Should business be worried about “Carbon Neutral” Cities?

Should business be worried about “Carbon Neutral” Cities?

Sustainability is in the national news for lots of reasons. This blog post looks at what is a “carbon neutral” city and whether this is something for business to get worried about.  We discuss some of the issues that need to be considered by policy makers, not to explore the merits of reducing carbon emissions.

What is Carbon Neutrality?

There is lots of discussion about the benefits to shoppers, visitors and office workers from a Carbon Neutral city. Prior to writing this article I thought a “Carbon Neutral” City is a place where the harmful emissions are balanced by lots of trees soaking up the emissions. Well if that’s what you thought too, you’d be “close, but no cigar”!  According to Wikipedia Carbon neutrality, refers to achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions by balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal (often through carbon offsetting) or simply eliminating carbon emissions altogether.

Why bother?

The impacts of global warming are being felt across the world in terms of climate change, but there are some very real impacts for local people from reducing carbon emissions in the City. Cars and trucks are thought to account for between 15-20% of global carbon emissions. Perhaps more surprisingly, the largest source of comes from burning fossil fuels – since you ask, the figures are around 31%! (source:   Shoppers, visitors and office workers all like independent coffee shops – and branded coffee shops, restaurants. We like pedestrian areas, walking around in open spaces.   However behind the shop front the business owners, staff, and suppliers are often heavily dependent on the roads infrastructure and car parks.  More roads, means more cars and trucks.  More cars and trucks means more carbon emissions.    Or so the conventional discussion goes.

How can these conflicting requirements be reconciled?

Businesses are supplied by (generally) carbon emitting, vehicles bringing in goods for sale. But what if those goods could be delivered by less polluting vehicles. This already happens. To see how the air is better since unleaded vehicles have become prevalent you only need to be behind a car emitting leaded petrol. Lots of interesting things are happening with transport. But maybe there are bigger changes that we need to recognise – the next generation of consumers – are not buying material products, they want experiences.   We are going to need less shops selling stuff. We’re going to need more spaces, to hang out, eat, socialise.

If it is true that burning fossil fuels is the biggest contributor to City Centre carbon emissions, then a greater effort could be made to reduce the energy demands of the City.   Perhaps the smart cities of the future will be looking to increase their use of renewables for heating, lighting and power.   Cities can become leaders in the fight for a more sustainable planet.

Online retailing is is going to continue to turn the screw and make it very uncomfortable for traditional retailers.  But there is a future for the high street. It just might not be the same vision that the current generation of city planners and policy makers envisage.