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What open source means to Afallen

Afallen is a small company that delivers sustainable projects in Wales. We aim to keep money and skills in Wales. We also champion and support open source ways of working as stated in our values:

“We champion the use of Creative Commons and open source solutions, and we embrace the right to online privacy, free from surveillance capitalism”

Without diving too deeply into the detail of Creative Commons (CC) or ‘free and open source software’ (FOSS), our ‘championing’ of the sector means that we want to see a world that is more supportive of a digital ‘commons’ that belongs to humanity, rather than the current headlong rush to grab digital assets, often creating huge wealth for the owners of companies, often at the expense of the privacy of individual users.

Without getting into the details of licensing, both FOSS and CC aim to generate public bodies of work (including code or software) that are available to everyone for free, and for any use. Perhaps the best-known example of this type of platform is Wikipedia.

Afallen is particularly interested in how the esoteric concepts that underpin a digital commons are embedded into how we work, and how they can add value for us and for the people and organisations we work with. In this article I will be focusing on FOSS, although CC has many similar benefits associated with it.

There are a number of different themes that are relevant to the perspective of a small business – equally applicable to small charities or not-for-profit organisations.

  • Values
  • Innovation
  • Learning and development
  • Cost
  • Anti-surveillance

Values

Firstly, as a values-based organisation, FOSS is strongly aligned with our corporate objectives of seeing a fairer, more prosperous and more environmentally friendly Wales. In fact, most of the Future Generations Goals are supported by using CC and FOSS products or platforms, in contrast to closed source or proprietary tools (see image).

As an example, most commercial products require an up-front or on-going licence fee to be paid in order to use the software. The software companies are generally based outside Wales, contributing towards economic leakage from Wales. FOSS software can usually be used for free, eliminating the barriers for payment to access it. 

FOSS products can be modified or adapted, particularly interesting in Wales where this functionality enables projects to be readily translated into Welsh; I am currently a volunteer translator for a number of open source projects, including Impactasaurus, Zulip, Open Collective and Pixelfed.

FOSS can allow older hardware to run more efficiently, reducing the need for frequent upgrades of computers, and reducing the environmental impact of organisational tech use.

Innovation

Entering the world of FOSS is to embrace a beautiful ecosystem of people, organisations and technologies that co-exist with the overall purpose of ensuring access to all for the code that is created under the FOSS umbrella.

There are literally millions of people working on FOSS projects globally at this instant; most of the code that you are using to read this blog post, from the operating system to the tech that allows the hardware to operate, will have an open source aspect. 

This huge and frenetic mass of activity is constantly propelling different software projects forward, and in ways that are often as advanced as their commercial counterparts. This process creates innovation, which is something that can be highly beneficial to small businesses.

Indeed, many FOSS projects are directed specifically at small businesses. The process of understanding your current organisational needs, and then figuring out how different FOSS components could offer alternative solutions, can result in surprising innovations, to the benefit of your organisation and clients. The ability to modify FOSS projects means that they can be altered for your organisation’s specific needs.

Learning and development

Closely tied to the innovation aspect is the opportunity to learn and develop skills associated with deploying FOSS platforms. As an example, my first experience with FOSS through business was to create a website for RenewableUK Cymru using WordPress. That led on to developing multiple websites for various events, and then onto hosting FOSS polling platforms for an awards programme.

Since leaving RenewableUK Cymru I have branched out further, and am now – despite not being a ‘coder’ – very comfortable deploying FOSS products such as online forums, direct messaging platforms, information repositories and peer-to-peer video calling. The astonishing thing for me is that this stuff is pretty straightforward; if you can copy and paste instructions, you can almost certainly do this yourself. Yet the implications are quite profound for me as an individual, building confidence and capacity that I am now also able to deploy pro-bono for the public sector and charity.

Cost

One of the most attractive features – for me anyway – about FOSS is that it is free at the point of use. This can make it a very interesting alternative to commercial applications.

Whilst there is a cost for hosting the software on your own server (I am currently paying about £5/month for each deployment of forum, messaging platform, information repository and website), those costs are generally a small fraction of the costs associated with the commercial equivalents.

For example, Slack, a popular messaging application, costs between £5-£10 per month per user for more than ‘basic’ use. An open source equivalent, Zulip, is totally free if self-hosted. For organisations seeking to reduce their overheads, these cost differentials can be alluring.

Anti-surveillance

Although this component of FOSS is not on the radar for many organisations, the ability to use software without ourselves or our customers being tracked online is an important consideration for Afallen. Many commercial platforms require users to abide by licence agreements that require them to surrender their digital privacy in exchange for the use of the platforms. Such requirements are not generally needed for FOSS software. 

As an example, our website is based on WordPress, the most popular and widely used blogging platform. We have eschewed third party add-ons that collect website visitor data, so when you view our website you know that nobody is tracking you. The social media feeds embedded on our website are Pixelfed and the Welsh version of Mastodon called ‘Toot.Wales’. Neither of them embed any tracking software on your browser when you visit.

Developing digital

If you’ve made it to the end of this article, you may still be scratching your head about how to start your FOSS journey. Here are some suggestions:

  • Send me a message or give me a ring – I am always happy to chat through ideas
  • Search the ‘Alternative to’ website for the software that you’re currently using, and see if there’s a recommended open source equivalent
  • If you don’t have the time or inclination yourself, recruit a Digital Degree Apprentice (it could be an existing staff member) to experiment and deploy FOSS assets on your behalf. The current Welsh Government programme, run by UWTSD, is an extremely attractive offer
  • Join meetings of the Senedd Cross-Party Group on Digital Rights and Democracy, which often discusses issues around FOSS in Wales

Transparency: An Introduction

With the rapid development of sustainability as a consumer priority, it is unsurprising that many businesses are prioritising increased transparency of their operations and their supply chain. As consumers will likely have noticed, many organisations are weaving ‘green’ narratives of environmentalism into their strategy and product development, but how beneficial is such marketing when an organisation’s core business model does not align with sustainable development principles?

This article is an introduction to transparency and its role within the sustainability agenda. It will briefly discuss what transparency is, the jargon and inaccessibility that characterises it, why it is important for businesses, and how it might be implemented. It will be the first in a wider series discussing the essential role of transparency in collectively working towards a sustainable future. The following pieces will touch on areas including self-reporting support for businesses, how transparency intersects with consumerism, and the complicated moral ethics surrounding transparency.

What is ‘transparency’?

The term ‘transparency’ within sustainability can vary depending on its context, and what exactly someone is attempting to measure, report and communicate. However, for the purpose of this article, I shall be referring to transparency as a ‘set of concrete criteria that is necessary to improve sustainability practice and standards…’ [Oxford Language]. Unfortunately, the ‘set’ criteria for transparency isn’t always so clear cut. It can be almost impossible to navigate the excessive terminology, frameworks, and information that exists out there without professional guidance.

Therefore, the next section will consider the prolific jargon that exists within such frameworks and information, and how the sustainable agenda may be inaccessible to both consumers and businesses with little to no prior knowledge. 

