A green new world: is anyone really listening?

A green new world: is anyone really listening?

As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic – one of the biggest global threats we’ve faced in our lifetime – many of us in the sustainability space are wondering – how do we bring focus back to the climate emergency?

Over the last few months, we’ve radically shifted the way we work, travel, connect with our communities and spend our leisure time, to keep ourselves and each other safe.

As a result, we’ve seen a (temporary) drop in emissions, and a chance for nature to begin to recover from decades of overconsumption, pollution and destruction.

Now, as we try to find our way “back to normal”, we have a unique opportunity to build a better, greener future – a society that works for everyone, planet included.

But in the rush to restart the economy, are we at risk of losing the lessons learnt during our ‘pandemic pause’?

Is the economy the enemy here?

Will our green messages get drowned out in the noise, as shops and offices reopen and we are swept back into our work/spend cycle of mass consumption?

And what changes will businesses, governments and individuals need to adopt if we truly are going to build back better?

Today, for World Environment Day 2020, these are the exact topics I’ve been discussing with sustainability experts from business, academia and politics.

We had a fascinating chat about the intersectionality between social justice and the climate movement – a topic which couldn’t be more relevant right now.

We shared our hopes, and our fears, for the future, and our experts filled the discussion with practical tips for citizens, consumers and business owners to empower themselves to take climate action, beyond our usual green echo chamber!

Below you’ll find a copy of the transcript from our conversation – please note this has been lightly edited for readability.

Connect with our panelists:

Livvy Drake – Sustainable Sidekicks:

Asha Mistry – University of Leicester:

Sandy Hore-Ruthven – Bristol Green Party:

George Cole – Resource Futures:

You can also find details of Livvy’s Sustainability Policy workshop here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/workshop-create-an-engaging-sustainability-policy-tickets-106903322716


Sian Conway 0:00
Hi everybody, and welcome to our panel discussion! I’m really pleased today to be joined by a wide range of guest experts. We’re going to be discussing the role of sustainable business as we build back better. Many of us are starting to come out of lockdown now, depending on where you are in the world, and a lot of attention in policy business, and as individuals, is turning towards what we do next, how we tackle the climate crisis and what we do to really embed a green recovery in our response to COVID-19. So that is the context for today’s discussion. This is going out on World Environment Day 2020 as well, so it’s a very timely discussion. I will hand over to our experts to let them introduce themselves and tell us where they’re from, and then we will get started. Welcome Livvy!

Livvy Drake 0:50
Hi Sian. I’m Livvy Drake from the Sustainable Sidekicks, a sustainability and behaviour change consultancy.

George Cole 0:58
Hi, I’m George Cole, from Resource Futures, and we are a resources and waste consultancy. We work across circular economy, supporting governmental policy and businesses in making green decisions.

Asha Mistry 1:14
Hi, everyone. My name is Asha. I work at the University of Leicester and I’m the Social Innovation Officer. My role is to help embed the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] within the university, but also working with SMEs to embed sustainability within their business practices.

Sandy Hore-Ruthven 1:32
Hi, I’m Sandy. I’m the Green Party candidate for the Mayor of Bristol, the elections are next year, and I have a day job where I am Chief Executive of the Creative Youth Network. We’re a charity that helps young people reach their potential.

Sian Conway 1:46
Fantastic! Welcome, everybody. And thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedules to come and talk to us today. I’m really looking forward to our discussion. So I guess the best place for us to start really is to talk about this idea of building back better and what that actually looks like. So what should that look like? What should we be aiming for? And what frameworks are out there for us to really pull together a green recovery? Where should we be looking? Asha, your work is looking at the Sustainable Development Goals – do you want to tell us a little bit about the goals and how they fit? How do you see them fitting with this idea of a green recovery?

Asha Mistry 2:28
Yes, so the SDGs are hugely important to what I do, but they are even more important for the world as a whole. There are 17 goals ranging from everything from no poverty, to peace and justice, to gender equality, and everything in between. These were set out in 2015 by the UN, to act as a blueprint for a better future for all and I think, at this current moment in time, with 10 years left to achieve the the goals, there’s no time like the present in order to try and achieve those, and to contribute in any way that we can. And given how much change has happened in the last, five months, three months, depending where you are in the world, it is more important now than ever to change again, and change for the better and to create a better future for all.

