‘We need to fight climate change from the ground up’

There are many ways we can reduce our carbon footprint and help fight the climate and biodiversity crisis – Capital Projects Manager John Pye explains

Nature Target 1 of the RHS Sustainability Strategy – Climate Positive by 2030

To capture and reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than the RHS value chain emits, without affecting the growth of the RHS

What does this target mean?

‘To put it simply, this target means that we aim to capture and reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than we emit – in 2020 RHS total emissions were equivalent to 2,340 tonnes of CO2.

‘Emissions of greenhouse gases that drive climate change are growing. On 20 April 2021, the Government announced that it ‘will set the world’s most ambitious climate change target’ to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels.

‘If we don’t make this cut there will be unpredictable and dangerous impacts for people and ecosystems.

‘Going climate positive by 2030 means we all need to play our part in a global drive for change and the RHS itself needs to rapidly reduce CO2 emissions, support and increase renewable energy and technology in its gardens and shows and to maximize carbon capture and storage from our gardens.

‘One of the biggest impacts the RHS can make is to work with the 30 million plus UK gardeners and others to take action in their community, school, workplace or home to become climate positive gardeners.’ 

One of the biggest impacts the RHS can make is to help the 30 million UK gardeners become climate positive gardeners

John Pye

What is the RHS already doing to meet this target?

‘Interestingly, at the RHS’s June 2020 sustainability gathering we discussed exactly that. It was incredible to reflect on the huge amount of sustainability initiatives that we’ve already implemented.

‘For example, new build projects across RHS sites have included ground and air source heat pumps, green roofs, rainwater harvesting, low energy lighting and many passive measures such as thermal mass, building orientation and solar shading. We’ve already shifted our national energy contract to renewables (wind and solar).

‘Peat use in gardening has a high carbon footprint, and as such has negative impacts on climate change. So we’ve drastically reduced our consumption to make RHS gardens 98% peat-free, and we stopped selling peat-based

compost back in 2019. We have pledged to become 100% peat-free by 2025 as we trial alternative responsibly-sourced growing media, and from 2025 plants sold in our retail outlets and on display at our shows will be peat-free.

‘At RHS Garden Bridgewater, we’ve been working with Salford City Council (SCC) to improve our green travel offer. Over £3m of infrastructure investment from SCC and Growth Deal money is providing 6.4km of new cycle and pedestrian links to the garden to join rail, bus and even canal networks to the garden. This gives visitors and staff a real opportunity to leave their cars at home.’

What will the RHS do next to meet this target?

‘We are planning to identify and replace our most polluting existing infrastructure assets, especially oil fired boilers, to reduce our carbon footprint, and we’re moving to a more renewable energy through retrofit and new build.

‘Outdoor powered equipment (such as lawn mowers) can be very polluting, so we’re looking to electrify them – fed by our green tariff, along with garden vehicles as technological advancements allow. Electric vehicle charging stations for visitors are starting to appear at more of our gardens (currently Bridgewater and Wisley). 

‘We have appointed a five year postdoctoral student within our Science team to look at measuring and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and maximizing the carbon capture and storage on our land. They will also develop a Planetary Friendly Sustainability Calculator for both RHS Gardens and for UK gardeners. Other science team members will look at more nature-based solutions to help us adapt and mitigate so as to become climate resilient.’

Why should gardeners care about this?

‘Scientists have made a clear link between rising greenhouse gas emissions and more extreme weather conditions, making a more difficult environment for plants to grow and for us and wildlife to live healthy and happy lives.

‘The RHS can only do so much with its own physical infrastructure improvements, and we will do everything that we can to reduce our own operational greenhouse gas emissions and capturing and storing carbon on our lands. However, one of the biggest impacts we can make is to inspire and support the 30m gardeners in the UK to all do their bit by being more energy-savvy, reducing, capturing and storing carbon through planet-friendly gardening.’

What can I do about climate change in my garden?

What can I do about climate change in my garden?

Gardening in a changing climate

Gardening in a changing climate

How to go peat-free

How to go peat-free
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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.