Corporate sustainability in the 21st century Garden City

6th September 2010


Corporate sustainability in the 21st century garden city

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  • Arts, entertainment and recreation

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IEMA

The University of Hertfordshire is working in partnership with the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation to deliver an exciting sustainability project in the world's first Garden city. Lisa Palframan and Xiaoqiang Zhang explain.

Letchworth Garden City is known as the birthplace of the Garden Cities movement and has inspired town planning ideas around the world.

The creation of Letchworth from 1903 enabled Ebenezer Howard to implement the ideas set out in his book, ‘Garden Cities of Tomorrow'.

Howard wanted to tackle the sanitation and overcrowding problems which afflicted the industrial cities during the late 19th century. He also recognised the extreme poverty and limited employment opportunities in the countryside which were driving people to the cities.

He proposed tackling rural and urban hardship by combining the best elements of town and country through a ‘third way', by building a completely new self-sustaining settlement.

While Howard did not explicitly talk of a ‘sustainable community', it is clear that our modern ideas about liveability and resource efficiency in urban areas resonate with Howard's vision.

For example, Howard's plans included access to greenspace around the new city, areas for the town's residents to grow their food, local electricity production and local employment opportunities, through encouraging industry to relocate from major cities.

A key feature of Howard's plan was the economic model he proposed, through which profit from the management and development of the estate would be returned for the benefit of the town. Howard set up First Garden City Ltd in 1903.

In 1962, an Act of Parliament transferred the assets of the company to the Letchworth Garden City Corporation, a new public sector organisation. A further Act wound up the Corporation in 1995 and passed its responsibilities to the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation which today owns and manages the 2,200 hectare Letchworth Garden City Estate.

Modern Letchworth Garden City is a picturesque town with a population of around 36,000. In common with many towns around London, it has high levels of out-commuting and high housing costs relative to incomes. There are pockets of moderate levels of deprivation in some wards. Major town centre improvements are currently underway, funded by the Foundation, to address an identified deficiency in local retail provision.

The Foundation is not in the public sector but is an Industrial and Provident Society with Charitable status (see Box 1). Its income is derived from two main sources: rental incomes from tenants and income from trading activities.

These support the charitable objects and include IT support services, farming and a cinema. Income is both re-invested in the estate and returned to residents in the form of grants to individuals, schools and community groups, which receive around £600,000 annually.



Box 1: The Charitable Objects of the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, as set out in Schedule 2 of the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation Act 1995

  1. Promoting the preservation of buildings and other environmental features of beauty or historic interest within Letchworth Garden City.
  2. Providing or assisting in the provision of facilities for the recreation or other leisure activity of the local community in the interests of social welfare with the object of improving their conditions of life.
  3. Promoting the advancement of education and learning within Letchworth Garden City.
  4. Promoting the relief of poverty and sickness within Letchworth Garden City.
  5. Supporting any charitable organisation having an office or branch in Letchworth Garden City.
  6. Promoting any other charitable purposes for the benefit of the local community

The Foundation employs around 190 people and manages a number of Enterprises, including community facilities for the benefit of residents (see Table 1).

One of the Foundation's major influences on the town is through the Landlord's Consent process. In order to preserve the appearance and character of the town, residents must apply to the Foundation for consent before making any external changes to their homes, separate from the need of permission from the council under planning legislation.

Decisions are taken in accordance with publicly available ‘Design Standards' , which give detailed guidance on change to garden city homes of separate Early, Later and Modern ‘Character Areas'. The guidance allows the right balance to be achieved between allowing renewable energy technologies and the preservation of the historical character of the town.

The environmental perspective

From an environmental perspective, it is clear that the Foundation's activities have significant potential for generating impacts which need to be managed and enhanced where possible.

Furthermore, the responsibilities of the Foundation place it in a unique position to positively influence the development of the town towards becoming an exemplar modern sustainable community, addressing socio-economic needs in a way that also integrates environmental concerns such as resource efficiency and climate change.

To fulfil this role effectively requires the Foundation to become a champion of sustainable development, demonstrating the highest commitment to these principles within its own work.

The University of Hertfordshire was originally engaged by the Foundation in 2008 to review environmental management practices within the enterprises and provide advice on the development of the Foundation's environmental policy. The Foundation had already made good progress towards becoming a ‘zero waste' organisation.

The potential for a more strategic approach to environmental management was recognised, for example, through actively monitoring and reducing resource use across the organisation.