Sian Conway 3:28
I completely agree. So, we’ve framed this discussion from a business angle, but we can’t ignore policy in that. And obviously, there are policy elements to achieving the SDGs. Sandy, I’m curious to hear from you, the Green Party have been very vocal about what a green recovery should look like and how we should respond to that from a policy point of view. So what are your insights are about how we build back better, and what that should look like?

Sandy Hore-Ruthven 3:55
Thank you. I think we’re still thinking about how we want to reprioritize our lives and suddenly health has come to the fore. Lots of people are certainly saying, isn’t it nice to have clean air, clear streets, and our communities are much stronger than they have been for a long time. And I think those are things that people are really valuing. For me as a sort of local politician, I think it’s really important to take action and actually show how things can change. So from a very immediate point of view, we can start to reallocate some road space, for example, to cycling and walking and really experiment with it – see if we can encourage more people to cycle and to walk. And actually, I think often when people do it and see it they really like it you know, when you pedestrianise areas often there’s a real resistance per se from business or others, but once it happens people are really supportive of it. And I think this is a moment where we can reallocate some of that space, change how we plan our cities and manage our cities. And do it for reasons of safety for virus control. But actually, I think people will begin to see the benefits of it for all sorts of other reasons. So I’m a great believer in taking action now, because I think we’ve probably only got a few weeks left before things start returning to normal. And if we don’t capture that moment, then then I think we may have lost it and we may end up having to have those same fights around transport and clean air and things again in a few years time. Now is the moment to do it. And I’d say the other thing in terms of structural stuff, the government is going to have to look at huge stimulus packages. I work on a day to day basis with young people; young people that are likely to be the hardest hit in terms of employment and opportunities in the future. So I would love to see a big stimulus package that really allowed us to grow back green. So investing in renewable energy insulating homes, all of the things we know about already. And I think there’s a real opportunity there for government to step in, provided jobs that we need, boost the economy, but at the same time, go green.

Sian Conway 6:28
I think you’re right, that the timing of this is crucial. If we don’t act very quickly on embedding this message, we’re going to lose a lot of the momentum that we could potentially have around this from a different angle. Livvy, this is something that you and I have been discussing quite a bit recently about how we engage people in sustainability. And George, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this because both of you are working on the ground with businesses on this on a daily basis. But really, how do we engage businesses? How do we engage consumers beyond just the ‘it’s good for the planet’ message? I think seeing this in the context of a health crisis has maybe helped to reframe that. So what does this green recovery look like for businesses in your eyes? And how do we start to engage them in that conversation?

George Cole 7:17
I think lots of businesses really are engaged in in how to build back better and are interested in environmental impacts that they have – minimising those impacts and even having a positive impact. We work with lots of companies on that in the UK and internationally. There’s certainly more work to be done there. And there’s a lot of pressure, and there has been building pressure from consumers along those lines as well. I think looking looking into the medium and long term, what can be done is to think how we can support those businesses in achieving those goals, and benefiting the businesses that are working in that space so that they can compete on a fair playing field against the established businesses. And a lot of that comes down to consumers – we have a role in supporting the brands and the companies that align with our values and addressing environmental and social issues. But also, nationally, we need to look at enabling conditions that will support those businesses to grow and to prosper, and to compete in what are often quite established and difficult markets to enter. Often we see that it’s innovative disruptors that are coming in with great new ideas and innovative business models. It’s really hard for them to compete in some of the big established markets. Some of the work I’ve done recently with the Scottish Government – we were looking at marine litter and some of the common marine litter products, and as part of that we looked at menstrual products. There’s a company in the UK called Hey Girls! that uses the buy one give one model. They sell plastic-free period products, including reusables. For every product that you buy, they provide a product to someone in need, someone in period poverty. They’re also working with the Scottish Government for the National Scottish free period products scheme, which is giving products out through schools, colleges and universities. That’s a great model. Not only are they addressing marine litter, plastic pollution and material consumption, but they’ve also got this social, ethical angle – but it is still really hard for those companies to compete, when you think about the disposable model, the single use model of consumption. If you’re throwing the product away every time you use it, you’re buying a lot of product. And so you’re making a lot of money for the companies that are established in that space. So it’s very hard for those large businesses to then switch to a different model, where it’s not certain where that revenue is going to come from, if their revenues going to decrease rapidly from switching to a reusable model or different model, their whole business has to change. And so that’s quite a difficult thing to do. That’s the sort of thing that we try and support businesses to do. I think fundamentally, we need to look at the economic systems and enabling conditions to support businesses in transitioning to greener business models.

