Interview with Dave Coleman of Cooler, Feb 2012

Are you trying to come up with a different name besides “carbon literacy”, which might potentially be off-putting to some people?
Yeah, we’ve already had feedback from a number of parties that are uncomfortable with it being called carbon literacy – sounds too technical, are uncomfortable with it being called Manchester Carbon Literacy because there are people who are looking at projects in Greater Manchester, therefore the Manchester name itself might be a barrier. So the answer’s yes; we have a couple of ideas for what it might be called. We’re not going to reveal them quite yet, because we’re just about to start the pilot phase of carbon literacy with our carbon literacy working group standard. We’re about to roll that standard out to a series of pilots; organisations that we’re already talking to, who expressed an interest. And as part of that we’re going to do a little exercise to test what they think of it being called Carbon Literacy, and what they think of it being called a few other things. Because it’s really important that the project has the widest possible appeal.

And can you tell us who some or all of those initial pilot organisations are?
Um… at this stage I’d like to hold fire, just because I haven’t got permission of the pilots to reveal that fact. In fact, I suspect that most of them will be quite happy about going public and will probably want to promote the fact. But actually, probably due to an oversight on our part, we haven’t actually physically got permission to say yet. As soon as we can, we’ll announce them.

You mentioned in the EAP that there was a private sponsor who was helping with this work. Can you tell us who that is please?
Sure. It’s a company… called Westford Mills. And basically it’s a company that produces textile products – hats and bags predominantly for companies to use in promotional work. So it’s a very small niche market. They’re not public-facing, they have no public customers, which actually makes it a bit easier for us to have them as a sponsor; there are no issues of trying to sell things to the public directly . The managing director’s become increasingly aware and concerned environmentally. They’re looking to what they can do to reduce their carbon footprint. They used to sell a lot of plastic product – they’ve introduced a whole range of products that are biodegradable and organic. They’re looking at what they can do which is within their control on their carbon footprint. In a conversation with them we realised he could achieve vastly greater emission reduction impacts by investing a relatively small amount in a whole city’s carbon footprint than he could ever do, even completely decarbonising his own supply chain. He was looking at that kind of stuff anyway, but he just looked at this and thought ‘wow, this is an opportunity to make a real difference.’

How much is a relatively small amount of money, or are you not at liberty to say?
I’ll think about that one; I haven’t decided whether we should make that public or not. I’ll haven’t checked with him whether we should make it public or not.

What are you trying to do to minimise the risk of the Carbon Literacy training becoming another “tick box” exercise, where resentful people troop in, sit through a series of powerpoint presentations while sending and receiving texts on their mobiles and surfing the net for cheap overseas holidays? “And when did you stop beating your wife?”
The carbon literacy standard has not been developed purely by Cooler. We constituted a Carbon Literacy Working Group of stakeholders and people involved generally in communication and education in this area. It was a bit of a group of wise and experienced heads. So absolutely we are trying to shy away as far as we can from the kind of “person talking to a powerpoint.” So we’ve set up – within the standard – a set of objectives that have to be achieved for the end result to be ‘carbon literacy’ … there’s a section on learning methods. There’s a section on knowledge – which people clearly need to know. There’s a section on the values that clearly need to be conveyed in the training, and there’s a section on action, which is the action people take as part of the training, and take as a consequence.

And then there’s an assessment process. And we look at what people are doing and the way they are delivering this process to make sure that the outcome is somebody we believe matches those criteria, and therefore is carbon literate. So, standing watching a powerpoint presentation wouldn’t be enough to get you past that accreditation.

What does success look like?
Short term success is having two successful sets of pilots. We’re working with a number of organisations to do an initial set of pilots of the next three months, up to March-April. Launch a second bigger phase of pilots up to June-July, and then look to roll this out with a much more public face probably August-September time this year. So, short-term success is to get through that process successfully, and know that we’ve got a process that leaves people in a better place than they were in terms of their understanding of [climate change] and their action as a consequence.

Over three years, it’s to have offered everyone who lives works or studies in Manchester the opportunity to engage in that process. Clearly, that’s no small undertaking, but that’s what we’re aiming at.

If you had a time machine and you could go back a year what would you do and tell yourself, other than writing down the winning lottery numbers for a lottery rollover?
I’d probably spend less time on the business plan and get it out there sooner. We probably over-worked that stage of the project. But we needed it to be good and strong in order to justify funding it at a really difficult time. I’m pleased that the City Council looked at it and though “yep, this is promising enough” for them to invest a bit of funding as a catalyst. And it was strong enough to get some private sponsorship. And in actual fact the private sponsorship is worth more than the Council investment thus far. We’ll see where that goes.

If someone’s reading this interview and thinks “that is fantastic and I want to help” and you accepted their offer of help, what kinds of things would they be able to do for you?
At this stage, if people are reading this and thinking “I like the idea of my organisation – the place I study at, the place work at, recreate at, by all means drop us an email [] expressing an interest. At this stage we’ve got more than enough candidates for our first wave of pilots, but that will extend further in the second wave. And again, if we’ve got organisations and individuals keen to act as ambassadors for the scheme, get in touch with us.

We may accept that, say thanks very much and then go quiet for a period, but we need to address everybody at some point, so if you want to be an early adopter, get in touch.


1 Response to Interview with Dave Coleman of Cooler, Feb 2012

  1. Ged says:

    Do you think the ‘carbon’ issue is just toast and the real issue is about what lies beneath?

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