Climate change remains such a challenging topic when it comes to communication and encouraging behavioural change. With most people “it might register as an issue but ask them to prioritise it and it is still coming out worryingly low”, says Phil Korbel. The Manchester-based social entrepreneur, broadcaster and community activist has been at this longer than most and is one of the drivers behind the Carbon Literacy Project. So he seems a good person to ask about how to crack the communication challenge.

The Carbon Literacy Project

In 2007 Korbel co-founded a climate change advocacy network, The 100 Months Club, which then led to involvement in drafting Manchester’s climate change action plan. There were lots of ideas thrown up during this process, says Korbel, but there was the question of how to generate demand and uptake for the resultant solutions.

Manchester City Council, with some seed money, sought a partner for this aspect and Korbel’s Cooler Projects community interest company won the tender. The resultant Carbon Literacy Project set out to offer everyone who works, lives or studies in Manchester and the wider area, “a day’s worth of Carbon Literacy learning covering climate change, carbon footprints, how you can do your bit, and why it’s relevant to you and your audience”.

A working group of various stakeholders defined what was needed, with relevance seen as vital from the outset. “We had to ensure that we could never have flat learning, it had to have relevance throughout and a framework for delivering the learning,” says Korbel.

“When the penny drops on climate change, that’s what we are trying to induce, at scale,” he says. “The approach is never, you are going to learn about climate change… this is what it means for polar bears, and then we leave.” It might be about enhancing core skills to improve people’s employability, better household energy management to reduce bills (there has been work in Bolton around fuel poverty, for instance), or the health benefits of active travel and better diet. This is still carbon literacy, he says, but starting from a point of direct relevance for the audience.

The Take-up To-date

There are now around 30 organisations that have gained carbon literacy accreditation. Manchester City Council itself was one of the first to take up the programme. Salford City Council has done so in a planned, strategic way, says Korbel, in part through the lead of the elected mayor, Paul Dennett. Among others have been Manchester’s HOME arts centre and Manchester Museum, thereby claiming to be the world’s first carbon literate arts centre and museum respectively. A less predictable interested entity is a large dairy operator that, while fully aware of the carbon implications of its sector, is interested in how it can reduce its carbon footprint.

HOME is part of the Manchester Arts Sustainability Team (MAST), a Green Business Membership participant and last year was a top award winner in the Groundwork Green Business Awards – which emphasises the fact that the Carbon Literacy Project complements a range of other initiatives. The arts centre has a wide ranging set of goals and initiatives, including related to its building, travel, suppliers and products, and sharing knowledge and building engagement through its programme of events and activities –

Rebuilding secondary education for refugees

HOME Arts Centre, Manchester –  a hub of sustainability. Photo credit: Machteld Schoep

CL4RPs – Engaging with Social Landlords

Among the most engaged have been Housing Associations. “The well-being of their clients is central to what they do and they are already trying to have warm homes for everyone,” says Korbel. After a high profile launch in September 2013, the Carbon Literacy Project for Registered Providers (CL4RPs) saw a workshop of stakeholders assess how climate change was already impacting the social housing sector and define how it was likely to do so in the future, with this leading to jointly devised training materials.

Nearly all of the city’s Housing Associations have been involved and, using a train-the-trainer approach, the learning has been delivered to a succession of them, with leaders including Northwards Housing, Wigan and Leigh Homes, Great Places Housing Group and Southway Housing. The learning then cascades down to the tenants and residents, as well as to the Associations’ supply chains (there are currently some interesting discussions about procurement frameworks, says Korbel).

Rebuilding secondary education for refugees

Manchester Museum’s Peppered Moth sculpture which was commissioned for its exhibition, Climate Control

Where Next?

The Carbon Literacy Project is more or less self-funding, through the income (usually £10 per head) of the accreditation training programmes, plus a small amount of sponsorship and occasional grants. It has seven employed trainers, including a first one in Scotland, via the Scottish government’s climate fund, which is administered by Keep Scotland Beautiful.

In terms of a broader geography, it would like to take the CL4RPs project to Merseyside, the North-East and Wales. It has been working with Bafta across the UK on training (the UK media sector has been a pioneer in environmental sustainability and accreditation –

The Carbon Literacy Project has also had conversations overseas, including with an engineering university in Toulouse and with Amsterdam’s highly active Smart City initiative: Nearer to home, there are new opportunities in new sectors, says Korbel, including the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (which has many extreme weather-related callouts).

There is also a plan to take the learning to individuals, in which case the likes of Manchester Museum might be instrumental, and at this point it is likely that technology will be an enabler. At present, the training might lead people to adopt one of the available apps that raise awareness and influence behaviour around climate change. With training for individuals, Korbel expects they would have a greater role.

Discussions can hit ‘corporate inertia’ and, in the local government sector, the backdrop of austerity is an issue, although there should be a clear return on any investment, such as reduced energy bills. Where carbon literacy was previously seen as something that was ‘nice to have’, many organisations are now viewing it as core to their business, says Korbel.

Which is a hopeful note to end on. Making climate change relevant to people’s day-to-day lives and providing tangible ways in which they can help to tackle it makes perfect sense.