Place stories

One Planet York

Paul McCabe, Strategic Manager for Sustainability and Transformation at York City Council, talks about creating One Planet York to mobilise the city towards a more sustainable and resilient future

In 2016, organisations across York got behind one vision – to put York on the map as a leading sustainable, resilient and collaborative ‘One Planet’ city with a vibrant inclusive economy, strong community and healthy environment.

Understanding our strengths and challenges

York has long been a great place to live, work and visit. With its world-class heritage and attractive environment, the city hosts 7 million visitors each year. High pupil achievement and workforce skills ensure York’s economy is one of the UK’s most vibrant.

York is also a pioneering fair trade and living wage city and the UK’s first UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts. It is home to the UK’s largest food and drinks festival, is the UK’s second cycling city and tops the charts for digital connectivity. In 2017, York became the UK’s first Human Rights City and a world first was struck when every secondary school took part in the annual York Pride LGBT festival.

So far so good, but like most cities there are challenges too, like air quality, flooding, an ageing population, housing affordability, disparities in health outcomes and ambitious waste and carbon targets.

Tackling the challenges through collaboration

It’s well understood that no organisation can successfully address such challenges on its own. Collaboration is key. So One Planet York set out to mobilise the city towards a more sustainable and resilient future by building on the leadership already being shown.

In 2015, several organisations came together to initiate a city conversation about what a sustainable and resilient city might look like. The results showed people generally thought a sustainable city involved walking and cycling more, reducing waste and cutting carbon emissions. There was less recognition of the role strong communities and a vibrant, inclusive economy could play.  

Alongside this was a sense that although York is widely recognised as a historic and beautiful city, this can sometimes detract from seeing the city as the progressive and innovative place it also is. The findings were presented to a city stakeholder conference and several areas of consensus emerged:

  • There’s lots going on across York to make it more sustainable and resilient, but our city narrative is being confused by lots of differently branded and distinct initiatives
  • Adopting One Planet Living1 principles gives an opportunity for everyone to see where their contribution fits in – and to improve understanding about the integrated nature of our city – economic, social and environmental
  • City challenges are complex and require joined-up solutions – we need a new way to collectively think about, talk about and plan ‘Good Place’

Using the Vibrant Economy Index to measure progress

Refined by local organisations over the following six months, the One Planet York approach aims to build an alternative narrative that encourages organisations and people to actively create the future they want to see. Underpinning the framework are ten principles that are the building blocks of ‘good place’. These include: equity & local economy; health & wellbeing; culture & community; zero waste; zero carbon; sustainable transport, water, food and materials; land use and wildlife.

One Planet York was officially launched in June 2016 as part of York’s prestigious Festival of Ideas – the UK’s largest free festival. It currently provides a collaborative platform for 60 organisations like Nestle, Portakabin, City of York Council and the University of York alongside SMEs and innovative voluntary sector bodies showing leadership at a community level. It’s a platform in which everyone can be a leader.

Organisations and businesses were invited to pledge their support for the One Planet York vision via an online pledge portal – and having done so be put onto a public directory. They could also submit examples of practical action and leadership that One Planet York then showcased.

From a coalition of the willing we have grown the network through personal contacts, social media and regular One Planet York events.

Most organisations are switched on to the need to think and act sustainability – so One Planet York offers a platform for them to engage at a local level. And it has led to the emergence of new action and thinking, such as Good Food York – a new cross-sector group putting York on the map as a sustainable food city. 

An early challenge was to find ways to measure city progress in a way that integrated economic, social and environmental elements. So when Grant Thornton published the Vibrant Economy Index in 2016, we seized upon it as the basis of a new One Planet York city scorecard.

The index came with a range of benefits. It was seen as independent, robust, comparative and well aligned to the One Planet York vision and framework. It was backed up with an interactive website enabling people to dig deeper into the data and compare other areas.

One Planet York used the index to tell ‘York’s Story’ at its 2017 annual conference – York: A Liveable city. While the index confirmed much of what we already knew or suspected it also revealed some new and surprising insights – like how York’s overall performance was already ahead of cities we’d looked up to as ‘sustainable city’ pioneers.

The index has enabled us to give a comprehensive overview of the strengths and opportunities, challenges and weaknesses of our city and to better understand the dynamic between different areas. It provides citizens with an accessible insight into how their place is doing, so they can contribute to shaping local discussions about what is important to them.

As we enter 2018, One Planet York will be using the index to refresh its city scorecard and we’ll be reviewing our framework principles to ensure better alignment with UN Sustainable Development Goals. The updated scorecard will form the backdrop of a ‘Healthy City York’ conference in June.


1. One Planet Living is a framework by Bioregional.

> Read our overview of how Yorkshire and the Humber scored against the Vibrant Economy Index

> Read our other regional case studies

Thought leadership
Vibrant Economy Index: A new way to measure success Find out more about advancing the vibrant economy debate
Interactive map Vibrant Economy Index Discover how your area performs with our interactive map

Contact us

To find out more, or to discuss the Vibrant Economy Index report in more detail, please contact Rob Turner, Karl Eddy or Paul Dossett.