Bioregional’s One Planet Cities project brought together four cities and city-regions across the world to create sustainability action plans – helping them move towards a greener, healthier future, where everyone enjoys a good quality of life
In a world of divisive politics, social injustices, and environmental breakdown, collaborative working often seems like an unreachable ideal, something to wistfully wish for from time to time. For some, the recently released IPCC report brought nothing but a growing sense of hopelessness.
Fresh out of university and into my first sustainability job, I was well aware of the scale of the challenge. University seminar groups had often focused rather despairingly on the fractured political landscape, lamenting society’s inability to solve its self-inflicted problems. I came to Bioregional with no small amount of apprehension (and enthusiasm!), wondering what we could possibly do to pull together.
But on 6 November, something exceptional happened. In one room in Oxford, some 90 people from across the county – businesses, local councils, community groups, charities, universities and more – met together to think green and dream big. The aim of the day? To learn about One Planet Living and how to apply it to a city-region scale: to start creating One Planet Oxfordshire.
Nicole Lazarus, Head of One Planet Living at Bioregional, kicked off the day with an overview of our context. We were inspired to hear about how One Planet Living is being used in five other city-regions across the world through the One Planet Cities project. They’re each creating a sustainability action plan to help guide them towards happier, healthier and greener futures.
Oxfordshire’s ecological footprint data was shared to show us where we are at now, and we felt encouraged hearing the ways that people and organisations across Oxfordshire are already doing their bit.
Ronan Leyden, the facilitator for the day, then walked us through the creation of the One Planet Living principles and how they are already being used in many places, including Bioregional’s very own BedZED.
Then, the interactive sessions began. Among flurries of post-it notes and flipchart sheets, draft outcomes were created as people put pen to paper and mind to mission.
The room was brimming with energy. Our skilful One Planet sustainability experts – known as One Planet integrators - scribbled down ideas in reams, sticking them as fast as they could onto paper before feeding back to the group. One group came up with the outcome: ‘Oxfordshire becomes known as the most sustainable county in the UK’ as the room burst into applause – truly a mic drop moment!
A well-earned break for lunch saw us all feasting on vegetarian and vegan sandwiches and a selection of delicious cakes provided by Waste2Taste, a social enterprise that uses high-quality surplus food for their creations. As we carried on thinking about the principles post-lunch – particularly ‘Local and sustainable food’, an area in which Oxfordshire has a massive environmental footprint – the lunch certainly gave us food for thought.
The afternoon continued with a ‘marketplace’ consensus-building workshop, where people bustled around the room, inspecting the outcomes, refining them, and even drafting initial actions. Conversations flowed and the integrators expertly distilled the ideas into categories that were fed back to the group.
This led into thinking about indicators in our final session – how do we measure the progress and success of our outcomes? We thought of who might be best-placed to champion each outcome, reaching across the rich breadth of organisations present to find solutions. Participants were already brainstorming next steps for those solutions, and looking forward to the second workshop, where ‘smarter’ and more specific actions are to be crafted.
As Ronan and Nicole closed the day, I was heartened to see how the city that had borne me through innumerable essay crises and excessive caffeination during my undergraduate years was part of a much greater, rapidly-developing environmental push. Beyond the narrow cobbled streets I had formerly clattered through on my bike, laptop slung across my shoulder and essays crowding my mind, I was now beginning to see the wider ecosystem in which businesses, councils, and community groups were interacting in Oxford and beyond.
Tuesday might have only been one workshop, but another is coming. There is the opportunity for companies to create their One Planet Living manual. Our Facebook group is also open to anyone who wants to get involved in One Planet Oxfordshire, and provides information, updates, and a space for meeting other like-minded people passionate to see real change in our county.
Sometimes, tackling climate change alone can seem insurmountable. But tackling it together doesn’t have to be.
I believe in the astonishing power of humans in collaboration. I believe in our combined potential to make waves. And like dropping a pebble in a pond, the ripples in Oxfordshire have well and truly begun.