Jargon and Inaccessibility

As the global agenda of sustainability constantly develops, the integral need to intersect it with work to achieve equality becomes increasingly obvious. As certain academics are now beginning to explore, this link is essential in discussions around transparency, as the excessive jargon and overly complicated process of self-reporting can be weaponised against individuals to make the discussion inaccessible.

For example, look at the variance between the following terms:

  • Net zero – target of completely negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity by reducing emissions and implementing methods of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere [Oxford Language]
  • Carbon neutral – making or result in no net release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, especially as a result of carbon offsetting [Oxford Language]
  • Carbon negative – the reduction of an entity’s carbon footprint to less than neutral, so that the entity has a net effect of removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it adds [British Antarctic Survey]

With no clear understanding of these definitions, it isn’t surprising that many assume them to be the same thing and use such terminology interchangeably despite having very definable differences. As a result, these terms, which were intended to act as guiding frameworks, have become an added complexity to both those businesses trying to report their impact, and for consumers attempting to understand the impact of their decisions.

It is in this context that I introduce what is arguably the key term to understand such jargon: greenwashing. First coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, it refers to ‘a marketing tool used to deceive consumers into believing a product or brand is environmentally friendly.’

It originated due to hotels encouraging guests to reuse their towels to save energy, without actually implementing any other ‘green’ initiatives. Westerveld believed such a scheme to be profit driven and not of environmental benefit, and therefore marked it the first official example of greenwashing.

The varying nature of greenwashing can make it highly difficult to identify, especially with the complex jargon used to disguise it. After all, as this RTS article explains, it can characterise something as small as incorporating images of our natural environment into the packaging of processed foods, or even purposely misinforming ‘consumer practices through green marketing’ and presenting data in a skewed manner. TerraChoice Environmental Marketing have identified ‘seven sins’ that represent the most common greenwashing practices. Take a look and keep these in mind from both a business and consumer’s perspective. If individuals are increasingly aware what greenwashing actually constitutes, the subsequent accountability can put pressure on institutions and companies alike to sincerely improve their sustainability practice, rather than simply misrepresent it.

An example that previously featured in international news was concerning global fast-food company McDonald’s switch from single-use plastic straws to a paper alternative in 2018. This was part of a wider scheme to source ‘100% of their packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025’. Yet, following leaked internal communications, the straws were exposed as non-recyclable in 2019. This demonstrated the prolific use of purposeful misinformation and greenwashing within organisations to promote unrealistic progress towards sustainable agendas. 

Unfortunately, the continuation of greenwashing practices continue to happen with varying levels of accountability. This is not helped by the array of different reporting frameworks and sustainability standards that exist and sometimes contradict each other.

In response, many organisations or credible sites have begun to develop glossaries to simplify the language around transparency. In particular, this British Antarctic Survey glossary and this The Chancery Lane Project Glossary are incredibly useful for individuals just starting out on their sustainability journey.

Ultimately, disparate regulatory bodies can only go so far in mitigating such practices, so transparency and accountability are integral in countering this rise of misinformation. This is particularly relevant in the age of digitisation and globalisation, which will be considered more extensively in the following articles.

Why is transparency so important?

The role of transparency within business and corporate operations will be discussed more extensively within a separate article, so this section will provide an initial introduction into why it is so key in working towards the global sustainability agenda.

Companies are facing more demand by regulators, investors and consumers to be transparent in their environmental, social and corporate governance. Despite attempts by certain companies to displace blame for the climate emergency onto the individual [read this interesting article to find out more about the history of the carbon footprint], personal virtue and commitment to reducing our own ‘footprint’ is not effective enough on its own to prevent further change. Rather, collective action needs to be accompanied by policy and relevant transparency within businesses and organisations to successfully address our current situation.

Furthermore, analysing an organisation’s full impact doesn’t simply benefit international attempts to counter the climate emergency; it can have extensive benefits in responding to new patterns of consumption, increasing the perceived value of a brand, and improving supply chains. For instance, through openly sharing their operations and production stages, transparency can benefit businesses and organisations in two ways:

(1) the findings can help to improve standards throughout supply chains.

(2) it providers consumers and buyers with the necessary data to make fully informed choices.

In reference to point (1), this typically results through the identification and subsequent mitigation of social and environmental risks. This in turn encourages the implementation of minimum guidelines, as well as incentivising more ambitious industry standards. As research has demonstrated, the complex nature of global supply chains is one of the key contributors to unsustainable production practices, so increased transparency within the creation and distribution of products is essential.

Concerning point (2), such transparency across the board is essential in increasing the accessibility of information to all individuals. By providing consumers and stakeholders with the so-called ‘full-story’ at a comprehensible level, you can help remove the barriers that characterise sustainability policy and politics. This accessibility is essential in supporting individuals in making fully-informed decisions about the things they consume – after all, new evidence is showing that new purchase patterns are emerging in response to attitudes around sustainability and environmentalism. For instance, in the 2021 UK Ethical Consumer Markets Report, ethical consumer spending and finance was found to have increased by 24% in the space of a year. Moreover, this survey found that 52% of those aged 18 to 25 were “keeping an eye on the business practices of the companies they use”, and that a fifth of UK shoppers had stopped purchasing items from a brand due to their association with greenwashing claims.  

In this context, I want to explain the ‘value proposition’ of being increasingly transparent about your practices and operations. The term, defined as ‘an innovation, service or feature intended to make a company or product attractive to customers’, is a key tool used by organisations to demonstrate the benefits of their products or services to consumers. In this instance, by being so vulnerable with customers – as well as demonstrating a genuine commitment to improving your sustainability practice – you can align your priorities with those of the customer. In turn, you are opening your organisation up to public accountability, and thereby increasing the perceived value of your organisation from the perspective of your target audience.

How can businesses be more transparent?

  1. Self-report your impact and develop a sustainability strategy

Whilst many organisations are taking the first steps towards measuring their impact at an immediate and direct level (e.g., the emissions produced by your production, warehouse or shipping), calculating your emissions throughout your entire supply chain and life cycle is integral to achieving full transparency.

Whilst the second article in the wider ‘Transparency Series’ will focus on the frameworks and guidance available for self-reporting your emissions and carbon footprint, there are resources which can help in the meantime.

If you are struggling to develop a sustainability strategy and calculate your own impact, Cynnal Cymru can provide consultancy support to help you in your journey. Visit our consultancy page to find out more.

2. Pay your workers a Living Wage

Paying workers at each stage of the supply and production chain a real Living Wage is essential in ensuring the global journey towards net zero is a fair and just transition. Accrediting as an official real Living Wage employer can also have significant benefits for your business, as research conducted by Cardiff Business School demonstrated 86% found their reputation had improved as a result.

Cynnal Cymru is the official Welsh accreditation body for the Living Wage Foundation and can assist your organisation in uplifting your workers and ensuring your sustainability strategy works alongside the fair work agenda.

