Where are the UK’s most eco-friendly high streets?

Feature image credit: Willy Barton / Shutterstock

An increasing number of Brits are seeking to embark on a more eco-friendly lifestyle today, and this growing popularity is reflected on Britain’s ever-evolving high streets, with a marked increase in vegan eateries, independent businesses and health shops. But which high streets have most adapted to meet this new demand?

Intrigued to uncover which UK high street is home to the most eco-friendly residents and amenities, SaveOnEnergy conducted a study and devised a point-based Eco-Rate Index to calculate the most and least eco-friendly high streets in the UK.

The Eco-Rate Index

SaveOnEnergy have taken account of 9 different variables that commonly relate to eco-friendliness and devised a scoring system to rank each high street.

After combining the scores from each variable, each high street is left with a total. The greater the total score for each high street, the more eco-friendly that high street is. The lower the total score for each high street, the less eco-friendly the study will find them.

The most eco-friendly high streets in the UK

Leading the way with the most eco-friendly high streets were Cambridge, Cardiff, and York.

Cambridge, home to the Grand Arcade, has been crowned the most eco-friendly high street largely due to its low number of fast food eateries and masses of local green space. In fact, Cambridge’s high street is home to the highest number of local green spaces, with 64.

The premium shopping destination was also home to only 78 fast food restaurants – 107 less than London’s Oxford Street, the fast food hub of the UK. This means that 107 points were deducted from its overall score. These factors left Cambridge with a final score of 357 points overall, crowning it the most eco-friendly high street in the UK.

Placing second is Cardiff, seven points short of the top spot. Boasting the most charity shops of all cities surveyed and an impressive nine recycling centres, it is no surprise that St David’s Demi Sant ranks as the second most eco-friendly place to live and shop.

Although Cardiff offers only a quarter of the green space that Cambridge does, and has the worst air quality ranking, it appears that its 142 vegan eateries and 14 charging stations help Cardiff to score highly with a strong total of 350 points.

Rounding off the top three, York’s Coppergate Shopping Centre racked up a total of 339 eco-points. Offering the fourth highest number of vegan eateries (162) and second most local green spaces in the UK (20), York is awarded the title of the third most eco-friendly high street – even despite having 140 fast food outlets!

The least eco-friendly high streets in the UK

SaveOnEnergy’s index also revealed the least eco-friendly high streets in the UK. Our research can exclusively reveal that the lowest scoring high streets were located in Woking, Warrington, Norwich, and Swindon.

The recently reinvented Commercial Way in Woking is the least eco-friendly high street in the UK. With only one recycling centre, one independent store and four charity shops, Woking scored an incredibly low score of 19 points overall – a staggering 338 less than Cambridge.

Woking also suffers from very poor air quality, causing the high street to lose a further two eco-points. SaveOnEnergy also found Woking’s high street to be home to 60 fast food restaurants and only had 20 vegan-friendly eateries - far less than the average high street across the UK.

Warrington is the second lowest scoring city in our Eco-Rate Index, with only three points more than Woking. With only one recycling site and one charging station between a population of 100,000, it is unsurprising that Warrington scores so poorly in terms of eco-friendliness.

Marginally stealing the position of the third least eco-friendly high street from Swindon is Norwich, which scored one less point than Warrington, with 24. Gentleman’s Walk in Norwich offers residents very few local green spaces and has poor air quality. Norwich’s score was hindered further by the fact it was home to almost double the UK average of fast food takeaways, resulting in a substantial deduction of 112 points.

Closely behind in fourth is Swindon’s Canal Walk, with just one recycling centre and only 15 eateries suitable for vegans, scoring 25 points. Meanwhile Wakefield placed as the fifth least eco-friendly high street, scoring just 27 points, with no recycling centres and no independent stores.

How do we calculate the scores?

SaveOnEnergy’s Index is a points-based system whereby a high street is allocated a certain number of points for each ‘eco-friendly’ amenity available within 10 roads of the high street. Points are deducted for each amenity deemed not to be “eco-friendly”, such as having a large number of fast food eateries or poor air quality. Using this method, the points awarded or deducted range from between -2 to three.

The facilities that we deem to be “eco-friendly” include: recycling centres, charity shops, health food stores, independent stores, charging stations, local green space, vegan eateries, and a positive air quality ranking.

The number of points awarded for each facility depends on how strongly the amenity reflects eco-friendly living and the impact each has on the environment. For example, recycling centres and electrical charging points are awarded the most points since these have the most direct impact on the environment. Meanwhile, health food stores, which have a slightly weaker correlation, are only awarded one point per amenity.

The total Eco-Rate score for each high street is an accumulation of the added and deducted points for all facilities studied.

