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510 Posters on Display®

510 Posters on Display®

Durham County Council have Display® posters on nearly all their buildings. At the start of 2006 they are the municipality with the most buildings registered. How do they do it? How can other municipalities catch up?


Durham has a long history, the cathedral and castle dating back over 1000 years. The county sits on important deposits of coal, hence the development of mining communities that have been fundamental to UK industry until the decision to close the pits taken in the 1970s and 80s. The social impacts of this were devastating, and the focus on fuel may have a bearing on the early energy strategies of the Council, with the first report being published in 1994. The Council was the first in the UK to be awarded the “Energy Efficiency Accreditation” mark from the Energy Institute, a scheme now run by the Carbon Trust.The council has a record for being at the forefront of environmental activity, signing up to the Government’s “Make a Corporate Commitment” programme in order to promote action in environmental sustainability, which involves setting objectives and implementing systems for measuring and managing their energy and resource use, amongst other impacts, at a less formal level than an EMAS or ISO 14001. An Energy report is produced annually.Activity under Local Agenda 21, the UK implementation of Agenda 21 as derived from the Rio Earth Summit, has also been strong. One of the aims from the energy strategy was to have one installation of each renewable energy technology to provide a demonstration unit for the people of County Durham.The activity and involvement in these schemes would not have been possible if the drive had come only from the council staff; the commitment and foresight of the elected council members has been crucial in providing leadership and endorsing projects with far-reaching effects.Whilst the UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s constituency is in County Durham, this is not thought to have any material effect on this project as a whole, although it has helped publicity for renewables in his own constituency.

Building overview

Of the buildings registered, 65% are schools, 12% administrative buildings, 9% social/cultural buildings, 8% health centres, and the remaining 6% cover kindergartens, rescue centres and a swimming pool.Generally, the ratings are not outstanding, just three A ratings for Energy & CO2 and six for water. About 40% have G ratings for energy, the same percentage for water, although there is rarely any connection between energy rating and water rating (CCG, GFA, etc are typical).But they are rated, and the posters are on display. The next stage is to improve those ratings, and this is slowly happening.

