The Greenest Cities to Run a Business in the UK

As the UK pushes to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, businesses can play their part in improving their energy efficiency and cutting their emissions. But where are the greenest cities in the UK that could provide businesses with the best setting to become more sustainable?

Rhiannon Philps Published on 04 July 2022.
The Greenest Cities to Run a Business in the UK

When you’re running a business, money is likely to be at the forefront of your mind.

However, you may also be thinking about your impact on the planet. According to provisional figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), businesses accounted for 19.1% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2021.

The UK government set a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, and businesses will have a role to play in achieving this.

In June 2021, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that 38% of businesses said they were taking at least one action to try to reduce their emissions. But the flipside is that the majority of businesses are doing nothing to tackle their carbon footprint.

The location of your business is one factor that can determine how easy it is for your business to minimise its impact on the planet, as well as its Commercial Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) grade, which can range from A+ to G (with A+ being the most energy-efficient grade).

Find out which places come out on top in our ranking of the greenest cities to run a business, as well as the five cities that fall short and make up the bottom of the list.

» COMPARE: Business energy

Top 5 greenest cities for a business

Out of the 20 UK cities with the largest populations, the following five cities topped our ranking of the greenest places to run a business.

1. London

Percentage of commercial properties with EPCs A+-C 

67%^

Kilometres of cycle routes in city limits per 100,000 residents

2,942km

Electric buses

Yes

Number of tram, tube or metro stops per 100,000 residents

3.3

Number of renewable electricity projects approved by planning authority

50

Low emission zone

Yes

Number of electric car charging ports in city centre per 100,000 residents

101.7

Park and ride system

No

^ City of London authority area.

Overview

The UK’s capital city comes out top in our list of the greenest cities to run a business. It ranks well in a number of categories, such as the number of electric car charging ports per 100,000 people (third) and the percentage of offices with an EPC rating A+-C (fourth).

In 2021 the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) ranked London as an A List city, underlining its green credentials. Cities can gain this status by demonstrating how they are tackling climate change and the progress they are making.

London’s public transport system is extensive, with bus, tube and tram networks stretching across the city. You can also hire a bike with the Santander Cycle scheme. These options can help people travel around London without using a car, and so help them avoid driving in the congestion charge zone, the low emission zone (LEZ) and the ultra low emission zone (ULEZ). The LEZ and ULEZ charge vehicles that don’t meet their emissions standard, in an effort to improve air quality and reduce pollution in the city centre.

There are a number of schemes and initiatives to help London-based businesses become more energy-efficient and sustainable. For example, the Mayor’s Business Climate Challenge (BCC) aims to help businesses cut their energy consumption, while Better Futures can also support businesses in their efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

2. Birmingham

Percentage of commercial properties with EPCs A+-C 

59%

Kilometres of cycle routes in city limits per 100,000 residents

7,028km

Electric buses

Yes

Number of tram, tube or metro stops per 100,000 residents

1.1

Number of renewable electricity projects approved by planning authority

12

Low emission zone

Yes

Number of electric car charging ports in city centre per 100,000 residents

17

Park and ride system

No

Overview

Birmingham aims to be carbon neutral by 2030 and, as host of the Commonwealth Games in August 2022, it also wants to make sure this event is carbon neutral and the most sustainable edition of the Games yet. With the city placed second in our ranking, it seems to be in a good position to achieve this goal.

This West Midlands city ranked fifth for the number of kilometres of cycle routes per 100,000 people, and it offers bike and electric bike hire schemes for people to take advantage of. Birmingham also has electric buses and other public transport networks to help people get around the city in a sustainable way.

Since June 2021, Birmingham has also had a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in the city centre. This means all vehicles that don’t meet the emissions standard will need to pay a charge, unless they are exempt.

However, Birmingham has the fourth lowest number of electric car charging ports per 100,000 people, which potentially highlights that more could be done to help cut emissions in the city centre.

Birmingham’s business owners may be able to access help to become more energy efficient, such as getting advice on what they can do to be more sustainable and receiving funding to put these recommendations into action. The Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) is one resource that businesses can turn to.

As well as coming third in this particular ranking, Birmingham also came in fifth in our ranking of the best cities to start a business in Great Britain.