Sian Conway 10:43
I think it’s interesting that when we’re talking about adapting to more green practices in business, we’re talking about how much they have to fundamentally shift their model, which many businesses have experienced during the pandemic – because they’ve had to rapidly change, if not what they’re delivering, how they’re delivering it, and how they’re working. And obviously, we have seen businesses fall into trouble. We’ve seen some government financial support and things to help some businesses through, but a lot will go out of business because of what’s happened in the pandemic and their ability to adapt. What interests me around the build back better and the green messaging is something that I see a lot of people come up against – that it just feels so overwhelming. Even just there, George, you touched on several different issues, from social justice issues through to environmental issues. And when we start looking at them, even when we look at them in the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals that Asha mentioned earlier, it can be overwhelming because there’s so many different issues we need to tackle. Livvy, from a behaviour change point of view, how do we get people to engage with this message? Because I think short term they’ve had to do it in light of the pandemic and the issues that have affected them, so they almost didn’t have time to be overwhelmed – they just had to get on with it. But the climate crisis feels like more of a slow burn issue that we’ve been talking about for so long.

Livvy Drake 12:09
One of the interesting things from research done during this pandemic is that people have aligned the health issues with the environmental issues, and people are committed to making those changes. I read an survey recently that Futerra had done in the UK and the USA, and they said people are prepared to make the same changes they have to their behaviour for Covid-19. There’s an idea in behaviour change, the idea of moments of change – suddenly we become very conscious of all our behaviours. So now is a real opportunity to then embed new behaviours and new patterns. And for businesses, those consumers that are being researched, they will work somewhere. Those are people’s employees. So the time is now to really work with the employees, find out what’s motivating them. And for me, one of the things I talk a lot about in terms of behaviour change, is don’t talk to people in our language, talk in their language. Find out what actually drives them. And sustainability is about people, planet and then profit. So if you can talk to them about the cost saving benefits of a green recovery, or finding jobs and employment for their employees. Talk to them about that. If it’s about the health and wellbeing of their families, talk to them about that. But don’t bang on about climate change if it doesn’t resonate with them.

Sandy Hore-Ruthven 13:46
Okay, I would add to that, as a politician, there are a few people who talk about climate change on the doorstep, but very few people really do. People are worried about their communities, crime, education, the NHS and those sorts of things, but I think Livvy is absolutely right. And where I find our message resonates most is when you can talk to people locally about the issues that affect them. And that means listening first. I think that something the green movement hasn’t been particularly good at, we’ve tended to be a bit preachy, “here’s what you can do to change things”. But actually, if we spend more time listening, the solutions are often the same. Dealing with crime in some of the neighbourhoods in the city is about redesigning the spaces so that there isn’t space for crime or antisocial behaviour to happen. And actually, that means putting in more trees, greener spaces and open spaces. So that’s good for the crime and antisocial behaviour, and it’s good for the environment too. But until you listen and hear those communities, you won’t understand what message resonates with them most. And I think the same is true with business.

Sian Conway 14:59
It’s really interesting, when we were putting ideas together for this panel, one of the things that was in my mind was, has the climate conversation being derailed by, obviously, the more immediate need to respond to this global health crisis. Has that gotten in the way? Has that taken media attention away from the issue? Because it felt like we were really building a lot of momentum. But what I’m always conscious of is that we’re building momentum within our echo chambers. So it felt like there was a lot of talk and discussion and action happening, but actually, potentially, only within a minority – whereas from what you’re both saying there, maybe it’s that we are attracting a wider audience now, but they’re coming with a different lens to that conversation. So they’re coming with different priorities and different things they care about. And now what we need to do is engage them where they’re at, and bring that into the movement and do that listening work and that responding work. So I’m curious to hear how we frame the climate conversation going forward, and how we get that momentum going again. But Sandy, you touched on this, our risk now is that we don’t capitalise on this moment, from a timing point of view. I think we’ve also got a potential risk that we just go back into our echo chamber here, and we don’t continue to bring people in, and we don’t achieve that ripple effect that we’re looking for. So if anyone has any thoughts on how we get this out into the wider populace, then I’m keen to hear those.