Drivers & Implementation

Gaining support from the council members When the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive was in development the council recognised that it would have to produce energy labels for its buildings eventually. Many of the buildings were quite old, built of brick and stone in the 19th century, and not energy efficient. The council was aware of public perception; there was concern that getting poor energy labels once the legislation required them to be published would cause an adverse reaction from the public. Consequently the Energy team within the council prepared a business case with the recommendation to join Display™ in order to start labelling early, and to show improvement on the poor labels before it became a legislative requirement to display energy performance certificates.The proposal to the Cabinet of elected members was fully endorsed, and the process commenced.
Data collection The energy team were able to access data for all the fuel consumption of the councils’ properties because energy, apart from solid fuels, is bought and the bills paid centrally. Details such as size of building and facilities were filed separately, so working with appropriate colleagues this information was obtained and entered to Display™. The team found that it was straightforward to enter the data, less than a few minutes a site (due to cost and consumption data held on a TEAM data base with software supplied by the Energy Auditing Agency). There was already nearly ten years information available on the database. The main difficulty was with those buildings (mainly schools) with solid fuel boilers or where water meters were shared or un-metered. In the first case, averaging fuel bills over four years gave a reasonable picture: it is possible for a solid fuel delivery to be made four times in one financial year and only twice in another, depending on the constraints on the budgets at the end or beginning of a financial year. In the second case, best estimates have been derived, or the buildings have yet to be labelled.
Response from building users Initially the A3 posters were delivered by hand as the Energy team wanted to explain the purpose of the poster to the building users and agree its location. The only adverse comments have been from academically good schools that have poor energy performance who are reluctant to display them. Some of these are Church schools in very old buildings, and further information on what is typical of such construction may be helpful. Some people expressed surprise that County Hall was rated DED as they thought such a large building would be much worse. Elected members like the posters as they can instantly see on entering a building if it is efficient, and they can offer advice, switching off lights, closing doors and saying ’don’t you think it’s warm in here’ etc to building users. It is felt that a ’ghost’ of previous years consumption on the new poster would be easier to understand than displaying two posters. Each year the Energy team holds a series of energy awareness seminars on how to save energy at work and at home and these are well attended by elected members as well as head-teachers, bursars, caretakers and school governors.
Improvements The main improvements are to heating boilers. There had already been a process of replacing old coal boilers with natural gas where possible. The renewable energy strategy identified biomass in the form of wood pellets as a feasible alternative, and the waste strategy identified waste timber as a potential source of wood pellets. In addition, the regional strategy identified biomass as a key opportunity, particularly due to major forestry in Northumberland (the county to the north of Durham) as well as the possibility of locally grown wood as a source.At present around 6 schools are using wood pellets sourced from the council’s own recycling facility. For new schools that are due to be built, wood pellets are reviewed as an option.For the 30 schools still with an oil-fuelled boiler, a programme of replacement will be started from summer 2006, with the 15 that are not in a gas network area to be reviewed for biomass or biodiesel alternatives.Two schools have had wind turbines installed as part of the renewable energy strategy. A survey of potential sites where average wind speed exceeded 6 m/s was combined with a suitability survey, to see that there was a position for a turbine more than 80m from the school buildings (to reduce potential for noise) and 200m from housing. This yielded around 20 possible sites. The first to be installed was done in partnership with Northern Electricity: this is the 50 kW turbine at Cassop school (Energie-Cités case study) another windy site has a 20 kW turbine. The Cassop turbine received much publicity when it was opened by Prime Minister Tony Blair, and it was featured on the premier children’s TV magazine programme, Blue Peter. A number of secondary schools are asking for a small (3kW) turbine as a demonstration to help the students learn about renewable energy and energy conservation, and promoting more sustainable lifestyles.Despite the existence of a UK Government programme to subsidise renewable energy technologies in schools, Durham has not been able to access this for their particular projects as the criteria were not met.As part of the regional development strategy, the programme “Schools for the Future” has identified the need for 40 new schools to be built in the next 10-15 years. The aim is for these schools to be built to the standard laid down in the UK BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) at the level “Very Good”. This is the standard suggested by the UK government as aspirational for public sector buildings. Durham County Council consider the ‘Excellent’ to be aspirational and intend to achieve ‘Very Good’ so far as possible. At present, buildings are constructed to current Building Regulations standards only.Improvements in water use have also been targeted: Northumbrian Water contributed £20,000 to rainwater recycling schemes at 2 new schools.The Council team are keen to ensure that Display™ posters show the improvement made year on year.
Reason for inclusion as Shining Example Many municipalities have problems gathering data or trying to find the time to implement the project.In the case of County Durham, the systems were already in place and had become part of the core philosophy; measuring environmental impact and reducing the county’s environmental impact were important to both the staff and the elected members.It could also be demonstrated that the Display™ project had a role to play in meeting (known) future regulation and to help the people of the municipality learn and get involved in renewable energy as well as energy and water conservation.There is a section on Display™ on the council’s energy website showing a typical poster and a list of all the ratings for the county’s buildings.


The reduction in fuel use and CO2 emissions in 2004-5 compared with the previous year is shown below:

The total floor area was constant at 796,000 m2 but the hours of use increased.Despite the reduction in fuel use, the overall cost of fossil fuels increased by over £100,000 (€150,000) in 2004-5 due to fluctuation in prices (particularly oil and gas). If the same energy had been used in 2004-5 at 2003-4 prices, the fossil fuel bill would have reduced by £54,000 (€80,000)


Partnership details Northern Electric (now npower) have been supportive in grants for renewable projects, driven partly by the UK’s Renewable Obligation policy on energy suppliers. They have considerable expertise which has been useful as part of the project team along with the wind turbine manufacturers and consultants.LA21 Energy Roundtable The Energy Roundtable is part of the Local Action 21 group which has been active for more than 10 years. This is a partnership set up in response to the Agenda 21 proposals fro the Rio Earth summit. Latest news is accessible here


Lessons Learned Having a strategy that the council is committed to makes it more straightforward to achieve the more difficult things; investment costs are more easily justified.Having said that, it is vital that environmental improvements above standard practice are included in the original design brief for a any project. Once the budget has been approved and the brief handed to a design team, it is virtually impossible for any additional measures such as rethinking renewable heating or power, can be added to the specification.Central control of bills makes it easy to measure fuel and water usage, but it also helps to have a system already in place for reporting on environmental impacts for the council as a whole.It is also helped to have had continuity of staff in the Energy department for more than ten years; this means that projects can be followed through and built on.

To know more

Organisation Durham County Council
Contact Jeff Kirton
Phone (+44) 191 383 3749

Useful info

Publications - DTI (2000) Local Agenda 21 and Renewable Energy (en)
- Energy Report 2004-5 (en)
- North Energy Associates (2005) NE Public Sector Mapping Survey report (en)
Arrangements to visit

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