13 Oct 2021

Reading’s Green Business Improvement District

With what is being billed as the world’s last best chance to address the issue of runaway climate change set to take place on these shores in November under the banner of COP26, Reading UK’s Chief Executive, Nigel Horton-Baker, outlines a new initiative to ensure Reading town centre and its individual businesses are making a local contribution to the global carbon footprint reduction requirements.

PSuites_bikesAs part of Reading Climate Festival, Reading Business Improvement District brought together a workshop of representative town centre businesses and green experts to formalise a 'Green BID framework’. The framework is being designed to recognise what individual companies and the collective BID activities are doing towards reducing our carbon footprint. As part of that process we also plan to identify gaps where we can start planning new 'green' initiatives and services.

Reading town centre hosts over 600 businesses in two Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Together we have a significant environmental footprint. However, the business levy that these businesses pay also provides us with the opportunity to start planning, measuring and monitoring both the existing green credentials of the town centre and our businesses as well as what we can collectively do to play our part.

The Green Business Improvement District initiative is grounded in a number of local green policies: the Reading 2050 Vision for a smart and sustainable future for Reading, which includes an ambition to reach net carbon zero by 2030, the BID Management Plan, the Reading Climate Emergency Strategy 2020-2025 launched last year by the Reading Climate Change Partnership and endorsed by Reading Borough Council and the Reading Economic Recovery Strategy, Powered by People Strategy.

The ambition is to assess what is being done already by our businesses and across the town centre as a whole, to create an action plan of what we can do better and to work towards Reading Business Improvement District becoming a national ‘green’ beacon of environmental good practice.

The first action of the Green Business Improvement District initiative is to capture accurate information about what is being done already towards climate reduction targets locally. The BID runs a small number of practical services on behalf of town centre businesses to help reduce the carbon footprint such as a carboard recycling scheme, but at present we have no clear picture of what individual businesses are doing to become more environmentally sustainable. Subsequent phases will involve mitigation, adaptation and financial planning to invest in more green initiatives.

Reading town centre has had a retail Business Improvement District since 2007, investing in value- added services to make the town centre a great place to visit, shop enjoy and work and do business. Since 2019, Retail BID has been joined by a commercial BID covering the Abbey Quarter commercial district giving total coverage of the town centre under the manifesto of a safe, clean, green, attractive and well promoted business centre. This project will put the green agenda at the heart of future work on behalf of town centre businesses, workers, residents and visitors.

The Green BID Framework covers all forms of activity from the green credentials of our buildings to energy and waste, water, green spaces, nature and transport. It will cover businesses large and small, from shops and hotels to office blocks, bars, markets, transport hubs and night clubs.

The initial meeting of Reading Green Business Improvement Districts took place in September with some 30 businesses and experts in Reading’s two BID areas discussing the development of a set of measures to map the town centre’s progress against green measures.

It was a lively, informative and wide-ranging debate, looking beyond the most basic requirements for recycling and low emission lighting to behavioural change, management of buildings in the private sector, adopting ISO 14000 Environmental Impact Analysis, ISO 5001/2 environmental auditing and management and the requirement for Energy Efficiency Certification.

Energy reduction was seen as a priority with the town centre viewed as an ideal place to increase levels of solar panels on rooftops, tree planting, wild flowering and new developments with green roofs and walls.

There are lots of examples of good practice already in Reading such as the low/zero carbon strategy adopted by Reading Buses over a number of years, but in the are of transport, for example, there is still more to be done to promote cycling and walking to the town, developing company travel plans, installing green electric charging points and even measuring air miles.

There has been an amazing response to the call to action as part of Reading’s Climate Festival. The Chairs of Reading’s two BIDs and I are determined to do further work to formalise our green monitoring framework and undertake the first survey of Reading businesses in the town centre to create a benchmark for our green ambitions and credentials.

In the here and now, we are working with Ngagesolutions to roll out local carbon workplace grants offering up to £5,000 to help small and medium sized businesses subsidise the cost of upgrading equipment to improve energy efficiency, lower energy bills and improve the overall quality of the workspace.  For further info go to Reading UK Business Recovery ToolKit.

However our longer term plan is to develop a new service for town centre companies to help them reduce their carbon footprint and mitigate against climate change. We will be consulting on our revised framework before Xmas. Anyone interested in getting involved should contact Nigel Horton-Baker in the first instance. We will be happy to share our findings with you and listen to your idea.