Find out more about the real Living Wage and how to accredit.

3. Be open and vulnerable with your consumers

As discussed in the article, being more transparent and vulnerable around your supply chain, production and process is arguably one of the top actions that businesses can take towards sustainable development. Not only can you identify areas for improvement beyond your immediate remit of control or knowledge, but you can also improve your relationship with consumers, encourage wider implementation of “kindness-economy” ideals, and provide consumers with the knowledge to make their own informed decisions.

4. Educate staff

Organisations are increasingly introducing company policy and guidelines specifically to deal with sustainability. However, if your staff are not equally well-versed in the values and standards you are wishing to implement, then sustainability policy can only go so far.

Cynnal Cymru provides both Carbon Literacy and Nature Wise training for individuals with any level of knowledge or experience. We can even develop bespoke training specific to your organisation or sector. Visit our training page to find out more.

Our members can benefit from up to two hours free specialist support and two free places on our training courses. Contact abi@cynnalcymru.com to find out more or register your interest.

Summary

To summarise, simply being honest with consumers and stakeholders about your environmental impact can have a significantly positive effect on your organisation. Not only can you identify areas where a sustainability strategy needs to be developed, you can encourage similar shared values of transparency and honesty within your sector. This increased accountability is integral in pushing forward the sustainability agenda, both within your organisation and beyond, as disparate regulatory bodies and frameworks can only solve part of the issue. Not to mention, from the perspective of a value proposition, transparency can increase the perceived value of your organisation by providing consumers with the information required to make fully informed decisions.

After all, the new generation of consumers are more and more concerned about the future of our planet, and their choices reflect that. As highlighted in this ScienceDirect article, the implementation of simple sustainability commitments are frequently criticised for being tokenistic and ‘lacking any clear implementation strategy’. Therefore, to engage with the sustainability agenda and respond to its impact upon consumerism, it is essential to analyse your organisation’s impact, implement the necessary strategy, and be open and honest about your challenges as well as your successes.

This article was written by our Development Officer, Abi Hoare, who has joined us on a one year placement as part of the Charityworks graduate scheme. This introduction and subsequent series was born out of previous conversations in the office about what ‘transparency’ actually means and how to make a complicated topic accessible to both businesses and consumers alike.

Community allotment

Public Good: Why we must value community environmental organisations

As we draw to the close of the Sylfaen project, I am reflecting on what we have learned.

The purpose of the organisations involved with Sylfaen is to protect, maintain, and enhance natural ecological assets in a way that not only serves their intrinsic well-being, but underpins the ecosystem services they provide to human beings. In plain language: they look after the environment so that the environment can look after people.

The organisation “Common Cause” presents a model of human behaviour based on research that explains things in terms of values. They claim that all human beings everywhere are governed by a common set of underlying values and that any human population can be segmented according to the values that are currently operational within their psyche. Typically, pro-environmental behaviours are driven by values in the “universal benevolence” or “transcendence” segment. The values in this segment also underlies behaviours that are directed to helping others. Business acumen, and the drive to succeed in business however, are associated with values in the “self enhancement” segment. The Common Cause theory claims that the values and behaviours associated with self enhancement are antagonistic to those of the transcendence segment. In other words, people who care about other people and the environment are not very motivated or competent business managers!

The good news, according to Common Cause, is that while business competence and universalism are antagonistic, there is a route between them. Furthermore, a person can hold conflicting values at the same time and their behaviours be driven by one set of values over another according to the most pressing need. So people who are motivated to act for the environment and the good of humanity can be trained to become competent, strategic and motivated business managers. This matters because like it or not, we operate in an economic system in which everything has a monetary value and goods and services are traded. Ecosystems and certain groups of people have been undervalued, marginalised and the harm done to them externalised from normal accounting. A sustainable future, the Wales that is described by the Well-being of Future Generations Act for example, does the opposite of this: the economic worth of ecosystem services is fully realised and all members of society are enabled to make a positive contribution.

At the Denmark Farm open day, representatives of other groups in the area talked about the constraints on income generation that they are experiencing. As I listened it became clear to me that these rural assets and their associated services were exactly the things that groups in urban areas needed. Here were the basic elements of a market place – someone with a need (the buyer) and someone able to satisfy that need (the seller). While the challenge is to bring these two together, the outcome would benefit the whole of society. How much public expenditure on drugs, primary care, social care and support services for diverse groups such as mental health patients, those seeking to rebuild their lives after incarceration, veterans, the elderly, the lonely, refugees, school children, low income families, people recovering from major illness, urban teenagers and many more could be averted if the therapeutic power of nature was more easily accessible? The community-based environmental sector needs to present itself as a cost effective solution offering financial and other co-benefits. These are of most immediate relevance to the NHS and local government but they extend way out into business and wider society.

So, the Co-op Foundation were absolutely correct in identifying the need to strengthen the financial viability and business management capacity of community based environmental organisations in Wales. These organisations need to be well managed so that they are a safe investment and a reliable contractor but they also need to develop the marketing & communication skills possessed by any successful business in order to attract potential clients. The Sylfaen project training programme covered all these aspects – financial management and planning, governance, communications and marketing – but this is only the first step. Organisations like the Wales Co-operative Centre, Cynnal Cymru and the Co-op Foundation need to work with the public and private sectors to create the market place in which these organisations can sell their services. A clearer understanding of ecosystem services is developing within the public sector and in big business but we also need local businesses to understand that ecosystem services also benefit them.

The extent to which community based environmental organisations can participate in purely commercial transactions is probably limited. We may well need to subsidise them in the same way that we are currently considering subsidising farmers for the ecological and public good they can provide. In any case, the recipients of subsidy need to be reliable, accountable and effective. So while the motivations of our community-based environmental organisations are non-commercial, we need them to be able to perform like successful businesses. The fact that a number of them have existed for several decades against all odds is a tribute to the business talent they already possess, but we must never take that for granted; and as a society, we must value what they provide and be prepared to pay for it.

Mission control: Take time and space to identify your vision and values

In early 2020, I began planning a bespoke training programme as part of my role on the Sylfaen Project.

The project, spearheaded by Cynnal Cymru, supported by the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Commercial Team and funded by the Co-op Foundation, aimed to work with a select number of community-led environmental organisations across Wales in order to give them stronger foundations for sustainability.

To my (very much pleasant) surprise, the most popular session by far was on the subject of Vision and Values. The reception was so positive in fact that two community councils who participated in the training requested I re-deliver the session to their board members, with one using it as the basis to go back to basics and set a revised 5-year business plan.

“The Community Councils used the session to question what it considered to be its core values, testing this in context with its constituents and users of community facilities by completing a similar exercise bespoke to our local communities. This has helped in enabling the Councils to challenge conventional ways of working and to plan a work programme based upon newly established values-based aims and objectives.”

David Davies, Cwmamman and Llanedi Community Councils.

So, why the need for a rethink?