3. Glasgow

Percentage of commercial properties with EPCs A+-C 

15%*

Kilometres of cycle routes in city limits per 100,000 residents

5,336km

Electric buses

Yes

Number of tram, tube or metro stops per 100,000 residents

0.9

Number of renewable electricity projects approved by planning authority

12

Low emission zone

Yes

Number of electric car charging ports in city centre per 100,000 residents

37.8

Park and ride system

Yes

* Scotland’s figures came from a different data source to England’s figures, which is likely to explain why this percentage is so much lower than the other cities on this list.

Overview

Glasgow was placed third in our ranking of the best cities to start a business, and it’s come third again in our list of the greenest cities to run a business.

This Scottish city hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in 2021, which put Glasgow at the centre of discussions on climate change and cutting emissions.

As well as having the Subway, an electric bus network, a cycle hire scheme, and a park and ride, Glasgow also has the eighth highest number of electric car charging ports per 100,000 people. This gives Glasgow residents and visitors plenty of options to get around the city, instead of using their car for every journey.

Glasgow has a low emission zone (LEZ), which currently only applies to local service buses. However, from 1 June 2023, this will apply to all vehicles, so any vehicle not meeting the emission standards will need to pay a charge.

The Glasgow Green Deal is a plan by the city council to achieve net zero carbon status by 2030. It aims to work with businesses, individuals, and authorities to reach this target, looking at areas such as energy efficiency, the circular economy and renewables.

Leading on from this, several Glaswegian businesses have pledged their support to the Sustainable Glasgow Green Economy Hub Charter, which aims to reduce the city’s carbon emissions and promote sustainable business practices.

4. Sunderland

Percentage of commercial properties with EPCs A+-C 

46%

Kilometres of cycle routes in city limits per 100,000 residents

1,654km

Electric buses

Yes

Number of tram, tube or metro stops per 100,000 residents

17.6

Number of renewable electricity projects approved by planning authority

13

Low emission zone

No

Number of electric car charging ports in city centre per 100,000 residents

57.2

Park and ride system

Yes

Overview

Coming in at number four overall, Sunderland has the highest number of metro stops per 100,000 people, and has the fourth highest number of electric car charging ports per 100,000 people too.

In 2021, Sunderland achieved A List city status by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) for the first time, indicating that it is becoming a greener and more sustainable city.

One of the projects in the city that aims to help it in its journey to becoming carbon neutral is Riverside Sunderland. There are several different elements to this project, but the creation of a central business district with energy-efficient office space is a key aspect of it.

People looking to travel around Sunderland for work or pleasure also have the option of hiring an e-scooter through the council-backed scheme, which could help to reduce the number of cars in the city.

Sunderland businesses may have access to grants and other support that could help them to cut their carbon emissions and their energy bills. For example, Business Renewables Energy Efficiency Sunderland (BREEZ) can offer energy audits, assessments, and funding to businesses to improve their energy efficiency.

Sunderland City Council also launched a Go Smarter to Work programme that works with businesses to encourage their employees to travel more sustainably. This can involve reviews of current travel arrangements, advice on improvements your business can make, and activities to help highlight some more sustainable travel options.

5. Newcastle upon Tyne

Percentage of commercial properties with EPCs A+-C 

54%

Kilometres of cycle routes in city limits per 100,000 residents

4,291km

Electric buses

No

Number of tram, tube or metro stops per 100,000 residents

7.4

Number of renewable electricity projects approved by planning authority

19

Low emission zone

No

Number of electric car charging ports in city centre per 100,000 residents

41.1

Park and ride system

Yes

Overview

Businesses in ‘The Toon’ find themselves in the fifth greenest city in the UK, according to our ranking. Newcastle ranks particularly highly for its transport systems as it has the second highest number of metro stops and the fifth highest number of electric car charging ports per 100,000 people out of all the cities we surveyed.

Like its north-eastern neighbour, Newcastle was declared an A List city in 2021 by the Carbon Disclosure Project, demonstrating the progress it is making towards their aim to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Newcastle has several ongoing projects to try to help it achieve this goal. For example, Newcastle city centre will soon have a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) which means taxis, vans, buses, and HGVs will need to pay a charge if they don’t meet the emissions standard. This won’t affect private vehicles. It was due to come into place in July 2022, but it’s been postponed to give individuals and businesses more time to prepare.

Even though it has no cycle hire scheme, Newcastle is trialling an e-scooter hire scheme which will be in place until at least November 2022.

Local businesses may be able to apply for loans and grants to fund renewable and energy-efficiency projects to help cut their carbon footprint, through schemes such as the Green New Deal Fund (GNDF).

