The ‘climate implications toolkit’ is a qualitative self-assessment tool to help all council officers assess and improve the alignment of their projects, procurements, commissioning, and services with Hammersmith and Fulham's climate and ecology strategy. It also supports report authors to draft the climate implications section on decision and procurement strategy reports.
Since February 2021, all council decisions valued over £300,000 and procurement strategies have been required to include climate and ecological emergency implications. The option for the council’s Climate Unit to author implications on all reports was considered, but the lack of in-depth knowledge about each decision by the Climate Unit was considered limiting, and an approach was desired that would also upskill project leads around the council to apply climate principles from the outset of new projects.
Applying the breadth of sustainability considerations contained in our climate and ecology strategy to all decisions is challenging, so we wanted to create a simple tool that would familiarise colleagues with these principles and embed a working understanding of sustainable design.
The solution needed to be sufficiently straightforward for a non-technical audience. It needed to pose questions that are specific, but that can be applied to the full range of council projects. It also needed to be manageable enough to gain buy-in and avoid only cursory use.
We adopted a governance approach in which climate implications in reports are drafted by the report authors, before being refined and verified in dialogue with the Climate Unit. This was considered to provide the greatest opportunity to embed a comprehensive understanding of climate-conscious design across all services, while giving robustness to the implications.
To support this, a simple Excel questionnaire was developed in-house as a reflective tool for self-evaluation by project leads. Those using the tool answer 29 qualitative, multiple choice questions about their project relating to six strategic climate challenges:
- buildings and energy
- things we use
- adapting to a changing climate
- engagement and influence
The answers selected are automatically colour-coded to highlight the degree of alignment with the climate strategy, ranging from ‘strong positive impacts’ to ‘considerable inconsistency with the strategy’, or ‘not applicable’. Suggested mitigations and climate-conscious approaches are listed next to each section, and space is given for authors to elaborate on the reasons for their answer and to propose mitigations. The completed tool is submitted to the Climate Unit along with the draft implications, and is the basis for discussion on possible modifications to the approach.
We are holding ongoing workshops with groups of 10-20 project managers and service leads from different departments, to give guidance on the tool, and to allow officers to trial it in breakout groups, which gives space for discussion and peer challenge around answers.
As a requirement for decision reports, and used in dialogue with the Climate Unit, the tool has proved a valuable prompt with services and has led to sometimes substantial modifications to better align decisions with the council’s climate and ecology strategy.
It is also helping to upskill services in carbon literacy and sustainable thinking. The 29 questions are high-level but comprehensive and have helped to broadcast overlooked and less well-understood aspects of climate design, including circular economy principles, biodiversity and adaptation. It is hoped with time this will lead to greater adoption of the tool and of climate-friendly design from the outset of projects.
It is also our intention to develop tools to quantify the greenhouse gas impact of decisions. However, we felt a qualitative tool would initially establish a better understanding of carbon-conscious design principles for a non-technical audience and would be more broadly applicable at the design stage of a project, before detailed specifications have been devised.
Feedback on the tool from other services has been positive. Early use in project design is preferable however, which isn’t currently designed into the governance process, and there are greater obstacles to changing the direction of a project that is already reaching the decision stage.
The tool is a reflective aid, so can’t score or quantify the impacts of a decision, and it is expected this will become part of a suite of tools to influence and evaluate design.
Although it aims to be straightforward, services tend to need support with the tool at first. The wording of questions and colour-coding is kept deliberately simple; guidance and support to those completing the tool is therefore needed on how to give considered answers, taking into account direct and indirect impacts, and short and long-term effects. Feedback has been that it is best completed in a group to encourage a range of perspectives and peer challenge, and workshops are now organised around this principle.