Many people, companies and community groups underestimate the importance of properly aligned vision and values. Throughout my 20 years’ experience of supporting community organisations and businesses of all shapes and sizes, I’ve read countless business plans, and yet, more often than not, the process of identifying a vision and values is something of an afterthought.

In some cases, a set of relatively meaningless words are shoehorned in to support pre-determined actions. They state what the business or community group are going to do but give very little thought to why they are doing it.

Furthermore, even long-established companies and community organisations with a solid vision can easily get side-tracked. I have also fallen prey to this while working within community groups. Ostensibly golden opportunities can arise, in relation to funding for example, which appear too good to turn down. But, before you know it, these opportunities have deviated your energy away from your original purpose, derailing your mission, giving you less control over your direction and inevitably stifling your efforts to reach your vision!

Purposefully putting your why first

Quite often, what an organisation does takes precedence over why they’re doing it. It should be the other way around. Ethically driven private sector businesses, social enterprises and community groups will invariably have been established for a particular PURPOSE. It’s this purpose which inspires people to engage or otherwise invest their time, energy, and money. This is why it is so important to consistently revaluate vision and values to avoid mission drift, making sure they permeate everything you do.

Consistency is key

“To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit, to inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions, and to create value and make a difference”

Did you guess whose mission this is? When I ask this during my sessions, most people guess correctly. For those that can’t quite put their finger on it, this is the mission statement for Coca Cola. Okay, it may be corporate, but the lesson to be learned here is most people guess this mission statement from this single sentence. Why? Because it is imbedded in EVERYTHING they do and solidifies the way they are perceived. Think of any Coca Cola promotion and you’ll struggle to find one without the words ‘happiness’ or ‘refreshing’.

Regardless of our individual perceptions, the consistency and simplicity of their message translates worldwide. You may be far from a big company on a global stage but if you want people to understand, engage with, advocate for and invest in you, your purpose needs to be ever-present and at the forefront of your messaging.

This is echoed in Simon Sinek’s ‘Golden Circle’ theory* where he states that the most inspiring companies start with why they do what they do, then work on how they do it before identifying exactly what they do.

  1. Vision and Mission Statement: Include your greatest aspiration for your community group or business. Consider WHY you do what you do and why other people will invest time, energy, and money in you.
  2. Values: This underpins, encapsulates, and promotes your organisation’s culture and beliefs in context with the vision and determines HOW you operate and act to achieve your aims.
  3. Aims and Objectives: These should state the exact details of WHAT you aim to achieve and how you intend to implement your vision, mission and values in day-to-day practice, all while understanding why you are doing it.

As you may have now guessed, I’m a very strong advocate for people starting their journey by firmly identifying and understanding their vision, mission, values, aims and objectives at the outset. It should not be a retrospective exercise based on what they already do. If the vision and mission doesn’t transcend through every activity and action, your desired impact will soon be diluted. So, my final piece of advice is to regularly take time and space to ask yourself whether what you are currently doing meets your original purpose and never stop asking why!

*(Sinek, S. (2009) Start With Why. Penguin Business)

Paul Stepczak is the Bids and Commercial Consultant within the Wales Co-operative Centre’s Commercial Team and has more than 20 years’ experience working in community and business development, providing consultancy and training to purpose-led organisations.

Sharing lessons through Sylfaen

Cynnal Cymru’s Sylfaen Project, funded by the Co-op Foundation, has concentrated on developing the financial and managerial resilience of community-based environmental organisations. In enhancing and preserving biodiversity, providing training and education, and bringing people together, these organisations deliver wide ranging benefits for local communities and society as a whole. It is essential therefore that they are well-managed, financially secure and accountable. In other words, it is in all our interests that they have strong foundations (Sylfaen is Welsh for “foundation”).

Like everything else, the project has had to adapt to cope with the restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic. The training in subjects such as marketing, business planning, use of social media, and governance, has been delivered online by our partner the Wales Co-operative Centre. The plan had been for training to be delivered through a combination of face-to-face seminars/coaching plus online sessions. Networking and peer support were a major component of the project design. While Covid restricted these aspects, the groups within the project have made the best of the opportunities available and we have been grateful for the flexibility and innovation of all partners in adapting to challenging times.

As spring 2021 unfolded however and Covid restrictions lifted, we took the opportunity to meet, visit each other’s sites, learn and be inspired. So it was on a beautiful sunny day in June, that we gathered for the final Sylfaen event, this time on Anglesey with our hosts Melissa and Tim from Llyn Parc Mawr Community Woodland Group.

This was an opportunity to hear more about how the group was established, their approach to woodland management, negotiating with Natural Resources Wales and the challenges that come with running a funded project in the middle of a pandemic! We also had an opportunity to try out some green woodworking skills and hear more about their future plans and aspirations.

After a ‘panad’ (Welsh for a cup of tea), and introductions sat around in the fantastic new timber framed shelter, we headed out for a look around the site – first stop was the new bird hide, both structures were recently completed by a small local business and paid for through their National Lottery Community Fund grant. Most of the timber comes from locally sourced Welsh redwoods, sadly they couldn’t use any of their own recently felled timber as Corsican Pine isn’t suitable for use in structures. They have however made good use of it with the help of volunteers and made benches for the bird hide.

Photo of people in a bird hide.

After spending some time watching the resident ducks, dragonflies, and damselflies we headed off the beaten track on a new path that Tim had been hard at work hacking away prior to our visit. It will form part of the new circular path around the lake and will open up parts of the woodland which have never been accessible before. A boardwalk and small bridge will be installed as this is a much wetter part of the site. Much of this area is broadleaf and adds a new dimension to the forest as Llyn Parc Mawr is mainly a conifer plantation and arboretum and was originally used as the nursery for Newborough Forest. The lake was built in 1988 as part of European Year of Environment and now forms a wildlife haven for an abundance of seasonal wildlife.

After a very adventurous trek through the “jungle” we found ourselves at the back of the woodland where NRW have recently clear felled a small section, the group have started planting here and Tim talked us through the decision process and how the new saplings are faring up in their new home. It was an interesting mix of species which includes Swamp Cypress which will help create a mangrove effect, Red Alder, Tulip trees, Spruce and Scotts Pine. A great mix of nursery trees and nitrogen fixers.

Small frog sitting in the palm of a hand

We made our way back to the shelter in time for a delicious lunch prepared by a couple of Llyn Parc Mawr members. We had time to watch some short films developed as part a social history project documenting the village and community’s fascinating history and includes stories from some of the older residents who remember the marram grass industry and forest development. You can watch for yourselves:

Pobl Niwbwrch a’r Moresg The People of Newborough and Marram grass – YouTube

We were joined for the afternoon by one of Llyn Parc Mawr’s new board members. We split up for afternoon sessions; Tim lead another walk and talk and was a chance to network and ask some more in depth questions on his activities. Melissa led a craft workshop where we made some gypsy flowers using a draw knife and shave horse. It was an enjoyable and relaxing afternoon learning new skills and chatting about future project plans.

Women demonstrating green woodworking skills using a 'shave horse'.

