Meet the community groups using data to decarbonise Birmingham


How can data be used to plan and implement community climate activity more effectively?

Bridget Newbery from the Centre for Sustainable Energy explaines how “Project 3D“ an innovative, data led project has been supporting a whole range of community organisations across Birmingham with climate action.  

Our experience is that all communities are different. It can sometimes be hard to know where to begin and what to prioritise when organising community activity around local carbon emissions.   But there’s growing interest in the use of “green open data“ to enhance climate action.

 Through the 3D Project in Birmingham, we’ve found community climitate action projects using data combined with expert knowledge of local communities, achieve better results. Thats because they can take a problem and identify solutions using a more considered approach. This approach involves bringing three elements together:

  • expertise (knowledge and experience in a field of work)
  • local knowledge (a nuanced understanding of the local area and people)
  • an understanding of key data relating to the topic 

Project 3D

Project 3D is a pioneering free online platform collating data specific to the Birmingham City region to apply to climate action initiatives.  Funded by Google, through the ICLEI Action Fund and led by the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE), the “3D hub” offers a range of data sets including open data on housing, travel, waste, energy, and emissions.

The data includes information on fuel poverty, air quality, electric car charging points, building emissions, retrofit options solar PV potential, cycle routes and much more. Most of the data is available in a range of different downloadable formats - including easy to understand (human readable) formats too!

Data can be used to plan, initiate, and improve projects that cut carbon, from planning where to target the installation of home energy efficiency improvements to where to prioritise low-carbon transport initiatives. In many cases, the data used in Birmingham has challenged assumptions and in all cases, it has informed better project plans.

Here’s just some of the ways local groups have been using data from Project 3D...

Birmingham Tree People
is combining land use and tree cover data with urban heat island, flood risk, air quality and index of multiple deprivation data to create a GIS based ‘Tree Equity Map’ to identify locations where increased tree cover would provide the most environmental and social benefits. The map is both striking and innovative and has raised interest from organisations all over the UK keen to use the approach in other cities.

Footsteps is using fuel poverty, EPC, waste, and air pollution data to target community engagement with a particular focus on providing targeted fuel poverty, waste reduction, and energy efficiency advice in faith communities. Project achievements included some engaging swishing (clothes swapping) events, starting a local repair cafe, £2,141 worth of LED lighting installed in places of worship, and energy assessments in a number of faith buildings (using energy data to quantify the carbon emissions savings which can be made).

Birmingham County Football Association (BCFA) has used data to help select football venues located in areas with high levels of multiple deprivation and air pollution. The users of these venues will be the focus for sustained community engagement seeking to encourage more sustainable transport behaviours such as through car sharing, public transport, or active travel, with Birmingham City Council providing support in the form of reduced pitch hire for local groups taking part. 

Ecobirmingham‚Äč has applied cycle route and air pollution data in creating a new cycle route linking all 69 wards of Birmingham together with a 33-mile route, encouraging more people to get on their bikes. The route is already being enthusiastically received even though it’s only recently been completed. They have also identified areas for group rides and Bikeability sessions using data to spot places where there are high levels of consumption-based carbon emissions, car ownership, and low access to health services. A second Ecobirmingham project includes using socio-economic data to help with messaging and encourage take up of ‘One Planet Living’ action plans for individuals, organisations and communities to help look at what actions they can take in their sustainability journeys.

Community Energy Birmingham (CEB) has applied data to deliver two innovative local projects. They looked at EPC and fuel poverty data to identify the best areas to promote a new advice service to encourage installation of home energy efficiency improvements, including providing comprehensive retrofit surveys for a local housing association. If recommended measures from energy assessments are installed, the savings going forward will be 5.91 tonnes or 17.42 with heat pumps installed.  CEB is also using open data in a project mapping solar potential, grid constraints, and conservation area data to identify and reach out to owners of potential solar PV roofs. 30kWp of solar is in line to be installed before Christmas, which will result in 5 tonnes CO2e saved per year. A further 1000 kWp of viable installation sites are in the project pipeline.

Using data to inform climate action projects

Although data is a universal language, using it effectively to inform community climate action is still a fairly new idea.  Using data and datasets can seem intimidating, but it’s worth investigating, whatever scale you’re working at. It means you can look at and have meaningful conversations around the scope of a problem, what actions can have the greatest or fastest impact, and understand how best to target them. These brilliant projects in Birmingham could all be replicated elsewhere.

Depending on the level you’re working at, you may be able to identify simple data sets and easily extract information to support your work, or you may need an expert to analyse and interpret complex data. Either way,  there's huge value in this kind of analysis. You’ll get better results and bring more people with you. Plus there are more and more tools available which make it easier to access and apply data too. There are some here worth exploring and CSE developed our Impact Community Carbon Calculator which is a great way of looking at lots of data for a particular community.

At CSE, our work with communities always shows local people can achieve the most change because they understand their neighbourhood and its residents better than anyone. But data, and projects like the 3D Hub takes this understandign a step further, and in some cases, opens up new perspectives.  We hope more groups will feel inspired about using use data to support climate action projects and there’s more information on the 3D website.

For more information feel free to contact Bridget Newbery at the Centre for Sustainable Energy,