Livvy Drake 16:38
I feel like the Sustainable Development Goals are really a great grounding for this. One of the issues I have a bit with a green recovery is it’s still green. Again, we’re ignoring the people part of the people profit and planet. With all the protests are going on, and the fact that Covid-19 highlighted the social inequalities that we have that aren’t being dealt with, I feel like the green recovery has to include that, and we have to be talking about that with businesses – how are they supporting their local community? How are they supporting their staff? A lot of people are very affected by what’s going on now, and I think there is a potential that if we come at this with our green hats on and only talk about the green thing, we’re actually going to get derailed by the bigger issues right now, which is the Black Lives Matter and the social inequalities that are so entrenched in our society. I think we need to be talking about both those issues at once.

Sandy Hore-Ruthven 17:44
Or even be overtaken by old school economics that says in order to recover from this, we must boost the economy at all costs, and therefore, social justice, environmental justice just goes out the window in order to make sure the jobless figures and the GDP doesn’t tank. There’s some good examples in Bristol City, such as the Happy City Index. Bristol City Council has a quality of life index, where we look at not just GDP but also asking: “how strong do you feel your community is?”, “How much access do you have to nature?” “How equal do you feel with the other people in the city?” “How much time do you take in local democracy?” or “How much do you feel you can control what goes on locally?” And I think it is up to politicians and leaders to start highlighting those things as more important, and we have that opportunity, because within the pandemic, GDP sort of doesn’t matter. For the first time nobody cares about GDP. People care about whether people are dying, whether our communities are strong, whether our air is clean. So suddenly, we’ve made that change. We’re only realy three months in but if we carry on talking about those things that really matter, then I think we embed it. I think there’s a real danger that we will just be swept aside by the desire and the juggernaut that is the old economy that will push us back. And actually, we will look back in 10 years and go, “Gosh, we didn’t change anything, did we?” That’s my biggest fear. I think if we start talking about these issues. But again, listen. Listen. I think the thing that the Black Lives Matter movement is doing really well, and I say this as a white, middle aged, middle class, man, is saying the challenge is educate yourself, don’t ask me, go and educate yourself, read these books, talk to your friends, understand what the Black experience is. And that’s a challenge to me, so I’m going away and trying to do that. I think we can learn something from the environmental movement that says, if you want to make a difference, go and educate yourself and we will help or we’ll support you on that on that journey.

Asha Mistry 20:01
I completely agree with you what you said, Sandy. I think it’s important now to try and embed the green recovery and whatever you interpret the green recovery to be – although it has the word green, I think it is more than that. It is the social elements that you’ve all touched on. I think that it’s important to embed it within the next change we go into, when we come out of this pandemic or out of lockdown. Those personal elements and those social elements are so important to everyone’s lives at this moment in time. Everything from mental wellbeing to the Black Lives Matter movement, and everything else in between. It’s hitting that personal nerve. And if everyone is thinking about that, whether it’s about the environment or social topics, it still contributes to the overall sustainability of the world, which is the overall sustainability of, not our planet, but the people. And that fits into the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which touches on life on land, life in water, but also reduced inequalities, reducing gender inequalities, and and all the other social aspects that come into sustainability.

Sian Conway 21:18
Yeah, it’s interesting to have this conversation and to touch on the economic side of things, because obviously there has been an announcement that this week they’ve released a report saying that if they invest in green jobs as part of the recovery, then that will add value to the economy. And I think again, in our echo chamber, we sometimes demonise the economy and, and say we should be completely de-prioritising the economy, completely going the other way, and overhaul the whole system that we’ve got. But actually, for me, I find that businesses have got so many resources that they can mobilise a lot quicker. They can be a lot more agile in that respect, to embed the Sustainable Development Goals, to embed impact and to put resources in the areas that we need to focus. But actually to engage businesses, you do need to talk in economic language and you do need to talk about the triple bottom line – but actually the profit part of that triple bottom line is still really, really important to businesses. George, I’m curious to hear your views because obviously, you do a lot of work in this space around engaging businesses and looking at their systems around their waste. There is a financial element to that. So what do you think is the balance here between having this economic conversation in the context of this wider recovery?

