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Surrey County Council: Crowdsourcing ideas to get started

Surrey County Council (SCC), declared a climate emergency in July 2019 and has taken the huge step in publishing a comprehensive strategy.

Surrey County Council (SCC), declared a climate emergency in July 2019 and has taken the huge step in publishing a comprehensive strategy - Surrey’s Greener Futurein April 2020, which details how the council will reach its aim to be carbon neutral by 2050. It is their focus on the incremental steps on the journey towards tackling climate change that really stands out.

The challenge

Declaring a climate emergency is just the beginning and while they worked on getting the strategy in place, SCC knew it would be difficult to provide information or answer residents’ questions. In the run up to publishing its strategy, the council wanted to demonstrate its commitment and start a conversation with residents on how to achieve its ambitious goals.

The solution

In autumn 2019, the Greener Futures Design Challenge was launched to gather ideas from residents about things they can do within their own communities to make them more environment friendly. The idea is by showcasing small, manageable projects, identifying little steps and creative ideas, the journey towards carbon neutrality will be easier.

Local people were invited to submit ideas and a number of workshops were run where individuals or small groups were provided with expert advice from officers at SCC and external advisors.

With innovative ideas in place, residents were supported to bring their ideas to life. One such idea was the ‘Positive Landuse Initiative’, whose purpose was to bring together local farmers who are farming sustainably to see how they could better be supported and connect them up with local volunteers. Another idea was to build a ‘cycle superhighway’ across the town centre. The idea is to start small and then hopefully people will like it and want more of it. With just a one-mile superhighway they could link four schools and a university with local amenities such as a shopping centre and train station.

SCC are using the tagline ‘Surrey’s Greener Future’ to talk about their climate change strategy and invite comments from the local community. They are also using the hashtag #SurreysGreenerFuture across their social media channels to promote their campaigns.

SCC ran a number of workshops to help develop these ideas, run both by members of SCC and by external partners. Many of these workshops were recorded and turned into podcasts so anyone who is interested is able to listen to the discussion and use the material provided to support their own initiatives to combat climate change.


In creating a competition, SCC encouraged residents to share their ideas for how they can make their own communities more environmentally friendly and keep them engaged throughout the process of developing these ideas.

By using experts and workshops to help residents to turn their ideas into reality, the council established a group of engaged people who would be more receptive to any future climate campaigns and who could demonstrate the significance of grassroots community projects.

Lessons learned

SCC has recognised that peer-to-peer communication is much more powerful and inspirational than hearing it directly from the authority and they try to identify early on those who are particularly interested in climate change in the local community and might make good spokespeople.

Where one school trials and sets something up, the council has learnt that this delivers a case study that can be replicated in other schools and locations. Other schools are much more likely to implement an idea when they can see examples of it working in a similar setting to their own.

Louise Morton, Senior Communications Officer at Surrey County Council:

“Work with community groups, identify those in the community who are interested in climate change as peer- to peer advice is more effective than the council leading.”


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