It was a great end to the Sylfaen project – participants have really enjoyed the opportunity to finally meet face to face, visiting each other’s sites and networking. The groups have found many synergies in experiences even though they are at different stages of development there’s always so much to learn and share – from attracting new board members to applying and managing funding, site management, running activities and sharing experiences over this unprecedented year of lockdowns. Perhaps the imposition of lockdowns has in some ways been a blessing; unable to run training sessions or engage with the public, colleagues have had more time to learn, reflect and review. Melissa, for example, has found the social media training very useful. It has helped Llyn Parc Mawr expand their reach and consequentially generate additional income. Having offered Forest School activities on site for a long time, the group is now being contacted by other organisations to run paid-for Forest School sessions on their behalf.

It was great to hear everyone has so many exciting plans and that from the hardships and worries we have all experienced in recent times, now more than ever there is a need and demand for community projects and volunteer opportunities. (We had such a nice time we even forgot to say hello to the resident red squirrels!)

This site visit report was written by Sara Wynne Pari, a local resident and colleague working in the community environmental sector. This illustrates the integrated and collegiate nature of community environmental work: we are united across Wales by a common purpose to halt the decline in biodiversity, address the nature crisis, and create a harmonious future for humans and the species with which we share this wonderful place. One of the key outcomes from the Sylfaen project was the confirmation of the need for community based environmental organisations to strengthen their links and develop an organisational ecology in which mutual interests are shared and practical/economic needs are met through collaboration. In 2021/22 we will concentrate on this and integrate our Eco Literacy work with the legacy of Sylfaen.

Where does the recovery begin? Thoughts from Cynnal Cymru

Many have noted that, if there is any silver lining to the global Covid-19 pandemic, it has been the way it has legitimised the desire for a radical re-haul of Welsh society to better meet the needs of current and future generations. The invitations to share ideas and work towards a better future have come from citizens and government alike. As a membership organisation that exists to accelerate progress towards sustainable development, the opportunities to ‘build back better’ – and avert the impending climate and ecological catastrophes – are things that the Cynnal Cymru team has been thinking about for a long while. When asked to decide on our top actions for the green recovery, we prioritised the following for government, public bodies, anchor institutions, organisations and thought-leaders everywhere. As our last point emphasises, this list is not exhaustive and is designed to sit alongside the asks from other expert fora to ensure that the recovery is not just green but restorative and just.

1. Make the emergency real

We echo the calls of Extinction Rebellion for public bodies to ‘tell the truth’. The scale of the climate and nature emergencies is hard to comprehend even for those of us working in the sector. The Future Generations Report calls for Wales to be an eco-literate country. We endorse this, particularly as there is now extensive evidence that peer-education of Carbon Literacy results in tangible individual and organisational change. Cynnal is currently pioneering development of a similar Eco-literacy course designed to make the science behind both these emergencies understandable and relatable to everyday actions. It provides learners with the tools to identify and implement actions they can take to protect and enhance natural systems and the confidence to help others understand and feel motivated to do so also. However, this sense of literacy cannot come just from the bottom. It needs to be exemplified from the top so that citizens feel that their actions have been validated and there is a collective will and effort.

Government, public bodies and other leading actors need to be bold in reiterating the scale of these challenges and ensuring that every action and investment is viewed through a climate and ecological resilience lens. This requires frequent, clear and consistent communication on a par with – and with the same level of urgency as – Covid-19 messaging and visibility.

2. Define and measure progress

There are many demands to build back better and there is robust research from CAT and others that a shifting of investment towards the well-being economy will meet multiple goals. The Well-being of Future Generations Act and Welsh Government’s recent membership of the Well-Being Economy Governmental Alliance, together with movements such as Extinction Rebellion, Citizens Cymru and WCVA’s recent think-pieces, provide the political, legislative and ‘people’s’ mandate to do this. Frequent reference is made to Wales’s pioneering WFG Act but work on how we measure if we are actually delivering well-being better since 2015 seems to have stalled. The Carnegie Trust recently published a series of blog posts on Wellbeing around the World with several posts on effectively measuring improvements in Wellbeing.

There is an urgent need to bring the national Well-Being Indicators back into public prominence and to use the literature on effective measurement of Wellbeing to set Milestones against these so that the public has a clear sense of direction as to where Wales is heading and a mechanism by which politicians can be held accountable.

3. Enforce the conservation hierarchy

In line with point 1, we urge a radical re-education of public bodies and others as to the benefits of mature green infrastructure and designated sites and the redirection of resource towards protecting, restoring and maintaining what exists before creating new. This particularly applies to the messaging around Wales’s national forest. Progress reports and campaigns must not just focus on creation of the new, as there is a danger that this will suggest that mature tree loss and new tree planting is replacing like for like.

Progress reports that instead focus on protecting and enhancing our national forest therefore may be more effective in reinforcing understanding of the benefits that existing mature trees provide and the cost-savings that are lost when they are removed. Before approving removal of mature trees, decision-makers must factor in the costs of:

loss of immediate ecosystem services 

planting and maintenance of compensatory planting up and until the point where this planting provides an equivalent level of ecosystem services plus

the costs of reduced ecosystem services provided by new planting in the interim

This could be done by implementing the recommendations in the Woodland Trust Manifesto:

I-tree reports for every urban area, showing the full lifetime value and benefits of existing trees, especially mature trees.

Update and improve tree protection legislation as part of a new Welsh Planning Act.

Stop council planning committees allowing developers to remove healthy mature trees.

Strengthen planning regulatory oversight to protect green space and irreplaceable habitat such as ancient woodland and veteran trees 

This would also support the recommendation in the Future Generations 2020 Report that Welsh Government work with Public Services Boards to deliver 20% tree canopy cover in every town and city in Wales by 2030.

4. Build capacity of community organisations

A voluntary contribution of 1% of profits for the planet has been suggested for private businesses and is a growing global movement. This contribution need not be financial but could also be in pro bono support.

The Skyline Project aimed to demonstrate the viability of communities managing local assets e.g. NRW woodlands to generate an income. We contributed to that project. The same principle has come up during our management of the Sylfaen project – three of the six project beneficiaries are aiming to manage local green resources for the dual outcomes of biodiversity and profit. We have found that a core missing element in this concept is that communities lack the governance skills to set up and run a suitable vehicle.

Dwr Cymru have piloted the idea that corporations and private companies can contribute to their CSR outcomes by not just sending workers on litter picks etc. but by donating time of senior managers such as finance, HR and marketing to help communities set up Community Interest Companies, Co-operatives etc. that are robust, accountable and effective. When such vehicles exist, with ongoing support from responsible businesses, then they have a better chance of successfully managing local natural assets and it helps avoid burn-out of trustees or volunteers taking responsibility for high-level and very time-consuming decisions, on top of other responsibilities.

We are suggesting that there is a nationwide, systematic programme to link larger private companies with community initiatives with the specific goal of managing natural assets to generate income, skills and biodiversity.