George Cole 22:37
I think it’s really important. I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t demonise the economy as such. Jobs and services and products are all things that are kind of fundamental to our way of life. What we need to think about is, what’s the purpose of the economy, and what do we want it to look like in 10 or 15 years time? We have a choice right now as to what sort of services and sectors we want to encourage and support and which ones we need to rethink. As you mentioned, the green economy does provide a lot of jobs. There’s a lot more jobs in recycling than there is in incineration or landfill. There’s a lot more jobs in circular economy, business models about servitization of products and taking, for example, domestic appliances back – the manufacturer can take them back and repair and re-manufacture and use components again. These are ideas that are out there, that some businesses are trying to take forward. Those sorts of activities are very labour intensive. But jobs are a good thing. We perhaps want to move away from this idea of mass production, industrialization, that machines are going to liberate us and set us free to spend all our leisure time as we wish. Being engaged in work and being engaged in an economy and a community can be a good thing. And so we just need to think about how to shape it towards something that serves us and fits within the boundaries of the planet, and even looking at regenerative business as well. Much of the emphasis so far has been towards reducing impact and reducing emissions, getting to net zero. Actually, we need to think about regenerating some of the natural systems that we rely on and improving them, so increasing biodiversity and improving green spaces, and a lot of that does tie back into equality issues that have been discussed before. I think no so much inequality has been highlighted in recent years. And I think everyone’s had a bit of a personal experience of that in lockdown as well. Realising different access to green space and exercise areas, and different access to services within their home. So I think having that personal experience is going to hopefully lead to behaviour change and more listening and understanding. Businesses are only made up of people. These are people who are making decisions within the businesses and having discussions within the businesses. We see more and more that the environmental agenda and priorities are getting raised up to the board level, and the CEOs are engaging, and they’re telling us that it’s coming from their staff and their employees. They’re interested, but the pressure is actually coming from within, as well as from without from consumers. And so I think that’s really powerful. The more that we engage in that, and the more we discuss it, and the more that we understand some of the inequalities around environmental and social issues, I think that’s a really powerful driving force.

Sian Conway 26:20
I think it’ll be interesting to see, as businesses do come out of lockdown, things that maybe some companies weren’t considering before, like working from home, that they’ve been forced to implement. They’ve put systems in place for that and people will be looking for that from their employers now. Certain demographics more so than others maybe, and obviously not for every job, but I think it has given us time to think about how we want our working lives to feel. How do we want our days to look and what do we want to achieve with this?

George Cole 26:53
And there’s got to be some quick wins as well. Working from home, reducing travel time and remote meetings as well. Businesses have been trying to reduce flights and car journeys, but there’s so much more we can do, and when we’re forced to do it, it turns out that you can absolutely operate a business remotely, and you don’t actually need to do all that travel. So we really need to think about what’s necessary and grasp these quick wins that come out of this experience.

Sandy Hore-Ruthven 27:25
And I would agree with that. I think that suddenly we’ve realised that we can change. Even my finance team at work used to say you’ve got to sign every invoice and, suddenly, we’ve had to work out how not to do it. We’ve had a two year plan to change that – to get our all of our finance stuff happening digitally. We did it in two weeks. So all of a sudden we’ve done it. In my organisation there’s an openness to change and I think there’s a broader openness to change now that we need to capture. And that’s where I think people like Asha and George and Livvy, this stuff that you do is so important. I’ve been to meetings with the bar and restaurant industry in Bristol, and most of those people want to go green, but they were struggling – saying we have to use plastic disposable cups because people are drinking outdoors, so we can’t have glass, and they throw away huge pallet fulls of plastic that was only used once. When they get the support of organisations, it enables that group to sit around and go, “Okay, well, you could either go for metal cups with a two pounds deposit on, but actually it was too nice and everyone would just nick them and take them home!” And then they came to the decision that actually reusable plastic cups are probably the best. So very often businesses just need a bit of a bit of a hand in how to do this stuff. And they want to do it. And if somebody else has done it, they feel like “I can do that”. And it doesn’t affect your bottom line. In fact, in some cases, it improves it. So I think I’ve seen a lot of that work happening, it’s been really successful with small businesses, especially, who don’t have the resources to look at their supply chains, to look at who they purchase their stuff from, they’re working on very tight financial margins. And therefore, just a bit of help from each other can be a really powerful thing.

Asha Mistry 29:27
On the back of that, I think, for SMEs and small businesses, it is really difficult, and the conversation is starting to happen and they want to make that change. From a university point of view, we’re large institution where loads and loads of research goes on, but businesses can’t always access that. So in the Innovation Hub, we act as the bridge between businesses and research expertise. And some of the research expertise, even I didn’t know about until I was in this role, and it’s incredible. The application of academia to business problems, or to create business solutions. And so it’s really exciting to be part of this change, to see how we can apply other people’s solutions or other people’s research to a business problem or a personal problem, or whatever problem that may be. But it’s about education and accessing that education. And through the work I do, I hope to pass on some of that knowledge and help businesses to embed that knowledge within their own practices going forward.