» COMPARE: Business loans

5 least green cities for a business

Of the 20 cities we looked at, our rankings showed these to be the five least eco-friendly cities in the UK for businesses.

1. Bournemouth

Percentage of commercial properties with EPCs A+-C 

60%

Kilometres of cycle routes in city limits per 100,000 residents

1,723km

Electric buses

No

Number of tram, tube or metro stops per 100,000 residents

N/A

Number of renewable electricity projects approved by planning authority

0

Low emission zone

No

Number of electric car charging ports in city centre per 100,000 residents

21.4

Park and ride system

No

Overview

The popular seaside city of Bournemouth takes the questionable honour of last place in our ranking of the greenest cities to run a business. Of the 20 UK cities we looked at, Bournemouth had a low ranking across several areas, including the number of electric car charging ports and cycle routes it has.

However, Bournemouth does have bike and e-scooter sharing schemes to help people move across the city. This could encourage people to avoid using their cars for short journeys and so improve the air quality in the city centre.

The authority of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole aims to be carbon neutral by 2050, with a plan to make improvements across a range of areas including transport, green spaces, buildings, and more.

Businesses have a part to play in achieving this goal. Bournemouth and Dorset-based businesses may be able to access free advice and funding to help improve their energy-efficiency and sustainability. For example, Low Carbon Dorset can provide eligible businesses with energy audits, workshops, advice and grants to help with any low carbon projects.

» MORE: How to save money on business energy

2. Leicester

Percentage of commercial properties with EPCs A+-C 

50%

Kilometres of cycle routes in city limits per 100,000 residents

1,780km

Electric buses

No

Number of tram, tube or metro stops per 100,000 residents

N/A

Number of renewable electricity projects approved by planning authority

1

Low emission zone

No

Number of electric car charging ports in city centre per 100,000 residents

25.4

Park and ride system

Yes

Overview

The Midlands city of Leicester narrowly avoids the bottom spot in our ranking of the greenest cities to run a business.

Leicester has one of the lowest percentage of offices with an EPC rating of A+-C in the cities we surveyed, which indicates there is room for improvement when it comes to the energy efficiency of businesses.

However, despite its relatively low ranking, the Carbon Disclosure Project named Leicester as an A List city, showing that it is making positive steps to cutting carbon emissions and becoming more sustainable.

For example, it plans to convert half of its fleet of buses to electric vehicles by 2025, and the full fleet by 2030. Leicester also has an e-bike sharing hire scheme, so people can use these to travel around the city without creating any emissions.

Businesses in the Leicestershire area may be able to find funding to help them become more energy efficient. For example, the Green BELLE scheme (which is now closed for applications) offered grants to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to pay for energy-efficient heating and lighting systems, insulation, and other low carbon measures.

3. Middlesbrough

Percentage of commercial properties with EPCs A+-C 

60%

Kilometres of cycle routes in city limits per 100,000 residents

1,326km

Electric buses

No

Number of tram, tube or metro stops per 100,000 residents

N/A

Number of renewable electricity projects approved by planning authority

3

Low emission zone

No

Number of electric car charging ports in city centre per 100,000 residents

22.6

Park and ride system

No

Overview

Middlesbrough aims to be carbon neutral by 2039 but, based on our ranking, it seems it still has some work to do to achieve this. Of the cities we looked at, Middlesbrough came in third from the bottom and it was let down by low scores in transport especially.

For example, it has no electric bus networks, no park and ride, and it has the third lowest number of kilometres of cycle routes per 100,000 people. This means there could be room to improve the air quality and cut carbon emissions in the city centre, by improving its public transport services and encouraging people to use electric cars, for example. The city doesn’t run electric buses or offer a bike-hire scheme.

Middlesbrough businesses have access to a range of resources that could support them as they try to become greener, such as the Tees Valley SME Energy Efficiency Scheme. This offers energy audits, advice, and potentially some funding to businesses to help them cut their carbon footprint.

4. Stoke-on-Trent

Percentage of commercial properties with EPCs A+-C 

60%

Kilometres of cycle routes in city limits per 100,000 residents

2,664km

Electric buses

No

Number of tram, tube or metro stops per 100,000 residents

N/A

Number of renewable electricity projects approved by planning authority

6

Low emission zone

No

Number of electric car charging ports in city centre per 100,000 residents

14.4

Park and ride system

Yes

Overview

Stoke-on-Trent is famous for its pottery industry, but it doesn’t have the same reputation for its energy efficiency and sustainability.