This could be complemented by requirements in public sector contracts to allow staff up to 2 days/month of employer-supported volunteering and/or time to share insights and learning via Community of Practice mechanisms.

5. Promote shared responsibility

In line with the Polluter Pays principle, we suggest structured mechanisms by which those that minimise or negate pollution don’t pay. It is not always obvious how and where the costs of pollution are met e.g. in cleaning drinking water or cleaning up litter. If it is possible to identify areas of higher or lower pollution prevalence, can these areas be rewarded either with lower charges or a proportion of the cost-saving to be allocated as a community pot. This would require a structured programme by which ‘the offer’ is well-publicised to areas or communities and there is timely and transparent measuring and reporting.

We also recommend exploring non-monetary currencies here such as time-credits whereby those that formally or informally volunteer for the environment can have this contribution to cost-savings recognised e.g. through reductions in Council Tax, the option to donate an hour of an expert’s time to a chosen charity (linked to 4. above) or another mechanism. There concepts may sound challenging but there are many skilled individuals that could help devise suitable mechanisms – no one organisation, public body or government needs to figure this out alone.

6. Set the ambition for Wales to be known as the ‘country of green careers’

With rises in unemployment predicted, particularly among the young, there is an opportunity to implement career pathways and a skills and training framework for conservation managers, woodland rangers, and enforcement officers to ensure there is the capacity and expertise to build ecosystem resilience.

There is a growing proliferation of apps to engage the public as citizen scientists to manage invasive species, report environmental crime, record iconic wildlife etc. It is time to also build capacity within regulatory bodies, industry and the utility companies to capitalise on this interest and to benefit from the cost-savings that would be enabled.

An investment in green jobs and career paths will show commitment to tackling the next crisis (point 1) as well as contributing significantly to the prevention agenda and the green economy. The TUC has written more about the need to ensure any new ‘green’ jobs are also fair jobs in this recently published report ‘A green recovery and a just transition’.

7. Understand the ‘disconnect’

We are drawn to nature but the litter in beauty spots, camping detritus in woodlands and sensitive flora trampled by walkers or mountain bikers suggest that we do not (know how to) tread lightly. Understanding what is behind this tendency – to be drawn to nature but then not care about trashing it – could help to address it, perhaps using insights from the  Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformation  or other behaviour change expertise at other universities.

We also believe that our other suggestions – such as Eco-Literacy, the reframing of the natural environment as a credible, accessible future career prospect; and an increased presence of wardens, rangers, conservation managers etc – could lead to not only greater experience of nature but a cultural shift in thinking about how we value it.

8. Enable access

In line with a More Equal Wales, any strategy needs to ensure that there is equal access to the benefits that nature provides across our communities. We note the recent geospatial research by the University of Warwick, Newcastle University and the University of Sheffield suggesting that living within 300m of urban green space is associated with greater happiness, a sense of worth and life satisfaction, reiterated by the recommendation in the Future Generations report 2020 that there are standards to ensure people can access natural green space within 300 m of their home. Again this could link with the green jobs recovery for wardens, horticulturalists, local growers, natural play workers and therapists, social prescribing etc.

9. Cast a fresh eye on existing technology and innovation

In the search for new ideas, existing – and potentially scalable – innovations risk being overlooked. As CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain Report makes clear, ‘we already have the tools and technology needed to efficiently power the UK with 100% renewable energy, to feed ourselves sustainably and so to play our part in leaving a safe and habitable climate for our children and future generations.’

There is a wealth of information already within our institutions, networks and public bodies that may not be badged as a ‘sustainable and environmentally sound post-global pandemic recovery response’ but could nonetheless yield the same desired outcomes.

Examples of product innovation from Cynnal Cymru’s membership include BIPVCo’s thin-film solar cells or  BSB International’s Fire Dragon eco-friendly solid fuel – produced in Llanelli from 100% UK sourced ethanol. At the same time, we have many examples from members working in accordance with the ways of working in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, from Grasshopper Communications and its work to involve and engage communities to the housing associations coming together to accelerate decarbonisation of the social housing sector and the work of organisations like Dŵr Cymru and Wales and West Utilities to embody the stakeholder economy, for example with regard to vulnerable customers.

10. Create a more just society

Whilst a rapid transition to living within environmental limits and restoring healthy ecosystems will go a long way towards delivering sustainable development, we will only succeed if we also seek to recognise and integrate social and global justice. We know from our partners and members, and from our own work as the Living Wage accrediting body for Wales, that issues around social mobility, Fair Work, poverty and systemic discrimination also need to be addressed. This is as much a part of the ‘green’ as any other recovery package and links to other expert sectors, work programmes and strategies are essential to ensuring that our gains in one area are not undone by losses in another.

For several years now, the Sustainable Academy Awards have highlighted some of the most innovative projects and organisations in Wales accelerating progress towards a more sustainable future. The 2019 winners show that there are people in Wales that are already taking action to simultaneously tackle environmental issues and create a more just society

Next steps

We exist to accelerate progress on sustainable development in Wales so we are conscious that we need to back our words with action. Some of our next steps on the green recovery are:

Finishing the creation of an eco-literacy course and getting it out to consultation

Consulting with stakeholders about how to best measure progress and developing our advice

Linking the green recovery discussions to the Foundational Economy

Supporting decarbonisation of the social housing sector through the CLCC and involvement in Communities of Practice

Supporting the development of community led environmental organisations

Continuing to highlight the work of our members and Awards winners who are already ushering in the practical, intellectual, technological and cultural shifts for a sustainable green and just recovery.

More Than A Pub – Community, Carbon Reduction and Covid-19

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The Plas Kynaston Canal Group (PKCG) is a longstanding member of Cynnal Cymru. The group meets regularly in the Holy Bush Inn that stands on a central position in the village of Cefn Mawr, Wrexham.

Dave Metcalfe, one of the founders of the PKCG, led a campaign to save the Holly Bush from demolition. His company bought the pub and it is now run as a free house and community resource. As well as the bar and lounge, the pub has space for community groups to meet.

Post-industrial villages like Cefn Mawr (of which there are many in Wales) have undergone enormous change that has been driven not only be the immediate contraction of employment in their area, but by wider cultural changes that have evolved over decades. Large scale retail (which is most conveniently accessed by private car), online shopping, and the growth of internet services have led to an atomisation of communities: families eat, drink and access entertainment alone. The great communal experience that created and defined these villages has been replaced. The villages themselves have become hollowed out dormitories for workers who travel into the nearest city. Pubs like the Holly Bush are now sadly the exception.

Dave Metcalfe however has a vision. He believes that our industrial villages should and can revive and that in doing so, they would be physical manifestations of the vision described in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. Will the experience of lockdown, brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, cause people to re-evaluate their local services? We are getting anecdotal evidence that affirms this through our delivery of Carbon Literacy training. People’s worlds have been forced to shrink by the virus but many are reporting a new found joy and convenience in the use of local assets such as green space and food shops.

