Skip to main content

Carbon Literacy training a ‘win-win’ for organisations and employees, evidence finds

Press release

Carbon Literacy training encourages employees to reduce emissions both at the work place and at home – and improves staff motivation, a study by University of Leeds has found. 

An evaluation of the effectiveness of Carbon Literacy shows the training works because it creates new work cultures and directly engages staff in making a difference to the organisation. Training can help to increase general staff motivation and identification with a common cause at the workplace. 

Carbon Literacy – defined as “An awareness of the carbon dioxide costs and impacts of everyday activities, and the ability and motivation to reduce emissions, on an individual, community and organisational basis” – can be seen as a form of professional development, tailored to different workplace settings, and is an accredited certification scheme. 

The study summarises findings from an evaluation of the effectiveness of Carbon Literacy training in Opera North and ITV in Leeds.  It found that Carbon Literacy is easy to implement for organisations with the resources, but training can only encourage organisational and behaviour changes that people are able to do within existing institutional and technological contexts.  

Employee engagement

Dr Milena Buchs, Associate Professor in Sustainability, Economics and Low Carbon Transitions, who led the study for Leeds Climate Commission, said: “The research has shown that it can really help organisations to build new momentum and buy-in from staff to support carbon reduction.  

“One of the main reasons why it works is that organisation-wide training can contribute to organisational culture change and create a shared purpose to collectively contribute to a greater common good, such as tackling climate change.  

“This shared purpose can help staff identify with the organisation and feel more motivated to work for them. If, on top of that, staff are also encouraged to make an effort to reduce emissions in other areas of their lives, then that’s really a win-win situation.” 

Phil Korbel, Co-Founder and Director of Advocacy for the Carbon Literacy Project, said: “Leeds and Yorkshire are thriving national centres for Carbon Literacy training so it’s marvellous to see what is perhaps the most compelling evidence of our impact emerge from there.  I am frequently asked about the impact of the training so having evidence of this calibre will help accelerate the spread of Carbon Literacy even further. 

 “The paper will also enhance our argument that Carbon Literacy needs to be part of every employee’s training – as vital a core workplace competence as Health and Safety.” 

Across sectors

As well as early adopters Opera North and ITV, Leeds University Teaching Hospital is the first hospital in the world to roll out Carbon Literacy to its staff, Yorkshire Water the first organisation in the water industry, Northern Gas the first gas distribution network, and SYNETIQ the first organisation in vehicle salvage and recycling.  

Emma Richards, Project Leader at the Carbon Literacy Project and a Commissioner for the new Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission is delighted at how well Carbon Literacy, which has its home in Greater Manchester, has taken off across Yorkshire and Humberside: “With so many firsts, it’s clear the region is both a pioneer in Carbon Literacy and a leader in climate action.” 

 At Opera North, thanks to the sterling efforts of Senior Technician Jamie Saye, who chairs the company’s green team, all of the company’s staff have now been trained. “It has been transformative,” he says. “Opera North now has a strong sustainability focus which runs through everything we do, and staff feel they understand the scale of the climate crisis and what they can do about it, both as individuals and as part of the wider organisation.  

“We have also spread the training beyond Opera North and have trained other arts and cultural organisations such as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Leeds Museums and Galleries and the Royal Opera House.” 

Lighbulb moment

Phil Holdgate describes the first time he experienced Carbon Literacy training at ITV Studios in Leeds as “a huge lightbulb moment” that brought about a profound personal and professional change. “I was an accountant back then, but fast forward a few years and I am now proud to be the Global Head of Production Sustainability for ITV Studios.” 

He co-founded Sustainable Arts in Leeds (SAIL) with Jamie Saye in 2018 with the objective of uniting the creative and cultural industries of Leeds in tackling climate change at a local and sectoral level. Key to that was SAIL’s offering of free Carbon Literacy training to all of its members, which has been enthusiastically received. 

“We feel that, whilst Carbon Literacy training isn’t going to solve climate change alone, it should be a core requirement for organisations who are serious about taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint,” says Jamie Saye.  SAIL has already delivered the training to learners from 39 organisations, as well as students and freelance practitioners, and have plans in the pipeline to deliver as many as 25 sessions to 375 people in the run up to COP26. 

The COP26 deadline is something that the Carbon Literacy Project has seized to create a Carbon Literacy Action Day on 1 November 2021. The project has already trained over 20,000 learners and it wants to use the kick-off day of the UN global climate conference to get a record number of individuals, communities and organisations around the world to do the training. Virtual drop-ins on sessions and initiatives around the world will take place all day, with a grand sharing meeting at the end of it.  

The Carbon Literacy Project has also pioneered new routes to its training through the development of shareable sector-specific Carbon Literacy Toolkits, funded by the government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. These are available to local authorities, universities and colleges, and social housing organisations, with further toolkits in development for the automotive sector, civil service, emergency services, health sector, museums and galleries, rail Industry, and sporting events.  

Engaging Staff in Carbon Reduction: an evaluation of Carbon Literacy Training by Milena Buchs and Rebecca Payling with Matthew Hogarth is a briefing paper for Leeds Climate Commission and was supported by an ESRC Impact Acceleration Account. 

Further information

Find out more about Carbon Literacy toolkits: Toolkits – The Carbon Literacy Project and the Carbon Literacy Action Day: Carbon Literacy Action Day – The Carbon Literacy Project. 

For enquiries about the Carbon Literacy Project, contact