A Carbon Literate Organisation
The West Midlands Combined Authority is the UK’s first Combined Authority to achieve Carbon Literate Organisation status.
In 2019, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) declared a climate emergency, recognising the severity of climate change for the region, the country, and the world. The climate crisis poses humanity’s greatest threat, and action must be taken to ensure a liveable planet this century.
Following this declaration, the WMCA developed a regional target for the West Midlands to be carbon neutral by 2041 (WM2041), including a Five Year Plan for delivery. These plans to tackle climate change were acknowledged as the highest ranked combined authority and second in a league table of all 408 local and combined authorities in the country, in rankings published by not-for-profit organisation, Climate Emergency UK (source). As part of the WM2041 target, the WMCA has committed to embedding Carbon Literacy throughout the Combined Authority.
Carbon Literacy training is offered to all staff to ensure we work collectively to reduce emissions. From our housing directorate to Transport for West Midlands, it is critical that everyone is working together towards net zero by 2041, and Carbon Literacy plays an essential role in this.
In December 2022, this commitment was recognised by The Carbon Literacy Project. The WMCA was awarded Bronze Carbon Literate Organisation (CLO) status; the first Combined Authority to be awarded CLO status, and a landmark achievement within the local government sector. A Carbon Literate Organisation is an organisation that has been accredited by The Carbon Literacy Project as being “culturally Carbon Literate”, maintaining a substantial proportion of its workforce as Carbon Literate and demonstrating its Carbon Literacy through its organisational behaviour.
Carbon Literacy training at the WMCA is delivered using the Local Authorities Toolkit (with some minor amendments to ensure specificity for a Combined Authority). A day’s worth of training, the Toolkit provides colleagues with the specific skills and knowledge to take action in their work remit; an important focus, given that local authorities have influence over 33% of UK emissions.
A focus on action has led staff pledging significant carbon-reduction actions at home and, crucially, in the workplace, which have begun to change the drive and face of the Combined Authority. For example, due to one action, staff events are becoming meat-free, in recognition of the higher carbon footprint of meat products.
The training has also been key in the development of a funding bid for ‘zero carbon highways’. The successful funding bid will lead to the creation of the ‘UK CO2llaboration Centre of Excellence for Highway Materials Decarbonisation’ in the West Midlands & beyond. This Centre of Excellence will help develop skills and innovation in low-carbon highway materials and techniques, and has secured £4 million in funding (read more here).
The benefits are not just reduced carbon. Attendees have also reflected on the merit of bringing staff together, both in person and online, prompting cross-organisation collaboration and boosting staff moral through positive interactions. Alongside the roll out of the training to the organisation, the WMCA’s Strategic Leadership Team have committed to all do the Carbon Literacy training. The role of leadership in the push for net zero is critical and their attendance will mark an important development for the WMCA.
Since our first session in November 2021, almost 10% of the WMCA have undergone training, supporting an organisational culture shift that ensures WM2041 is a top priority in everything we do. By delivering both in-person (one full day) and online (two half-days) sessions, the training is accessible to all colleagues, and both variations have seen successful learning and subsequent actions.
A full eight of hours of training can cause initial concern. However, the nature of the content – with plenty of activities and discussion - ensures that learners remain engaged, and the eight hours pass swiftly, feeling like a valuable use of time. One attendee suggested that the training ‘provided a great overview of the global carbon crisis that we currently face, translated that back to our organisation, and helped us define individual strategies to help make a difference’.
Another commented that ‘the training is perfect for colleagues and other organisations as it allows you time to step back and reflect on your personal and professional commitment to helping make a change’.
Head of Environment, Jackie Homan, has reflected on the decision to deliver Carbon Literacy training:
‘We were looking for an engaging way to get everyone in the WMCA involved with the journey to net zero, and wider sustainability outcomes. It isn’t always easy to know what to do/ who to ask, and we found the Carbon Literacy approach provided a supportive environment where people could get the knowledge they needed, ask all the questions and meet other people across the organisation who also had an interest in the environment. The training has enabled people to build considerations around climate change into their work, but also into their lives, to help us make the changes needed to achieve our regional ambitions’.
In November 2022, the WMCA also took part in Carbon Literacy Action Day (CLAD), which was timed to mark the start of COP27 in Egypt. We reflected on the value of Carbon Literacy on CLAD: https://youtu.be/ShyFuYUwcGo. CLAD also saw the launch of the WMCA’s internal Carbon Literacy Action Network, to support staff who have been through the training on their journey in climate action. The network is helping to sustain the learning and collaboration that the training initially delivers.
The WMCA has also recognised the importance of accessible climate change learning. As a legacy project of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, the WMCA collaborated with the Games and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to develop a Carbon Literacy course for residents of the West Midlands. At the time of writing, over 300 hundred individuals have begun training, and we have the ambition to train over 2,500 over the next two years. While the actions seen from this course are inevitably less workplace-focused, the carbon impact will be sizeable. Actions such as home retrofit, changing transport habits and active climate campaigning reflect the value of Carbon Literacy training for residents. To find out more about the training or take part yourself, please visit the WMCA website.
The WMCA becoming a Bronze CLO is an excellent recognition of the progress already made in the organisation and West Midlands region. The WMCA has ambitions to continue to embed, support and deliver Carbon Literacy both internally and across the region, with plans to become a Silver CLO are already underway.