As we emerge from lockdown however, we risk losing this. Even as we urgently restart the economy however, Dave’s vision becomes more pertinent than before. He points out that thousands of tons of CO2 could be saved every year simply by getting people back in their local, drinking out of pint glasses instead of buying it from the supermarkets in cans and bottles.

“A truly green approach would be to get people back in their local, drinking beer from glasses that are simply washed and refilled from barrels refilled by the breweries, no waste and no unnecessary CO2.”

Thousands of tons of glass and aluminium are used every year in the manufacture of drinks for the off-licence market. These products are then transported and presented for sale. What is the carbon footprint of all this? Greenhouse gasses are subsequently produced in the recycling of the empty drinks containers while some are lost forever to landfill.  Furthermore, with the correct soda machines installed, big savings can be made on plastics as no plastic bottles would be required for soft drinks. We know that some cafes around Wales have removed plastic bottled soft drinks from their menus.

On the other hand, pubs need to be heated and lighted and the drinks kept chilled. There is nothing to stop a landlord however from using a green tariff or even on-site renewables to meet the pub’s energy demand.

We think Dave has a point here and would like to investigate further. We know that the international drinks industry takes their carbon footprint seriously and is engaged in efforts to reduce emissions and other harmful environmental impacts. See the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable as an example – BIER

Mike Berners-Lee (author of “How Bad Are Bananas – the Carbon Footprint of Everything”) as calculated the carbon footprint of your favourite pint as follows;

 

The carbon footprint of a pint of beer:

300g CO2e: locally brewed cask ale at the pub

500g CO2e: local bottled beer from a shop or foreign beer in a pub

900g CO2e: bottled beer from the shop, extensively transported

 

You can read more about this in Mike’s Guardian blog here.

 

As Dave says himself, “A truly green approach would be to get people back in their local, drinking beer from glasses that are simply washed and refilled from barrels refilled by the breweries, no waste and no unnecessary CO2.” Monitored by their friends and the pub staff, perhaps they would drink less than when pouring their own measures at home. The social interaction would build community as it used to before Covid-19 and the atomisation of society. It is a long-established argument of sustainability that small is beautiful and local is better. To make this cultural shift happen however, perhaps we need to restrict sales of alcohol in supermarkets and invest in our villages and town centres. Much to think about and much to discuss….[:]

Peter Davies Reflects on Dŵr Cymru’s Response to the Covid Crisis

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The response to the Covid crisis says a lot about a company. As Chair of Welsh Water Customer Challenge Group, I have had the opportunity to have an insight into how our not for profit water company has responded to the crisis. The company of course is well used to dealing with crisis caused by severe weather conditions but never a global pandemic that impacts across all its operations.

At the outset Peter Perry as the new Chief Executive made a personal commitment to employees that there was no intention of cutting jobs, reducing salaries or furloughing the workforce.

Staff safety and well-being was seen as the top priority. While homeworking was applied for those who could from the start the continuation of the vital water services required over 1500 staff to be working in the field to ensure services meet customer needs

For most customers their contact with the customer comes through the 500 staff working from customer service centres. At the start of the lockdown there was no technical ability or equipment to allow these staff to work from home, but within a week 480 were fully functional working from home. The fact that the company has since recorded its highest ever “net promoter score” – a key measure of customer satisfaction and indicator for the Customer Challenge Group  – is evidence of the success of this rapid transformation.

As a customer Challenge Group, we have a particular concern for how the company supports vulnerable customers. The company has sector leading support package with over 130000 customers benefiting from financial support with their bills -. The company has responded to the additional pressure on business and domestic customers over this period, working to provide support including reduced payment plans, payment holidays, and financial assistance funds.

The wider impact of the virus on communities has also been recognised with the tripling of the Community Fund. The additional funds have been allocated through Business In the Community, the Community Foundation and the Trussell Trust to support community projects including supporting food banks and getting provisions such as cleaning products to those who need it most.  While some of the fund has been allocated to staff to support projects in their communities.

Dŵr Cymru provides an essential service and the not-for-profit model means the company does not have to worry about dividends to shareholders. There is no doubt that the economic impact of the crisis will have an impact on future income at a time when the regulator has imposed a very challenging price review. Customers have been clear as to the importance of the company continuing to invest in improving the long-term resilience of the network and there is no doubt that the company will face financial challenges in meeting its investment plans.  It is  going to be important that customers play their part in enabling this investment to take place through reducing the demand on system by being more water efficient and avoiding the significant costs of removing blockages in the system caused by the flushing of wet wipes.

The response of our communities also tells us a lot about the sort of Wales we want. Both the company and communities have demonstrated a great ability to adapt with amazing efforts across society. This rekindled community spirit of partnership will be essential for our long term response to recovery

Peter Davies, Chair of the Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water Customer Challenge Group

 


 

The Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water Customer Challenge Group (CCG) is independently Chaired by Peter Davies with independent secretariat support provided by Cynnal Cymru. This includes producing minutes for the meetings and liaising with the members and Chair of the group to ensure the smooth running of the CCG.[:]

Icon Creative’s Approach to Sustainably Sourced Printed Marketing Materials for Black Mountains College

[:en]The aptly named ‘Black Mountains College’ (BMC) in Talgarth is a forward-thinking education organisation, offering immersive teaching experiences through seminars in a range of subjects with the goal of preparing students for the coming effects of climate change. The brainchild of Owen Sheers (Welsh writer and director) and British acclaimed Human Rights Watch Researcher Ben Rawlence, the college uses Brecon Beacons National Park as it’s classroom.

Challenged with heightening awareness for their unique education offerings in an environmentally sustainable way, Icon Creative worked with Black Mountains College to introduce sustainably sourced printed marketing materials that have been used in workshops, seminars and festivals since.

Icon Creative Design is a design agency based in the leafy suburb of Bassaleg. The design company works extensively with clients particularly in the education, regeneration, retail and sports sectors including Swansea University, Newcastle University, Ballet Cymru, Friars Walk and Specific. Working with clients to deliver one off pieces of print through to brand strategy and campaigns, the company has increasingly focused on sustainable and environmental approaches to support businesses in their marketing and communications.[:]

(Electric) Car Future Wales

In Wales, transport is a major (and growing) contributor to climate change. We need to clean up transport as fast as possible. BEIS figures for Wales (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, 2017), show that transport accounted for around 25% of energy consumption in Wales during 2015 and 13% of all emissions. In the UK as a whole, BEIS data shows transport is responsible for about 26% of all emissions.

Decarbonising our transport sector is not only vital for the health of our planet, but also the well-being of citizens. Several areas in Wales suffer from dangerous and illegal levels of air pollution caused largely by road transport, with the most vulnerable in our society (including children and the elderly) particularly at risk. Air pollution contributes to around 2,000 deaths per year in Wales (6% of total deaths).

