll be – but I’m sure there must be opportunities to develop ideas that could for example improve air quality, reduce waste, tackle traffic congestion, reduce fuel poverty, and reduce the amount of CO2 that we pump into the air.

The good thing is that the Board of our social enterprise, Social Business Brokers CIC, is keen for us to work more on this.  So they’ve given me a bit of time over the next couple of months to explore things in a bit more detail.

Could we help to develop some social business ideas in Leeds to tackle climate change?  Five years ago we decided to get involved in housing – and that led to us coming up with the idea for Empty Homes Doctor.  250 no-longer-empty-homes later, we’re still making a difference.

And on the back of that we got involved with developing Leeds Community Homes.  We played our part in raising £360,000 through a community share offer to create People Powered Homes.

So could we do the same on climate change?  Come up with sustainable social businesses that really make a difference?  I really hope we can.  And not just because it’s the issue that matters to me more than anything else.

I am increasingly convinced that many of the actions we need to take to tackle climate change are best taken at city level.  That’s the level at which you can engage citizens – and the level at which we could best appreciate the positive impacts of the changes we need to make to reduce carbon emissions.

So I’m on the lookout for ideas and opportunities – looking for clues, as it says in our 5 stage plan to creating change.  If you’d like to chat more, please say hello.

 

 

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