Livvy Drake 30:40
I’d just like to add in, I think one of the great opportunities that we’ve got now from this time, is the opportunity for more collaboration. And it’s been demonstrated at a huge level with the two massive companies coming together to work on the vaccine. it’s something that’s unheard of and smaller businesses can do that as well. I read a really interesting article saying about this idea of how do you pivot your business if you want to be more responsible? How do you do that without taking risks? Well you collaborate with your competitors and deliver something that you wouldn’t be able to deliver yourself and you slowly make those those transitions. So I think that’s a really powerful message of what people can do. Don’t think, “how are we going to do this on our own?” Think “how can we do it together?” And what Sandy said about the reusable cups is another great example. I’ve worked on so many reusable cups schemes, that have and haven’t worked. We always talk about, “what about what your neighbours are doing? Could you work together on this?” You don’t have to own these things. You know, this whole thing we have about ownership, it’s so capitalistic, and it’s so limiting. And the circular economy, again, is a perfect movement and model to think we don’t need to own things, we can have a for hire model, and for businesses, thinking that you don’t have to have that capital expenditure, you can just hire things, is another great way of removing these old ways of thinking which are actually very restrictive and challenging for a lot of businesses.

Sian Conway 32:12
Absolutely. And I think collaboration, education, all of these things are really key. What’s striking me is actually a lot of businesses at the moment – their priority is going to be their resilience, because they’ve either gone through this experience and seen, actually, I am resilient, and I’ve got a good business model and we’ve been able to weather this storm, we’re either thriving on it – some businesses are – or we’ve survived, but there’s things we can improve, or there’ll be other businesses that are thinking, we only survived that because we had a bailout loan, or we put personal money in or we did something drastically different. So I think there will be a moment in time now where businesses turn their attention to resilience, and actually, all of these things that we’re talking about; education, innovation, collaboration – they’re all key to building that resilience as well. I think that’s a really key theme that actually will be front and centre of a lot of people’s minds at this point in time in our communities, but especially with business leaders.

Livvy Drake 33:10
And I think on that, the head of the Bank of England, and everyone’s citing this at the moment, said that if businesses don’t address climate change, they won’t survive. And the whole lockdown is a window of what climate change is going to bring to people, you know – people are going to be stuck inside, flights aren’t going to go, extreme weather conditions. And if you’re in the hospitality industry or the events industry, and I do a lot of work with those, how are you going to survive? This is your little window of what’s to come. So this is an opportunity to address it and really use this as an opportunity to understand how you will survive and how you can pivot.

Sian Conway 34:09
The thing that strikes me with that is, how do we avoid the kind of ‘ostrich head in the sand’ syndrome of thinking “well this has been awful and we don’t want this to happen again, but let’s not think about it and let’s just get back to normal and carry on” – because I think a lot of the time when we talk about the extreme impacts that we’re going to feel from climate change, which obviously some parts of the world are already feeling and already experiencing, they feel quite distant to us in the UK. How do we engage people in that without scaring them off? You look at the the emissions drops that we’ve had during lockdown, which obviously are expected to go straight back up again when we come out of lockdown, but they’re not even anywhere near the emissions drops we need to be seeing to avoid some of the worst case scenarios. So how do we engage people in that without terrifying them into no action?

Asha Mistry 34:59
Well, although some people experience climate change in a more extreme way already across the world, here in England for the last three months, we’ve had beautiful weather. And it’s been lovely because a lot of us who are privileged enough to have a garden or access to green space have spent a lot of time outside. I know I have, and I know my family has. But when has the weather ever been so consistently nice in this country? You always need to check yourself when you’re enjoying the good weather and having a barbecue or, you know, sitting outside, because why is the weather like this? And why hasn’t it rained in three months? And what does that mean? You know, wider, not just for our country, but the globe. If it’s hotter here, then what does that mean for the rest of the country, for the rest of the planet, different countries, depending on where you you’re located. I think climate change is here. And it’s recognising that although we are in a crisis now, we are also in another one at the same time. So, I’m sure you know, this crisis isn’t going to go away anytime soon. The climate crisis is going to be with us for a lot longer. And if we don’t deal with it now, then what?

