A low-carbon community: but how did they heat their swimming pool? Painting by Karl Bodmer, 1833

As the old adage goes, “there are no new ideas, there are only new ways of making them felt.” We think like this a lot, as we work with local councils who want to find really effective ways to give their areas a more sustainable future.

From Greater Manchester’s offbeat ‘Toasty Manchester’ – an engaging (if we do say so ourselves) way to raise awareness of a pretty darn good insulation offer – to Stroud District Council’s innovative heating scheme, we know councils care about cutting carbon and costs, and are looking far and wide for the right approaches to achieve it.

Undoubtedly the most eye-catching was last week’s news of Redditch Borough Council’s plans to heat its new local leisure centre using waste heat from a crematorium.

According to the Forbes magazine blog:

‘Redditch Borough Council is also already in the process of upgrading the crematorium’s equipment to reduce mercury emissions, as required by European Union legislation. The new equipment would lower the temperature of the atmosphere in the crematorium from 1,400 degrees to around 300 degrees by piping in cold water. That water, now heated, then needs to go somewhere. Council members say the stadium next door is the natural choice.

“The use of waste heat energy in this way is good practice and very innovative,” said council leader Carole Gandy in a prepared statement. “It would genuinely be a first in the U.K. and demonstrates Redditch Borough Council’s seriousness about addressing climate change issues, especially reducing its reliance on fossil fuels, and reducing the borough’s carbon footprint”.’

This practice is relatively common and accepted in Scandinavia; and another Midlands authority, Warwick District Council, has been using a similar method to heat buildings for the last 15 years. Perhaps time, and indeed the results, will be a healer for those who are nonplussed at present.

 Looking purely economically, as it is often pertinent to do, cost savings of £14,560 a year and the chance to supply 42% of the centre’s heat demand were clearly two seriously attractive factors in the new scheme’s favour.

This story has admittedly sparked a bit of a furore, but it highlights the reality that, in order to meet our carbon emission reduction targets, any resource that can be re-used for public benefit should be open for serious consideration.

(We on the blog team also feel that this approach fits nicely with the old Native American philosophy that, out of respect for the earth and the animals they killed, nothing should be wasted.)

There’s also plenty of innovative, if thankfully less culturally challenging, thinking on show around retrofitting Britain’s housing stock to energy-efficient standards. We’ve mentioned Greater Manchester’s £10m European-funded social housing retrofit scheme, which we are delighted to have helped get off the ground, bringing cutting-edge energy-efficiency technology to 3,000 homes. And there is more of that out there. 

Recently we came across news that Meden Valley Making Places, a council-backed project in Mansfield and Bolover to re-energise the area following the pit closures of the 80s, is funding a dramatic £1m project to renovate homes that have been lying empty – and, in the case of Mansfield’s ‘most notorious’ empty home, attracting all kinds of anti-social behaviour. The renovations will include ambitious retrofitting to a high ecological standard, meaning the families who move in will have low running costs, too.

The measures they are installing are ambitious, with solar PV topping off a shedload of insulation and other renovation work; and not only that, traineeships are being offered to skill up some local green constructors for the future.

It shows the value of starting small: four houses, including the notorious squatters’ den in Mansfield, will be completed by March, and another six are to follow in the next phase.