Overall, the Staffordshire city placed fourth from bottom of the cities we surveyed, and it had the lowest number of electric car charging ports per 100,000 people.

Furthermore, the city’s transport links are perhaps not up to the standard of other cities, as it doesn’t have electric buses or a bike-hire scheme that could help to cut emissions.

However, Stoke-on-Trent is proposing a Clean Air Zone to help tackle the problem of pollution in the city. This would affect older vehicles that have higher emissions, but it wouldn’t apply to privately owned cars.

Businesses in the Stoke region that are looking to become more energy efficient may be able to benefit from free advice and funding. For example, the Low Carbon Business Evolution Programme (LCBEP) can offer businesses a review of their current energy usage and recommendations on where they can make savings, as well as grants to implement any measures.

5. Southampton

Percentage of commercial properties with EPCs A+-C 

69%

Kilometres of cycle routes in city limits per 100,000 residents

1,660km

Electric buses

No

Number of tram, tube or metro stops per 100,000 residents

N/A

Number of renewable electricity projects approved by planning authority

1

Low emission zone

Yes

Number of electric car charging ports in city centre per 100,000 residents

34.4

Park and ride system

No

Overview

Out of all the cities we surveyed, Southampton came in fifth from bottom in our ranking of the greenest cities to run a business.

However, it still performed well in some categories, as it had the third highest percentage of commercial properties with an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of A+-C.

Southampton aims to be carbon neutral by 2030 and it has a Green City Charter to help it become more sustainable. This Charter includes actions across a range of areas, including transport, energy, waste and the natural environment, which should help to cut the city’s carbon emissions.

Even though Southampton doesn’t have a charging Clean Air Zone, it does have a Local NO2 Plan to address the issue of roadside nitrogen dioxide and Particulate Matter in order to reduce air pollution in the city centre. This plan doesn’t involve any charges, but instead it contains measures to ensure buses and taxis cut their emissions and to reduce the number of HGVs that need to go into the city centre. The city doesn’t have electric buses or run a bike-hire scheme.

Businesses in the Southampton area may be eligible for funding to help them become more sustainable. For example, Low Carbon Across the South and East (LoCASE) offers grants to SMEs for initiatives such as the installation of more energy-efficient heating and lighting. There is also a Workplace Travel Grant that can help businesses to implement more sustainable travel options, with applications opening at varying intervals throughout the year.

Southampton businesses can also apply for the Realising Innovative Deliveries in Eastleigh and Southampton (RIDES) trial scheme. If their application is successful, businesses can hire an electric cargo bike for a set period of time to make any local deliveries, completely free of charge. It aims to encourage businesses to use more sustainable delivery methods.

» MORE: Small business grants in the UK

About this data

Data in this study has been collected from a number of official sources. Where applicable, all data is correct as of the dates identified.

Populations of cities: Statista (6 April 2022)

EPCs of commercial properties: Gov.uk Energy Performance of Buildings Certificates (EPC) in England and Wales 2022 Q1 figures (published 28 April 2022); Statistics.gov.scot Non-domestic Energy Performance Certificates (Accessed 1 May 2022); Northern Ireland – FOI request from the Department of Finance, dated 1 June 2022

Kilometres of cycle routes in city limits: Bikemap (6 April 2022)

Number of tram/tube/metro stops: https://tfl.gov.uk/ https://tfgm.com/ https://westmidlandsmetro.com/ https://www.visitliverpool.com/ https://www.nexus.org.uk/metro https://edinburghtrams.com/ https://www.thetrams.co.uk/supertram https://www.spt.co.uk/travel-with-spt/subway/

Number of renewable electricity projects approved by planning authority: Gov.uk Renewable Energy Planning Database April 2022 (accessed 8 June 2022)

Number of electric car charging ports in city centre per 100,000 residents: Gov.uk Electric vehicle charging device statistics: January 2022

Methodology

We collated a list of the top 20 UK cities with the highest population, according to Statista. We then used the above sources to gather the data.

Each city was given a score between 1 and 20 for each of the variables we looked at (20 being the best and 1 being the worst). The totals for each city were then added up and ranked in order to come up with the top 10.

Image source: Getty Images

About the author:

Rhiannon is a financial writer for NerdWallet, with a particular interest in personal finance and insurance guides for consumers. Read more

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