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Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone

Oxford ZEZ

Client: Oxford City Council

Working with Oxford City Council and the business community to address the climate crisis, locally.


In 2019, Oxford City Council declared a climate emergency. As part of their mission to fully decarbonise the city by 2030, they’ve set an ambition to introduce a Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) in the city centre by August 2021, working alongside Oxfordshire County Council. The ZEZ will not only work towards decarbonisation in the city, but it will also lead to cleaner air and quieter streets while maintaining city centre access for the communities that thrive there.

As part of the ZEZ, both councils recognised an opportunity to work with the community of local businesses, considering their needs and minimising the potential economic impact. Working in partnership with Oxford City Council, we introduced a user centred research and design project to help better understand challenges that could affect the business community.


We wanted to consider the needs of businesses to minimise the impact the ZEZ will have on them while helping them become more sustainable. We engaged a user centred research and design approach to better understand their challenges and ensure the effective implementation of the ZEZ in Oxford City Centre. Potential barriers for local businesses included messaging about the ZEZ, a concern it was too wide and generalised, additional pressures from the COVID-19 crisis and a lack of collaboration around sustainable initiatives.

Running workshops with these business owners and stakeholders helped us make sure the decisions and recommendations we made were the right ones for the city and the community. We also tested early concepts with businesses to get their feedback on the solutions developed in response to their individual challenges.

An essential part of this project was working in a blended core project team. This meant the delivery of the work was done with Oxford City Council staff, helping ensure we had the right blend of knowledge and expertise in the team, could make decisions quickly and team members were directly learning and experiencing new ways of working.

In total, we ran eleven interviews with businesses and suppliers, three workshops to synthesise, create insights and prioritise and two workshops with staff to link with other projects and create ideas. We also ran four Interviews to test concepts with businesses and developed five prototypes.


During one hour interviews, we asked open questions to businesses and suppliers to identify which concepts would be most useful to them and why, as well as detailing how they would imagine things working in practice. These insights from the community helped us develop eight opportunities for the council to:

  • meet businesses where they already exist, so the council can share progress and businesses can share feedback, issues and ideas
  • motivate and show impact through a dashboard of real-time data on the positive impact the ZEZ is having with visitors using case studies
  • create a holistic view of their objectives and clear narrative around how sustainable initiatives are linked up
  • provide tailored guidance and a toolkit to support businesses to make changes
  • offer ways for businesses to flag their struggles and find the support they need easily to prepare and plan for the ZEZ
  • support businesses to create collaborative initiatives with each other and their communities to reduce emissions associated with their business
  • create a seamless digital ZEZ experience through an online service that allows businesses to manage their charges over a long period of time
  • link to financial support grants as a way to use the income generated from the ZEZ to support local businesses

The Oxford ZEZ pilot will be launched in February 2022 following the resolution of unforeseen technical issues. As both councils believe the programme should be introduced without creating difficulty for local businesses and residents to work well with the scheme, the extra time has supported more valuable engagement with the local community. By reaching out and working together to find solutions we can make the shift from developing to implementing these ideas in a way that truly involves the community in the process.

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