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Climate Action Programme case study: Avon Fire and Rescue Service


Avon Fire and Rescue Service (AF&RS) are on the frontline in responding to the increasing impacts of climate change such as flooding and wildfire, and in fact, it is one of their legal duties to protect the environment through their operations. In this case study, Annabel Harford, Environmental Manager at AF&RS shares their inspiring climate action journey so far and what she has learnt along the way.


Our climate action journey

With 23 buildings, a fleet of 180 vehicles and regular use of huge amounts water and toxic fire-fighting foams, there is a significant amount of work we can do to reduce our carbon emissions and wider environmental impacts. Plus, we have the opportunity to mitigate environmental damage by putting out fires, containing spills and reducing the impacts of flooding.

As a respected public-facing emergency service, we also recognise the potential for us to act as a high-profile catalyst for wider environmental action.

Establishing a baseline and setting targets

Back in 2009, an environmental officer was first recruited. At the time AF&RS had very inefficient and carbon-intensive buildings, predominately heated by oil boilers, no renewables, inefficient lighting, an all-diesel fleet and barely any recycling. Our emissions measured approximately 3,500 tonnes of CO2 per annum.

The first step was to develop a 5-year carbon management plan with the support of The Carbon Trust. This established a baseline and defined a scope for measuring our carbon footprint, which included emissions from all activities we control and some scope 3 activities.

We developed an environmental policy and set targets for a 5% reduction in emissions each year and a 50% reduction target by 2020. We also completed regular energy and environmental audits to identify opportunities for improvements and engaged staff and partners through our internal communications.

So far so good

We have reduced our emissions by 64% since 2009, beating our 2020 target two years early. This has been through a range of measures including:

  • Switching to 100% renewable electricity and green gas.
  • Improvements in recycling and monitoring waste including food and hazardous waste.
  • Replacing our oil boilers with gas.
  • More efficient use of water with better leak detection and change in policies around frequency of vehicle washing.
  • Introduction of electric vehicles onto our fleet.
  • Joined the Co-wheels car club to provide alternative, low-emissions pool cars.
  • Established a self-assessment mechanism to track progress on sustainable procurement.
  • Changes in policy in the way we respond to fire alarms, using a risk-based approach which has resulted in reduced vehicle usage whilst maintaining community safety.
  • Improving energy efficiency and management of our buildings.
  • Better collation and management of energy, water and fuel data.

Addressing challenges

Aside from the emissions challenges relating to old buildings and diesel-heavy fire engines, it has historically been hard to have a joined up and comprehensive approach to climate action with key departments working in silos.

This was a particular issue with Fire and Rescue Services, with a disconnect between frontline operations and ‘back-office’ activities, plus a misconception that environmental responsibilities lie solely with the Environment Manager. However, climate action is bringing everyone together and there is now an understanding that it is a priority, and we are all part of the solution.

Ambitions for the future

With the Fire Authority having declared climate and ecological emergencies, senior management and partners are on board with the action needed.

AF&RS recently published a 10-year environmental strategy encompassing our climate adaptation and mitigation actions towards our ambitious net zero 2030 target as well as environmental protection. We are the only fire and rescue service in the country to set such an ambitious goal.

We have secured substantial funding to accelerate our net zero trajectory through renewable energy generation and improved energy efficiency for some of our buildings. We will also be involved in trials of a prototype electric fire engine and are not going to stop there! We are considering which Scope 3 emissions to include in our carbon footprint and how to address them, for example employee commuting and purchased goods and services.

Top tips: keep your eyes on the carbon!

  • Get buy-in and keep the conversation going. Engage and re-engage with colleagues and management to understand their perspectives, priorities and interests whilst also challenging views and demonstrating new approaches.
  • Get your contractors on board and involve them.
  • Collaborate and network. Join the Climate Action Programme!
  • Be practical – start with the low hanging fruits.
  • It can be the small, ‘behind the scenes’ things that make the biggest difference.
  • Keep abreast of innovation and best practice.
  • Give the ecological emergency equal weight – be nature conscious in all your decisions.
  • When the going gets tough, remain positive and always keep your eyes on the carbon!

Avon Fire & Rescue Service are a member of Bristol Green Capital Partnership’s Climate Leaders Group.

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