Greening the economy

In a few days time, I shall be giving a keynote address, and acting as rapporteur and co-chair, at the 4th Global Conference on Social Responsibility in Vilamoura, Portugal. I’ve been asking for help from lots of people online and off- in preparing for this and so I thought it was only fair to post my initial draft of the keynote here. It will change, and there are to be some illustrations of positive change added, but I suspect the bare bones are there. If anyone feels like offering thoughts for improvement, I’d be delighted to hear.

It is time to go beyond rhetoric and into action. Sadly though, most political agendas are strong on the former and lacking in the latter.

The scale of the change that we need to effect is scary, and we do not have a good track record where scary change is involved. We know that every year, in Britain, 30000 people die because poverty prevents them from heating their homes adequately. The burden on the healthcare system of this is estimated at £1 billion every year. For more than 40 years, we have known that one simple change in Western diet would eradicate world poverty and yet, for vanity alone, we refuse to make that change. Everyday, in Britain, on almost every High Street, and certainly in several places in almost every town, you can go into a shop and buy freshly prepared food from an endangered species. We know that stocks are dwindling, and yet we seem to believe that it is our God-given right to eat a species to extinction.

Yes, change is scary – and sadly the political responses are either Utopian or merely business as usual.

‘Greening the economy’ is about providing people with meaningful work, work that draws on their talents, their values, and their aspirations. It is about ensuring that this work contributes to the ‘bigger picture’ – not in peripheral ways, not in abstract ways, but in real tangible ways. It is about that tangibility not merely ameliorating the degradation of life on this planet, but on reversing trends, or restoring balance, on making earth a better place to live – for this generation and for future generations.

The mechanisms that have brought about this sorry state of affairs in which we find ourselves are remarkably robust and self-maintaining. We talk of sustainability, and yet it is these destructive forces that are self-sustaining.

We all need to work. It’s not just about making a living… it’s part of being human. But somewhere along the line, work became Economics and real people were forgotten, and at the same time, we ceased to care about the world we live in.

“I must admit that I personally measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings.” Margaret Mead (1901-1978, Social anthropologist).

As we have seen, all too clearly, in recent weeks, the greed and avarice of a few individuals seems to know no bounds. And yet, we still place such magnates of power and wealth on pedestals. I do not say that they have not necessarily earned their financial wealth, but I do not confuse that with a wealth of human spirit.

Oh, yes, we SAID we cared. We gave small amounts of money to charities to assuage our consciences. But those folks who tried to say that there was a real problem and it was getting worse were, and still are, labelled as cranks, as trouble makers, as radicals, and when they protest they are criminalised or, at the very least, further marginalised. Unless you fit into the ‘system’, you are dismissed, and if you fit into the system, it seems that you don’t care – because certainly your actions fail to address or influence any of the crucial issues that need to be addressed.

We need to embrace these different thinkers, not marginalise them.

“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.” Margaret Mead.

There are three strands to the Green economy; renewable energy, reclamation of resources (aka waste management), and restoration of our natural heritage (Renew, Reclaim, Restore).

In the first of these, renewable energy, catalysts are needed to increase the preparedness of people to make use of alternatives and to encourage the applied technology to be developed. There are both simple and exciting possibilities but people need to be ‘encouraged’ to use them.

The reclamation of resources is the dirty cousin. It has a seriously poor PR image. It is perceived, understandably, as being an unpleasant, low skill, low wage, and limited future career. Few parents will praise their children for getting into this as a vocation! Yet, we need to turn this about. There are technological opportunities within it. There are massive scales of influence to be achieved, and increasingly, the environment in which it works is not filthy and disease-laden.

Many people say that they would relish the opportunity to work outdoors, and many jobs that restore our natural heritage are outdoors-based, and yet few such positions can compete with the lucre offered by the construction sector. In many parts of the world, it is no longer viable to be a farmer, to work in forestry, or to engage in nature conservation. Instead, we encourage further scarring of the landscape – which we cleverly call the ‘built environment’ as that sounds greener. And we delude ourselves that leisure uses vindicate further destruction of natural habitat – there is nothing natural, sustainable or ecologically-restorative about a golf course! We have to change this perception among the younger work force especially, making restorative work both meaningful and financially rewarding.

In all three, we need to invest in new technologies and redress their relatively poor public image.

So what, if anything, can the individual do?

We can make the perpetrators, prognosticators, aware of our dis-satisfaction and of our desire for change. We can do all we can to educate and inform our fellow human beings of the issues and the need for change. There is far too little information, readily available, accurate and trustworthy, about the complex dynamics influencing every consumer choice…

Do cocoa-bean growers still employ slave labour? And how do we chose to respond?

Are flowers grown in Kenya environmentally worse than those grown at home? And if they are actually less harmful, why does one European government encourage us to believe they are so bad, and another collude by saying nothing to dissuade us?

We can make simple choices in our own day-to-day living. In our consumption of limited resources… In our efforts to not simply ameliorate the deterioration but to reverse the trends… In refusing to invest in an economy that is corrupt, detracts from the global challenges, and further contributes to the decline… We can support others (emotionally, physically, and spiritually) who seek to create a better world. And we can cease to support those who are determined to find fault in every situation… and instead report the good news stories that CAN be found in today’s world.

All banks are NOT the same. There are ethical investment alternatives. For example, the Triodos Bank originated in 1968 when an economist (Adriaan Deking Dura), a professor in tax law (Dieter Brüll), a senior organisational consultant (Lex Bos) and a banker (Rudolf Mees) formed a study group to see how money can be managed in a socially conscious way. By 1971, the Triodos Foundation was founded to provide gifts and loans for promising new social initiatives and enterprises. Two years later, the Triodos Guarantee Fund was founded to issue guarantees for innovative companies and institutions to help them to access bank funding. Then, in 1980, Triodos Bank NV was established with EUR 540,000 in start-up share capital and a full banking licence from the Dutch central bank.

We CAN be the change. Remember the words of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) Statesman and spiritual leader): “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission CAN alter the course of history.” We must “be the change we want to see in the world.

Remember too the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

So, I end, where I began… It is time to stop the rhetoric and begin to do something practical… To ‘GREEN THE ECONOMY’, we need to do three things… BOOST the economy, CREATE jobs in the three areas (resource recovery, renewable energy, restoration of our natural heritage), and REGENERATE the spoiled environment. My challenge to us all is to think of just one (though ideally more) idea that would achieve one or more of these aims. Capture the idea on a postcard (of which there will be a supply at the conference) {or an email if you are reading this online} and pass it to me. I shall do what I can to publish and promote these as part of the post-conference proceedings!

Best wishes

Working behind the scenes, helping leaders achieve things they never dreamt they could
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