The high streets home to the most…

Recycling Centres

Bradford and Brighton’s high streets are home to the most recycling centres for clothing and waste across the UK, with 14 each. Despite this, neither locations placed as the five most eco-friendly high streets. Bolton, Belfast, and Bristol also have more recycling centres when compared with the average high street, with 12, 11 and 10, respectively.

Photo credit: JJFarq / Shutterstock

Vegan Eateries

SaveOnEnergy found The Headrow in Leeds to be home to the most vegan eateries in the UK, totalling an impressive 181 vegan-friendly places to grab a bite. Meanwhile, all other contenders were located north of Birmingham, including Edinburgh (167), York (162), Manchester (155), and Birmingham itself with 144 places to dine as a vegan.

Charity Shops

Our research can reveal that the five thriftiest high streets are Cardiff, Blackpool, Nottingham, Brighton, and Derby - all of which are home to 20 charity shops each. With the highest number of charity stores located on these cities’ high streets - they are certainly the place to go if you are looking for sustainable items and eco-friendly shopping. Also, instead of binning any unworn clothes, make sure to give them to charity shops to help the environment.

Health Food Stores

Alongside recycling centres, Brighton is also home to the most health food stores, with 20 around Churchill Square shopping centre. Shortly behind with two fewer was Bristol’s Cabot Circus, where 18 health food stores are situated. Meanwhile Edinburgh offers 15, Bournemouth offers 14 and Cardiff and Cheltenham both offer 12 stores each.

Photo credit: David Ridley / Shutterstock

Independent Shops

Peterborough appears to be home to the most local businesses as it boasts the highest number of independent stores in the UK (19). Oxford places second with 18, and Oldham makes it into the rankings for the first time with 16. The high street with the fourth highest number of independent shops can be found in Reading, where there are 14 in total.

Local Green Space

With an impressive 64 local green spaces, Cambridge’s Grand Arcade is the high street with the highest quantity of green space areas by a long shot - over 10 times the UK average.

Despite having less than a third of the green space boasted by Cambridge, York comes second with 20 local green spaces. Thereafter places Coventry (16), Cardiff (15), and Newcastle and Oxford with 14 – Oxford is also home to one of the most eco-friendly staycations in the UK too.

Electrical Charging Stations

Bristol’s Cabot Circus and Brighton’s Churchill Square were both home to the most charging stations for electric vehicles, with 19 each. Dundee, Derby, Sunderland, and Milton Keynes followed closely behind, with 18 charging stations each.

Photo credit: Willy Barton / Shutterstock

Fast Food Outlets

London’s Oxford Street, a tourist hotspot, fared badly in our Eco-Rate Index by coming out on top as the high street with the most fast food outlets. It's home to 185 fast food outlets - over 100 more than vegan-friendly eateries!

Edinburgh followed shortly behind, with 176 hotspots for fast food. York, Birmingham, and Leeds came next, with 140 fast food spots located on York’s High Street, meanwhile Birmingham and Leeds’ high streets each had 121.

Methodology:

  1. SaveOnEnergy sought to survey all cities within the UK with over 100,000 residents. Of those that meet the population threshold, the most popular high street from each city was used as a representative.

  2. To comprehensively represent the full high street within our index, SaveOnEnergy analysed the amenities within 10 roads of each selected high street.

  3. Please note that local green spaces are construed to mean undeveloped land with public access. Additionally, vegan eateries are construed to mean places to dine which are suitable for those with a vegan diet.

  4. The number of facilities and amenities contained on each high street was derived from Google Maps. For example, for The Headrow in Leeds, Google Maps returned a figure of 181 eateries suitable for vegans. Likewise, Whitechapel in Liverpool was shown by Google Maps to only have two recycling centres.

  5. When calculating a point score on the basis of air quality, SaveOnEnergy referred to an index which ranked each high street and city from 1st to 10th. A ranking of 10th meant that the location has the worst air quality. Based on the ranking, cities that rank between 1st and 5th have a positive air quality and are therefore awarded two points. Meanwhile, cities ranking between 6th and 10th have 2 points deducted from their score.

  6. When calculating points, SaveOnEnergy used their own Eco-Rate Index which ranges between -2 and three points. The scoring per facility is calculated by taking into account the impact that each amenity has on the environment. For example, recycling centres are likely to have a stronger environmental impact than health food stores, and therefore recycling centres are awarded 3 points each, whilst health food stores are only awarded 1. The points system is as follows:

Recycling Centres: +3

Vegan Eateries: +2

Charity Shops:+2

Health Food Stores: +1

Independent Businesses: +2

Local Green Space: +3

Fast Food Eateries: -1

Air Quality: Ranked 1-5: +2

Air Quality: Ranked 6-10: -2