Recognising and resolving possible conflicts between the Foundation's environmental aspirations and its core property management and development business could benefit the whole Garden City in the long term.

The Foundation should also coordinate, enhance and promote the positive sustainability initiatives already taking place. These included entry of the Foundation's agricultural land into the Higher Level Stewardship scheme, plans for a demonstration eco-home and grant support for community initiatives.

Table 1: The main enterprises operated by the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation

Enterprise

Function

First Garden City Heritage Museum

Archive and information point on Letchworth Garden City

Ernest Gardiner Day Hospital

Healthcare services for residents including physiotherapy, nursing and occupational therapy. Operated outside the NHS with running costs met by the Foundation and new equipment, fixtures and fittings purchased by a separate ‘League of Friends' charity

Garden City Technologies Limited

Provides IT and telecommunication services to business tenants

Letchworth Garden City Farms Limited

Operates under an agricultural tenancy agreement, responsible for the arable farms, Standalone Farm, forestry and landscaping

Letchworth Cottage and Building Limited

Supports social housing initiatives

Broadway Cinema Limited

Operates a four screen cinema in Letchworth Garden City town centre

Minibus Service

Two minibuses providing free transport to social activities for elderly residents and those with mobility issues

Plinston

Community venue providing entertainment and activities, hosting events from 25 clubs and societies


Table 2: Selected examples of Sustainability Key Performance Indicators for Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation

Key Performance Indicators

Key Performance Indicators

Employees

Employees of over 10 years' service (%)

Environment

Electricity/Gas use (KWh)

Total water supplied (m3)

Sick pay costs (£)

Governors

From ethnic minority background (%)

Fuel used by company vehicles (litres)

Average age

Employee commute: CO2e emissions (tonnes)

Market place

New dwellings built on previously developed land or through conversions (%)

Waste recycling and disposal (tonnes per stream)

Agricultural produce (tonnes)

Wheat

Barley

Bean

Oilseed rape

Oats

Community

Total grants awarded (£)

The University suggested that the Foundation needed to develop and adopt a sustainability strategy. By establishing a strong evidence base to identify priorities for change and using a management systems approach, significant improvements could be made and sustainability principles could be operationalised through every aspect of the Foundation's work.

We advised that the adoption and implementation of a sustainability strategy would confirm to stakeholders in the town, including residents, that this issue was given the highest priority.

In March 2009, the partnership was awarded Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) funding by the Technology Strategy Board for a two-year project. This enabled the appointment of Xiaoqiang Zhang, a recent graduate, as a Sustainability Adviser/KTP Associate.

With supervision and support from both the University and the Foundation, Xiaoqiang has so far concentrated on establishing the sustainability baseline. He has identified and prioritised aspects of the Foundation's activities against the UK's sustainable development shared priorities.

An enterprise-wide carbon footprint calculation was performed to prioritise activities for carbon reduction. Key Performance Indicators for benchmarking the Foundation's current progress were established (see Table 2) and an IT system for collecting and monitoring the baseline data is under construction, which will enable the Foundation to accurately review its sustainability performance.

Xiaoqiang has also undertaken a review of best practice in key areas of interest such as energy management and building design. He is a vocal member of the Foundation's in-house monthly Sustainability Group meeting, advising on cutting-edge techniques and technologies from his research.

As the sustainability strategy is drawn up and considered for adoption, a stakeholder analysis is being carried out to establish the views of key individuals and organisations on the role the Foundation should play within the town.

A key challenge will be the retirement of the Director General and Property Director later this year, both of whom have provided strategic direction to the project. Once the sustainability strategy is adopted, an action programme will specify individual measures necessary to work towards the vision.

The integration of the strategy into all aspects of the Foundation's work will be enabled through implementing a Sustainability Management System (SMS) suitable for the unique character of the Foundation. This will be informed by the latest research findings and ensure effective communication, training, auditing and monitoring arrangements.

Efforts so far have been focused on understanding the Foundation's current sustainability position.

Over the next year, the partnership expects to make major progress towards resource efficiency and contribute further to the quality of life of those who live or work in the Garden City.

By using environmental management tools to integrate sustainability principles into every aspect of the organisation's operations, the Foundation's work to continue Howard's vision will be enhanced to the benefit of everyone.

This Partnership received financial support from the KTP, which aims to help businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base. KTP is funded by the Technology Strategy Board along with the other government funding organisations.

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