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Green council report: Are county councils taking sustainable steps?

Picture of Ben Gallizzi, Senior Content Editor at Uswitch
Written by Ben Gallizzi, Senior Content Editor - Energy and Electric Vehicles

6 June 2022

With the UK’s net zero emissions target date set for 2050, green energy comparison site Uswitch.com wanted to see if the UK’s county councils are doing their part to become better sustainable businesses.
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This report covers the councils that are leading the way in terms of green initiatives and renewable energy, from installing EV charging points to net zero targets.

This information was obtained with a Freedom of Information request to 24 county councils with 21 responding. We asked:

  • For your main building, who is the energy supplier? (Please answer individually for both gas and electric if applicable).

  • Is your main building on a green/renewable energy tariff? (Please answer individually for both gas and electric if applicable).

  • For your main building, what is the name of the energy tariff you are on with the energy supplier? (Please answer individually for both gas and electric if applicable).

  • Do you have any electric vehicles on your fleet of vehicles for staff? If yes, please state how many.

  • Do you have any renewable installations across your buildings that you get a direct supply of energy from? If yes, please state which of the following you have and any others not listed:

  • Solar panels

  • Solar thermal panels

  • Wind turbines

  • Air source heat pump

  • Ground source heat pump

  • Biomass systems

  • Hydroelectric systems

6. Please state how much was spent in £ on office paper in the last financial year for your main building.

7. Are there any eco-friendly initiatives across your buildings such as green transport for staff, recycling initiatives, etc? If so, please state them.

We have subsequently split the councils into three tiers depending on their answers to questions 2,4, 5 and 7: those that have said “yes” to four of the criteria; those that have said “yes” to three; and those that have said “yes” to two or fewer. Those that have the most ticks have proven to be on track to being sustainable businesses.

Gold tier

Council nameRenewable TariffElectric CarRenewable InstallationsEco Friendly Initiatives
Cumbria County CouncilYYYY
Essex County CouncilYYYY
Hampshire County CouncilYYYY
Leicestershire County CouncilYYYY
Oxfordshire County CouncilYYYY
Surrey County CouncilYYYY
Suffolk County CouncilYYYY
Worcestershire County CouncilYYYY

Silver tier

Council nameRenewable TariffElectric CarRenewable InstallationsEco Friendly Initiatives
Cambridgeshire County CouncilYNYY
Derbyshire County CouncilNYYY
Devon County CouncilNNYY
East Sussex County CouncilYYYY
Hertfordshire County CouncilYNYY
Kent County CouncilNYYY
Norfolk County CouncilNYYY
Lincolnshire County CouncilYNYY
Staffordshire County CouncilYNYY
West Sussex County CouncilNYYY

Bronze tier

Council nameRenewable TariffElectric CarRenewable InstallationsEco Friendly Initiatives
Lancashire County CouncilYNYN
North Yorkshire County CouncilNYNY
Somerset County CouncilYNYN

Gold Tier: Most committed to being green

Only eight councils of the 21 that responded came back with four positive notes on the questions we asked. These councils are leading the way towards the UK net zero target. 

Among these, Surrey County Council has the most renewable installations on site, including solar panels, solar thermal panels, an air source heat pump, a ground source heat pump and a biomass system. Following behind in this tier for renewable installations, Leicestershire County Council boasts solar panels, an air source heat pump and a biomass system. Encouragingly, all the councils in the Gold Tier have at least one renewable installation on site as a means of producing renewable energy, most commonly, solar panels. 

All of these councils have electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging as part of their fleet as well, with Essex County Council using one electric car, one electric minibus, and one electric all-terrain vehicle to cover all occasions. Leicestershire County Council stated that it was expecting a delivery of six electric vans to be part of its fleet suggesting a turning point among councils to be greener.

Some innovative eco-friendly initiatives are being run by Gold Tier councils ranging from simple office recycling, to carbon literacy training and mandatory climate action eLearning courses for all staff. One of the most common initiatives mentioned by the councils are their cycle to work schemes. Oxfordshire County Council has gone one further by introducing electric bikes and Brompton bikes as part of a pool sharing scheme. 

