Manchester named world’s 14th most sustainable city ‘thanks to grassroots groups’

Manchester has been named the world’s 14th most sustainable city and community groups are the driving force behind it, according to an environmental campaigner.

Bob Walley, co-founder of Envirolution, an environmental cooperative based in Greater Manchester, made the claim in relation to the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index, which ranks Manchester above the likes of super cities New York and Tokyo.

Data was taken from 50 cities in over 31 different countries, to look at the social, economic and environmental demands which are placed on the world’s leading urban environments.

In the UK, only second-place London scored better than Manchester. The capital’s excellent higher education establishments and strong health record have pushed the UK into the top ten, but high property prices are affecting the city’s status.

The more sustainable an urban area is, the higher its quality of life, the greater its prosperity and the lower the greenhouse gases it produces per person, and Bob, 36, believes that people owe their thanks to the community groups.

He told MM: “It is the community groups at a grass roots level that are making a difference. It’s not possible to forget about the environment anymore, but because of the extreme amount of cuts to Manchester City Council, it’s not always at the top of the agenda unfortunately.

“That has obviously not helped with being able to bring in new initiatives. There is always a battle being fought with the council about how they could do more, but with austerity and the cuts, there is only so much they can do.

“But it’s not stopping the work on the ground. It might be hindering it, but the grass roots organisations that are working in the community that Envirolution come into contact with, are still holding on in one form or another.

“I’d like to think that Manchester is quite a forward thinking city as far as its population goes, with the community groups and organisations that are really making a difference. Sometimes the support is there from the city council, sometimes it isn’t.”

Despite Birmingham ranking slightly worse than Manchester, at number 18 overall, it has been ranked 10th most sustainable in terms of its environment, whereas Manchester and London did not make it into the top 10 in this category.

Because of this, Bob has said that Manchester’s ranking in the index should be looked upon with caution, and he was keen to emphasise that the hard work to protect our environment must never stop.

“I’d really like to know what they have used to calculate that,” he said.

 “There are a lot of obvious pointers to mark somewhere like Stockholm, for instance, as a city that really prides itself on working off renewable energy and monitoring the amount of carbon that the city produces.

“In Manchester, you don’t see a lot of that going on, so I would like to know how they are measuring that here. It might raise awareness of this issue which is obviously good, but there is a potential danger of it having a negative effect.

“People might think being 14th in the world in that ranking is such a good thing that we can sit back on our laurels, and not try and push for new policies and initiatives to be brought in.”

According to Bob, the way to encourage those new policies is to change consumer behaviours.

He added: “We want to change the demand. Cycling around Manchester, you see people on their daily commute, one person to each car in the traffic jams and it is ridiculous. It doesn’t make any sense at all.

“If everybody was to get on their bikes and get cycling, there wouldn’t be as many cars in the city centre, which means that there would be pressure put on for better cycle ways and lanes.

“The tram system and its expansion is a good thing, but as far as cycling goes, there’s some amazing community groups out there, like the cycling hub at Platt Field’s Park, who are really spearheading the movement of getting people cycling.

ON YOUR BIKES: Cycling just one way of boosting sustainability rating (Image courtesy of Distillated, with thanks)

“You could change your energy provider by switching to Green Energy or Ecotricity, and then you are not burning fossil fuels.

“We have to explain the benefits to people, of what they should be doing. If enough people do it, then it changes the demand and so it changes people’s behaviour.”

Arcadis have said that the aim of the indicative ranking is not to ‘create a hierarchy of elite cities’.

Those that have been chosen are geographically wide-ranging, and represent a ‘variety of levels of economic development, expectations of future growth and an assortment of sustainability challenges’, in order to ‘offer the broadest global cross-section possible’.

Urban performance was ranked from 20 indicators under the five key areas of economy, business, risk, infrastructure and finance. 

Under that headline ranking, three subcategories; people, planet and profit, were used to analyse aspects such as health, air pollution and economic development.

Keith Brooks, UK Cities Director at Arcadis, said that it is ‘pleasing’ and ‘perhaps surprising’ to see UK cities do so well in the Index.

However, he added that London, Manchester and Birmingham are all mature cities, which explains why they have ranked so highly, and warned that they ‘must not rely on historic investment to maintain their competitive advantage’.

The hard work never stops for Envirolution, who run free events at Platt Fields Park, their main hub, as well as visiting festivals across the country in the summer.

Workshops and a pop-up farm are just some of the events run by the community group, and Bob believes that these kinds of gatherings are the key to getting more people involved, and ultimately helping society to benefit.

He said: “Envirolution’s aim has always been to engage as many different people about the environment and climate change as possible. You do that by making it relevant to our community.

“So we’re in the perfect spot at Platt Fields to engage those communities in Rusholme, Fallowfield, Moss Side and all around. They are all really different groups of people and there are a number of benefits to engaging all of them.

“People can go and volunteer with a certain organisation. They can pick up new skills at another one, which can increase knowledge about the environment and could lead to a better job.

“Envirolution’s goal is to gather momentum for the environmental movement in as many different ways as possible, and to make it as accessible and relevant as we can. That’s the key.”

Overall, Frankfurt tops the list, ranked number one on both planet and profit indexes, coming 9th for its people factors.

Rotterdam, which is near the west coast of the Netherlands, was ranked best in terms of its environment. The Rotterdam Climate Initiative (RCI) is a movement in which the government, organisations, companies, knowledge institutes, and citizens are working together to reduce 50% of CO2 emissions by 2025, and become the world capital of CO2-free energy.

Nairobi came last at number 50.

With the General Election fast approaching, environmental politics is becoming more and more influential, and the Green Party has seen an unprecedented surge in its levels of support.

ON THE RISE: green power takes hold of Manchester (Image courtesy of Binary Ape, with thanks)

Kieran Turner-Dave, Green Party candidate for Manchester Central, believes that the party is likely to overtake the Lib Dems and Ukip over the next year, if those levels of support are sustained.

A recent online poll run by Vote For Polices saw over 500,000 people vote for their favourite political party, with over a quarter voting Green. In 2014, its membership soared by 28%.

Envirolution are not a politically motivated organisation, but Bob told MM that he can see why the party is doing so well.

He said: “The Green Party are the only party that recognise, like Envirolution does, that you can’t live in a society on a planet that has limited resources, with a governmental system that is trying to achieve unlimited growth with limited resources.

“There has got to be another way and that way needs to be recognised. The Green Party is the only political group that is doing this.”        

Manchester may not have reached the heights or motivation levels of those cities in the top ten, but Bob is hopeful that with groups like Envirolution working together with different communities, some change can happen.

He continued: “We must introduce these ideas and possibilities to people who might not have the confidence or motivation to do it.

“That is what Envirolution is about; trying to open these windows and doors to people, and that will naturally change demand and people’s behaviours.

“There is never a limit to raising awareness about the environment, and if it’s just making a little difference, it’s still making a difference.”

Main image courtesy of, with thanks

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