Bristol City Council: A case study in sustainable social care

By SDRN on 14th February 2013


AIM: This is not a discrete initiative but a system-wide approach with a number of elements, some of which are of project status but the aim being to mainstream i.e. embed sustainable development and environmental sustainability in all council business. The case study, written up in more detail by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), focuses especially on the Health and Social Care (HSC) directorate.

STATUS: Ongoing.

BACKGROUND: Bristol City Council provides an example of how a local authority’s strategy to improve the sustainability of all council activities can reduce the environmental impact of its Adult Health and Social Care services. The ‘Sustainable City’ corporate initiative dates back to the beginning of the 1990s. The focus in its early days was on directorates such as housing, planning and transport, where the opportunities for improving environmental performance were more obviously apparent. Since the mid-2000s there has been increasing recognition within the council of the potential contribution that health and social care (including adult care) can make to helping to achieve the council’s sustainability objectives.

Working with other public bodies, the council has set ambitious targets for improving environmental performance. This includes a 40% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 from a 2005 baseline. To support this, the council has introduced a number of corporate measures including environmental assessments of new proposals and strategies, and regular audits of services.

Up to 60% of Bristol’s total expenditure comes from residential homes; therefore the council has focused its sustainable social care policies on reducing the expenditure of the Health and Social Care directorate.

ACTIVITIES: Two specific initiatives are helping make adult care in the council more sustainable: (1) an Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and (2) planning services to adapt to climate change.

EMAS was adopted by the council in 2005 and extended to its health and social care directorate in 2008. A key mechanism for embedding EMAS in directorates has been the appointment of environmental advisers who each represent a directorate. The HSC environment adviser has been working across four main areas to reduce the directorate’s environmental impact:

  • Reducing energy use in buildings through insulation, efficient lighting systems and renewable heating.
  • Reducing business travel and travelling more sustainably.
  • Waste management to increase recycling and to reuse care and office equipment.
  • Encouraging biodiversity through gardening clubs at older people’s homes.

SCIE’s research Sustainable systems of social care identified Bristol as one of the locations where a holistic approach to sustainable development is in evidence. To build on this, in 2010-2011, SCIE and the council explored, with local residents and community groups, what environmental sustainability means to them and how this can help shape the future of providing personalised services.

This case study provides an overview of Bristol’s sustainability objectives and outlines how its HSC directorate has taken a lead role in improving the overall performance of the council, as well as the development work carried out in conjunction with SCIE with a particular focus on personalisation.


  • Moving the environmental performance agenda forward in health and social care is being assisted by the Sustainable City Group which has undertaken a process of inviting colleagues from other directorates gain EMAS accreditation.
  • A team of environment advisers for most directorates has now been established and is overseen by the Sustainable City Group – this ensures environment is a high priority.
  • Practices set up by the council’s Environment Team under the EMAS standard have been used to monitor and measure the activities and procedures of HSC, which has allowed sustainability and environmental performance to move up the agenda.
  • Understanding the priorities of the HSC team and how sustainability fits within this has been key to progressing performance monitoring around the environment, as has auditing and environmental performance training.
  • Sustainability and climate change topics can be used to engage citizens in creative discussion about the future of care, with an emphasis on community and individual resilience.