The London Borough of Waltham Forest Council (LBWFWFC) took a different path to many other local authorities when they declared a climate emergency in 2019.
The London Borough of Waltham Forest Council (WFC) took a different path to many other local authorities when they declared a climate emergency in 2019 by establishing an independent Climate Emergency Commission to revise all the work they had done on tackling climate so far and help them set radical, challenging targets that are used across the organisation. Their approach is rooted in having independent experts feed in their insights rather than picking an arbitrary target to work towards. They declared a Climate Emergency in April 2019.
The recommendations put forward by the independent commission were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and whilst the council wrote its climate strategy in response to these recommendations, the challenge for WFC is ‘filling the vacuum’ of internal communications and maintaining momentum with its internal champions.
WFC wants its employees to think not just about their actions as individuals but also link them to their roles as employees of the local authority, for example: “I work in procurement, how can I play my part? I could give more marks to people who have a green business.” The council believes in making things as accessible as possible and every month plans to translate one key environmental theme into clear actions for staff to take. The council is inspiring staff to make changes in a way which is manageable - for instance switching to a reusable coffee cup. Staff have a list of 10 actions to take, which, while emphasising that staff don’t have to do all of them, asks that they just don’t do none.
Recognising it is vital to have a public-facing spokesperson, deputy leader and Cabinet Member for Environment, Councillor Clyde Loakes leads external communications, although they firmly believe that internally ‘everyone is responsible for moving towards a more sustainable future. It’s not just one area that has to drive it.’ This could include the housing department retro-fitting their housing stock or the economic growth team looking at whether the businesses they work with have any sustainability measures in place.
WFC continues to use its staff intranet site and chief executive's blog to communicate internally, recognising the chief executive's voice adds more weight to the messages.
WFC has successfully ensured that every department is taught to think about the environmental impacts of their projects and continually ask how changes could be made effectively creating a cross-council approach to environmental responsibility.
WFC recommends ‘using insight to create the content that you know your residents will engage with.’ By using surveys, they are able to produce content with the knowledge that it’s what their residents want to hear about.
The focus for WFC at the moment is gathering insight on the organisational impact they are having. Every three months they measure this impact and whether people are happier with the way the council is handling the climate emergency than at the last survey asking questions such as ‘do you have confidence in the council's approach?’ Their most recent survey was completed by over 4,000 people.
Listen to your residents, ask them questions - what do you want to see more of? What interests you? Be curious. Work with them rather than talk at them. Communications should be a two-way dialogue.
Carly Davis, Communications Manager at Waltham Forest Council