Silver Tier: Partial commitment to being green

It’s disappointing to see that five out of the 11 county councils in this tier have shown that they are not on a renewable energy tariff with their energy supplier. This would be one of the simplest ways to lower their emissions, putting them in the Gold Tier. However, Devon County Council stated they have an alternative to a renewable energy tariff, by supporting an organisation called the Devon Energy Collective. This is to develop new, local renewable energy projects and sell then sell them the power through Synthetic Power Purchase Agreements.

However, favourably all the councils in this ranking have renewable installations and eco friendly initiatives in place. Kent County Council and Staffordshire County Council, and all boast five different types of renewable installations proving their dedication to rely less on the grid for their energy. 

Five councils have yet to get a single electric vehicle on their fleet, compared to Derbyshire County Council who currently has eight Nissan Leafs and is hoping to introduce an employee electric car salary sacrifice scheme. West Sussex County Council has an impressive 47 hybrid vehicles and is seemingly increasing its fully electric fleet with seven so far. 

It’s interesting to see how working from home has improved some council’s sustainability, with many mentioning WFH as an eco-friendly initiative. This reduction in emissions is not just due to staff commuting less often, but because of less paper use, and in Hertfordshire County Council’s case, the rehoming of unused office furniture. 

Bronze Tier: Least commitment to being green

Thankfully only three out of the 21 council respondents feature in this tier. Lancashire, North Yorkshire, and Somerset County Council each answered “no” to two of the four pieces of criteria in order to rank higher.

Despite this, it’s positive to see that North Yorkshire County Council has both electric vehicles and eco-friendly initiatives in this tier. The simple fix of placing itself on a renewable energy tariff with its supplier would see it move into Silver Tier. And to take it one step further and ensure its emissions are less, it could benefit from some renewable installations. 

Although Lancashire County Council features in the Bronze Tier, it does have an impressive array of renewable installations. Out of the seven installations we asked if they had, they had six, only omitting hydroelectric systems.

Somerset County Council at the time of the Freedom of Information request did not have electric vehicles on their fleet. However, they stated they expected the delivery of two electric minibuses which would increase their rankings.

Overall findings:

In total across the study, 67% of the County Councils were on a renewable energy tariff with their supplier, with the majority being with the supplier Total Energies (formally Total/Total Gas & Power). EDF Energy, followed by Corona were the next two most popular energy suppliers for the County Councils. 

14 county councils stated that they had electric cars on their fleet in total. However, a few mentioned their plans to obtain them in the future. This is a reflection of the overall change in societal attitudes towards electric cars, as more and more are seen on the road. The councils have an opportunity here to lead by example. It’s not just cars however, with five mentioning they have either vans or light goods vehicles as part of their fleet. 

With the wide choice of renewable installations a building can have, solar panels proved the most popular with 18 councils featuring them. Air source heat pumps weren’t too far behind with 12 councils disclosing that they had them installed. None of the councils that responded had hydroelectric systems in place, unsurprisingly. Eight of the 21 councils stated they have a biomass system, though it’s disputed as to whether biomass is truly a renewable energy source

Will Owen, energy expert at Uswitch.com says:

“It’s great to see that many of the councils are leading by example when it comes to sustainability.”

“The fact that so many have already adopted electric vehicles is a great message to send to the public. The more EVs seen on the road, especially by government run establishments, will increase confidence in their ability among the public.”

“And the councils that are producing some of their own renewable energy, and the ones that are ensuring their grid supply is green, are all helping towards the rapidly approaching Net Zero targets.

“While finances may be tight for everyone, councils included, it makes sense to lower emissions as much as possible. One such way is to lower carbon heating emissions

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About Ben Gallizzi

Ben is an energy expert and writes about a range of energy topics, including  industry news and money saving hacks for consumers. 

Ben Gallizi currently writes for Uswitch and Money.co.uk, as well as recently being quoted in various publications, including Ideal Home, IFA Magazine and Forbes

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