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CL in Conversation: Cabinet Office Green Network Chair

August 2023 by William Gibb

Ahead of scientists confirming that July was the hottest month ever on record, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke out, “For the entire planet it is a disaster, and for scientists it is unequivocable – humans are to blame … Climate change is here, it is terrifying and it is just the beginning. The era of global warming has ended, the era of global boiling has arrived.”

Carbon Literacy at the Cabinet Office Green Network

Civil servants have an especially important role to play in the climate emergency. One person seeking to educate her colleagues is Eleni Michopoulou, former Chair of the Cabinet Office Green Network. Eleni has delivered training to 14 cohorts in just over a year using our pre-accredited Civil Service Toolkit, which was commissioned by the UK Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). In a day’s worth of action-based learning, the course helps to equip delegates with the skills to deliver net zero.

Initially, Eleni delivered training to Cabinet Office staff. However, recognising the need for Carbon Literacy to be integrated into the everyday work of all civil servants, Eleni has been instrumental in offering training spaces to learners from other government departments who are keen to cascade training to their peers. We caught up with Eleni to get her thoughts on how the training has been going.

The importance of Carbon Literacy for civil servants

Eleni began by sharing that irrespective of the day-to-day work of civil servants, they need to be upskilled in sustainability and climate change, and that Carbon Literacy is the base for this.

“People ask what they can do to support. But first, they must understand the climate emergency. Education is the base.”

“We need to have [Carbon Literacy] as part of business as usual. Usually, work pledges will be brought in as a corporate objective for that financial year. That’s how it becomes part of your core work. This is essentially what creates change.”

“Even if you switch departments, it will be part of your business as usual. You need to report this in your accounts. Every area needs to feed onto this. The best thing that you can do for yourself and for your department is to educate yourself. So, get on this training!”

The Civil Service Toolkit

The Civil Service Toolkit has been tested and piloted by BEIS and the Office of Government Property and consists of slides, activity resources, a comprehensive trainer manual and a ‘getting started’ pack. Eleni personally feels that the value and low cost makes the Toolkit a very attractive learning and development offer and describes the materials as, “holding your hand through the journey of what you can do”.

“It’s a very good journey. It starts with the science. The materials break it down into every area of your life, from diet and travel, to buildings and procurement. The materials give you specific advice and information for each area. All the way to the end the message, which is that you’re ready to take action in your personal and work life. It’s very resourceful and it’s very interactive.”

Eleni acknowledges that one of the key values of the training is actually through sharing and showcasing knowledge and exchanging ideas. Indeed, a co-benefit from the training is that it builds new links between teams and disciplines, and helps to start to foster the collaboration needed to address the climate emergency.

“It’s not only the learning, it’s also the interaction, engagement across departments and showcasing of best practice. This helps to get discussions started within your team and then your unit. These discussions become part of everyday work and little changes become big changes… It’s a domino effect.”

“It’s not about testing people. The training is about sharing and showcasing knowledge, and then brainstorming ideas. People realise through discussion that far off ideas are more tangible than they thought, especially if learners from other departments are in the room.

Action planning and becoming Carbon Literate

Carbon Literacy is globally unique, having been recognised as such by the UN at COP21. Eleni drew upon some of these unique winning elements; the directly implementable action planning and the peer-to-peer aspect of the training, and explained how these are critical in engaging learners:

“Bringing internal expertise and knowledge through the training allows you to factor in where you are at in terms of your net zero journey, any other internal goals and strategy, and what is happening and changing day-to-day. Having someone internal delivering the training allows you to link people together and drive action forwards.”

One thing that really stood out was the impact and value of the training:

“Because of their colleagues saying, ‘I really encourage you to take the course, it’s really good’, people took the training that wouldn’t have initially thought of taking it.”

“Through the pledges is how you engage staff. This is how you bring it all together. Everyone comes out ready to take action. It really makes a difference becoming certified as Carbon Literate.”

Top tips

Thinking about bringing Carbon Literacy into your department or arm’s length body (ALB)? Here are a few of Eleni’s tips:

  • Delivering the training over two half days works really well.
  • Using existing learning days to deliver the training is one option.
  • Sustainability and climate change is a subject that is not going to go away! The best thing you can do for yourself and your organisation is to educate yourself. So sign up! It’s that simple!

Want to hear more about Eleni’s Carbon Literacy journey? Listen to our full conversation with Eleni on our YouTube channel.

If you’d like to find out more, please visit our Civil Service webpage.

If you’d like to request access to the Civil Service Toolkit please email gov@carbonliteracy.com.

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