Electric vehicles (EVs) are part of the decarbonising solution but they still have pollution impacts. For example, a significant amount of particulate matter (airborne pollution particles) come from brake and tyre wear and EVs will contribute to this even though their direct emissions from fuel consumption are zero. There is also considerable embedded energy in the form of extracted minerals, steel, and plastic in each vehicle that needs to be recovered at the end of the vehicle’s working life. EVs can however make a significant contribution to lowering Wales’ carbon emissions, and improve air quality, if they are recharged from renewable energy sources.

Electric vehicles are not a panacea. Moving to a nation where ‘active travel’ is the default choice for all, followed by public transport, then shared mobility and finally, single occupancy car journeys, should be Wales’ main aim as this would deliver multiple benefits.

In a low carbon, healthier Wales, where there is greater equality of opportunity, EVs will be part of the transport mix, however. The growth in ownership of ultra-low emission vehicles in Wales currently lags behind other parts of the UK but is comparable to other rural and post-industrial areas. With any new technology, uptake is initially slow and a minority of enthusiastic pioneers struggle to operate it when there is minimal support infrastructure. This has certainly been true of the electric car in Wales. Owners of electric cars are motivated by a commitment to low carbon, or by possession of the means to make the technology pay (or both). It makes sense for example, for a family on higher than average income with cash to spare, living in a detached house with a drive, to put solar PV on the roof and a charge point on the drive. There is less motivation for anyone living in a terraced house with no means of installing an on-street charger, assuming they could afford the roof PV panels and higher upfront purchase/rental costs of the vehicle in the first place.

The Welsh Government has committed a small but significant sum of £2 million to enable a network of electric charging points along main roads throughout Wales. The focus of the £2 million is to help provide a charging network along/near Wales’ trunk road network. These include roads not registered as part of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) – in other words, a more far-reaching impact. At Cynnal Cymru’s Car Futures Wales conference in February 2018, there was consensus that public money should be spent where it will produce a net economic benefit: a charging network should therefore support the Government’s aims on active travel, decarbonisation, health, and equality of opportunity. As a nation, we should see electric cars as one of many tools to help us deliver the Well-being Goals. In practice, this would mean public charging infrastructure at park and rides, hospitals, rail heads, and tourist destinations.

The recent Economic Action Plan committed to making all taxis and buses in Wales zero-carbon within 10 years. This is a great start, but, given the lower running costs of EVs, why not electrify the entire public sector fleet? This has the additional benefit of making people more familiar with EVs, and more likely to switch themselves. Swansea council has recently taken the plunge by purchasing 40 Peugeot electric vans and installing 18 charge points.

Mid and West Wales Fire Service has two hydrogen cars and twelve electric vehicles with seventeen charge points. They are working with Natural Resources Wales and others to share charging infrastructure. Such confident investment in low carbon transport is rare however. Local authorities have to make bolder decisions about electric vehicles and work with the Government or else Wales risks falling behind other parts of the UK as the economy transitions to an electric fleet.

Given the current financial constraints faced by local authorities, a council may wish to consider a variety of ways that it can support a transition to low carbon road transport. The following were suggested by delegates at the Car Futures Wales conference;

  • Congestion charges and differentiated road access: for example, EVs could be permitted to use bus lanes or introduce Low Emissions Zones where polluting vehicles would be banned or fined.
  • Workplace parking levies with concessions for ultra-low emission vehicles.
  • Building standards and planning: the Welsh Government/Councils could require all new housing developments and shopping centres to have EV charge points designed in.
  • Investment in charging infrastructure: this should focus on the current black spots in mid Wales which make traveling north-south very difficult. This could alleviate range anxiety.
  • The Scottish Government is introducing a special innovation fund, designed to find solutions to charging for people living in tenement blocks or high rises. Welsh Government needs to find a similar way to ensure people who live in terraces and flats are also supported to switch to EVs.
  • It also makes sense to install charge points at modal interchanges (e.g. train stations, park and rides) to connect with public transport.
  • Public charging bays are vulnerable to being blocked by vehicles that stay beyond the charge period, or even by non-electric vehicles using them as parking bays. We will need to create a new regime of by-laws, and evolve a new culture of road etiquette

Charging availability is likely to affect vehicle purchase decisions and could be a catalyst for a market change. Visible infrastructure also supports a wider debate around sustainability, air quality and decarbonisation. Many local authorities in the UK are currently grappling with the challenge of improving air quality through a charging system for access to urban centres. Providing free entry or similarly, free parking to EVs is a provocative statement. Ultimately however, no authority wants to replace congestion by one type of vehicle with congestion by another so such concessions to EVs are likely to be a short-term response to the specific issue of air quality. The IWA report “Decarbonising Transport in Wales” calls for a change in the culture of Wales and a move away from reliance on the car; although it accepts that electric cars will still have a role to play in rural communities where local, community-owned renewables could be linked to charging infrastructure. The report argues that reducing the numbers of cars on the road should be a priority for all levels of government.

Limits on residential charging infrastructure, EV congestion and the high up-front cost of ownership may slow the uptake of private electric cars in Wales even as legislation makes owning a fossil fuel vehicle more expensive. Mobility as a service may then become an increasingly attractive alternative. In this model, private citizens choose not to own a car but instead have a contract or service agreement with a supplier such as a car club or taxi on demand. There are signs that mobility as a service is growing in popularity in cities and amongst young adults. With its wealth of renewable energy sources and a modest growth in community-owned renewable energy supply, Wales has an opportunity to link the need for mobility to a social business model and the equality of opportunity this offers. Specifically, this means that communities that own their own energy supply could also operate a not-for-profit car club. This could prove significant in rural towns and villages if changes in urban centres, driven by the necessity to improve air quality, push the market against diesel and older petrol vehicles.

Energy suppliers such as SP Energy Networks (SPEN) caution that we need to think about new ways of storing and moving energy. They ask us to consider what would happen if every one of 1.4 million domestic customers in their region plugged in an electric vehicle when they got home from work. While this may seem far-fetched, the forecasted growth in global EV ownership has increased by 500% in one year. Addressing the Car Futures Wales conference in February 2018, Liam O’Sullivan, SP Energy Networks District Manager for North Wales, shared SPEN’s estimate that investment of between £300 million to £2.2 billion is required to facilitate a 100% EV uptake across the Scottish Power Manweb area, depending on which scenario becomes the reality.

Momentum is growing for a rapid decarbonisation of transport in Wales. From analysis by the IWA to an increasing frequency of events held by Cynnal Cymru, local government, The Automotive Forum and the Welsh Government, the message is clear: decarbonisation of transport is essential, possible, and replete with opportunity. On the 7th and 21st of February 2019, Jacobs, with the support of Cynnal Cymru will stage two major conferences for the public sector on behalf of the Welsh Government. At these events, we will dispel myths, provide details on funding, present examples of ‘how to do it’ and give public sector professionals the opportunity to learn from each other and make important connections with industry specialists. “Your next car will be electric,” is an increasingly used phrase but while we wait for the fruits of the collaboration between Transport For Wales and the new rail franchisee, and initiatives such as the Cardiff Council transport green paper, perhaps we should start using the phrase, “this is the last car I’ll own!”

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