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Sustainability Roundtable: Community Engagement blog

This Sustainability Roundtable on community engagement explored the strategies employed by councils, emphasising effective communication, education, and awareness-raising with residents and community groups.


As the global community grapples with the urgent need to address climate change, local governments play a pivotal role in driving sustainability initiatives. Councils, in particular, have been at the forefront of efforts to engage communities in the pursuit of decarbonisation targets. This Sustainability Roundtable on community engagement explored the strategies employed by councils, emphasising effective communication, education, and awareness-raising with residents and community groups. Furthermore, it shed light on the benefits derived from such community engagement, showcasing real-world examples from Staffordshire County Council and the London Borough of Lambeth.

Councils employ various strategies to engage their communities in sustainability and climate initiatives. Three primary approaches include:

  • Clear communication techniques in promotional outreach campaigns that effectively convey the importance of sustainability. Transparent communication on key issues and their impact on residents.
  • Open learning and knowledge sharing: Providing educational opportunities for residents to enhance their understanding of sustainability. Encouraging knowledge sharing to foster a sense of community involvement.
  • Raising awareness on sustainability issues by highlighting key sustainability issues and their local implications. Creating platforms for dialogue to facilitate discussions on community-wide impacts.

The community engagement methods adopted by councils yield a range of benefits, including:

  • Increased resident confidence: residents develop trust and confidence in their local authorities through transparent communication. Confidence boosts community cooperation and support for sustainability initiatives.
  • Positive mindset changes: Community members experience positive mindset shifts towards sustainable practices. Residents become active participants in driving environmental change.
  • Growth of values in communities: Shared values within communities foster a sense of responsibility whereby communities become more receptive to net-zero projects and long-term sustainability goals.

Rose Hampton, Senior Communications Officer, Climate Change & Sustainability, Staffordshire County Council

Rose's presentation focussed on The Carbon Bubble Campaign and community engagement on net-zero.

The average UK household creates 10 tonnes of carbon a year and it was this that prompted Staffordshire County Council (SCC) to embark on this project. For the past two years, the council has looked into the complex world of climate change, striving to bridge the gap between scientific jargon and the everyday person by engaging with communities and holding crucial conversations about climate change.

The challenge

Climate change is a vast and challenging subject to simplify for diverse audiences, and it becomes even more complex when attempting to quantify individual contributions to carbon emissions. SCC’s mission was clear – needing to help residents understand their carbon footprint and empower them to act towards sustainability. The council pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, making it imperative to involve communities in this journey.

Staffordshire, a small county in the heart of England, generating approximately 5.8 million tonnes of carbon annually. The Staffordshire Sustainability Board, comprising elected members and senior officers from across the county, was established to collectively address climate change. One of the ten pledges made by the board was to create a joint communications plan aimed at engaging residents.

Measuring impact

The council set SMART objectives to engage 1,000 residents face-to-face by September 2023 with the aim of receiving 3,000 responses from the consultation over a 12 week period. The results exceeded expectations, with over 500 people using the digital carbon calculator and a staggering social media reach of 98,000, generating over 1,500 comments and 1,100 shares.


The success of the Carbon Bubble campaign showcased the effectiveness of innovative, community-focused approaches to climate change engagement. By making the conversation accessible, relatable, and visually striking, Staffordshire County Council not only achieved their engagement goals but also gained invaluable insights into residents' attitudes and desires. 

Cassidy Travis, Head of Climate Change & Sustainability, London Borough of Lambeth

The London Borough of Lambeth has emerged as a trailblazer in the fight against climate change. A vibrant borough and home to diverse communities and a forward-thinking local government, the council embarked on an ambitious journey to engage its citizens in tackling the climate crisis. Cassidy Travis presented on Lambeth's innovative approach, focusing on the Lambeth Citizens' Assembly, the Climate Action Plan, and the UCL/Nesta pilot project.

Overview of Lambeth's Climate Action Journey

Lambeth became the first London Borough to declare a Climate Emergency in 2019. The journey began with the establishment of the Citizens' Assembly in 2021, comprising 47 residents tasked with developing a borough-wide climate action plan gathering broad community buy-in.


Lambeth's approach provides a blueprint for other councils, highlighting the significance of context, clear communication, and a commitment to addressing existing challenges. In the collective efforts of councils and communities lies the potential for meaningful climate action and a more sustainable future. Lambeth's story serves as an inspiration for local governments committed to being catalysts for change in the global fight against climate change.

The Roundtable continued with three breakout sessions for facilitated discussion on community engagement:

The discussions highlighted financial challenges among councils and the need for effective engagement with residents. Group 2 emphasised the importance of establishing strategies for climate and sustainability efforts, involving residents in the formulation of plans. The example of tree planting and Sustainable Drainage System plans was given to gain resident buy-in. The importance of internal engagement is stressed, including leveraging top-down support and conducting surveys for staff. Interactive quizzes and training are used to align staff knowledge in the climate space.

Challenges in building positive relationships and the ineffectiveness of certain engagement methods are mentioned. The significance of avoiding resource-intensive climate-focused events is noted, and the positive impact of a climate assembly on resident engagement is highlighted. The need for resources, representative demographics, and a sustainable city charter were discussed. Learning from city organisations and recognising the work of engagement officers were also mentioned. The limited funds and resources for effective engagement work also acknowledged, with a call to value and recognise the efforts of those involved.

Concerns about community energy groups and the need for sustainable support were raised, suggesting part-time roles as a solution. Collaboration with town and parish councils was discussed, emphasising the importance of understanding local needs and barriers. Westminster plans to launch a comprehensive engagement initiative, including carbon literacy training for cabinet members and one designated cabinet member for carbon action. The use of task and finish groups, adaptation plans, and charity funding for engagement activities were also highlighted.

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