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What did Bristol learn in its year as European Green Capital?

Bristol is a famously inspirational place: there are so many brilliant people doing exciting, transformational things, particularly when it comes to creating and developing more sustainable ways to live. In recognition of that, the European Commission awarded the city the European Green Capital title for 2015.

Today, that title gets passed on to Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana. So what does Bristol have to share with the next title holder?

Plenty, in fact. One of the purposes of being the European Green Capital is to act as a role model for other cities around the world, which the city is doing through a free online toolkit called “The Bristol Method”.

The Method documents everything Bristol has learned in the lead up to and during its year as European Green Capital. The aim was to make it easy for other cities to replicate Bristol’s successes and learn from its challenges. Each of the 32 modules, which contain advice and recommendations that each reader can tailor to their own circumstances, is presented as an easy-to-digest “how to” guide on a particular topic using Bristol as the case study.

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Without a doubt, the most popular topic has been sustainable transport, an area Bristol has wrestled with over the years. Despite having lower rates of commuting by car than the national average, congestion leaves Bristol with some of the slowest peak hour traffic speeds of major UK cities, and air quality fails to meet national and EU standards throughout much of the city centre. Poor transport is the number one complaint by local residents.


And, as a historic city, Bristol is faced with a problem that is common to many older places: a severe lack of space. It is simply not feasible to build more roads so the council and local community have had to be creative about how to lure people out of their cars and onto public transport or low-emission alternatives.

One module which details how civic governments can get more people walking and cycling explains how the city sought to cut car traffic during the school run. Sustrans – a national charity devoted to getting people travelling on foot, bike or public transport – ran workshops with over 77,000 Bristol school children, building their understanding of sustainable travel and exciting them about the alternatives. As a result, the number of children being driven to school has dropped 10 per cent year-on-year, and cycling and taking a scooter to school have increased.

Another project which has grabbed headlines is Bristol’s Bio-Bus. This new service, provided by First Bus, is affectionately known locally as the “poo bus”: it runs on biomethane generated entirely by human and food waste.

The Bio-Bus can seat up to 40 people and produces significantly fewer emissions than diesel engines. All the households along the route used by the Bio-Bus will, indirectly, help to fuel it since these households have their waste processed at sewage treatment works at Avonmouth. Over the course of a month it is thought that each household will contribute enough waste to fuel the Bio-Bus for 10.5km (6.5miles).

Bristol’s mayor George Ferguson faced some initial opposition when he introduced 20 mph limits across the city and, residents’ parking schemes in 15 neighbourhoods surrounding the city centre. However, local people are welcoming the changes, noticing that the streets feel safer now that the traffic is moving slower and that it has become easier to find somewhere to park. There’s some evidence that the changes have led to a significant modal shift among commuters. As a result, there are increasing requests for residents’ parking schemes in other neighbourhoods too.

While Bristol still has a way to go to fix its transport challenges, its efforts have set it on the trajectory towards becoming one of the greenest cities in Europe. The city hopes that the Bristol Method will help galvanise others to follow in its footsteps.

The Bristol Method was expected to be of most interest to people working in British and European municipalities – but to date, modules have been downloaded by people in 56 different countries, including Japan and Nigeria. Perhaps it isn’t necessary to share a culture or regulatory landscape to benefit from ideas and inspiration about how to build a greener city. An ambition to make urban living more healthy and sustainable is a cause that the whole world can get behind.

Katherine Symonds-Moore is a sustainability consultant and was project manager for the Bristol Method. 

The Bristol Method is available for free on the Bristol 2015 website.
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