Sian Conway 36:23
And in the health crisis, we’ve seen that the countries that listened to scientists and heeded those warnings and took quick action actually came out of it better than those that didn’t, which is exactly the same narrative that we’re seeing happen for decades now around the climate. I think it’s just how do we accelerate that awareness? But also, I think there’s a balance around mitigating the risks to try and keep those risks at bay, and adapting. Because obviously, some of the impact is inevitable at this point, we’re already feeling it. So how do we balance that conversation between mitigation and adaptation – which we’ve also experienced with the lack of a vaccine. We’ve had to adapt our lifestyles and go into lockdown to mitigate the risk and to adapt not having that vaccine. But there’s also a conversation about long term, if we don’t find a vaccine, we’ll have to adapt our lifestyles to this ongoing risk. So I think there’s a lot of parallels, and it’s particularly interesting in the climate debate, because obviously, we do have to deal with the fact that there are climate deniers and there are varying levels to which people are engaging with this. So how do we balance that mitigation and that adaptation in our approach going forward?

Sandy Hore-Ruthven 37:45
How do you prepare for an unpredictable future? Well you invest in resilience. And in the case now, the NHS just about coped, but should have and could have done better. You invest in science, logistics, all of those things and actually, they’re all good things to have anyway, regardless of whether the climate changes or any new pandemic comes. I hope what we’ve learned, and what we’ll learn as a society, is that being resilient is really important. And in order to be resilient, you have to invest in good public transport, the NHS, clean business, insulation, etc. All of those things are good anyway. And will help us to cope with the changes that are coming, but that we can’t really predict. Austerity has sort of pared us down to the bone. All of our public services are right on a knife edge. In my day job working with young people, it’s right down to the bone, so therefore, you’re much less resilient if your systems are not well funded. So I hope that we learn now that by investing for the long term in both mitigation and adaptation, that actually we will learn that as a society, it’s okay to invest up front, and we shouldn’t wait until the last minute when everything goes bad. The reality is we’ll probably learn some of those lessons and not all of them, but I hope at least we can learn some.

Livvy Drake 39:26
I think one of the things I noticed when I work with businesses – people only really engage with me if they want to make a change, and they’ll be in different parts of their journey. So you have to meet people where they are. And if you freak them out too much early on, then it doesn’t work. But as soon as people start on the journey, then they get their head around it, then you can introduce more, not extreme, but more progressive ways of working and ways of thinking. With some organisations I’m working with, we’re declaring a climate emergency, but some of the other ones definitely wouldn’t suggest that, so it’s taking people on the journey. I remember I first had my epiphany moment about eight years ago and suddenly I could get my head around waste., but I decided I couldn’t cope with climate change – too far away. too complicated, I’m just going to focus on waste. When we look at where people have come into the journey, and a lot of people have started this journey with plastics. I’ve been working in plastics, plastic reduction, for the last five years. And people were like “oh plastic, but you can recycle it, what’s the problem?” The suddenly Blue Planet, then everyone was going to the zero waste shop and has a bamboo toothbrush. Everyone’s on this journey and potentially those people then start to think about climate change. So it’s a journey, and it’s a process. We can’t blow people’s minds because we have something called cognitive load. We can only cope with so much at one time. There’s a book by George Marshall called ‘Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change’ and he says that we’re wired for huge threats that are imminent. So we’re looking around at what’s going to impact us now, but when you talk about something that’s happening in the future, which is what climate change was, people can’t get their head around that, you know, I need to think about what’s affecting my family now. Whereas now climate change, they say 12 years or 11 years, it’s “Oh, I can compute that time.” So people have to understand things in proximity to where they’re at, their local surroundings, and not too far away.

Sian Conway 42:02
I think one of my concerns is that we don’t keep saying 10 years for the next 10 years! That we actually shift that time scale. I find when I talk to a lot of people about their motivations for engaging in this climate conversation, they say it’s for their children or their grandchildren. They don’t think about the fact it’s for them and the world that they’re going to live in, and their imminent future. So I’m just conscious when we talk about the next decade and the next 10 years that we don’t keep saying that for the next 10 years.

George Cole 42:30
I think climate change is a really complex problem that’s going to manifest itself in so many different ways, some of which we’re starting to understand, some of which we haven’t really grasped yet. And I think probably one way to shortcut action on that is, going back to Livvy’s point earlier, about finding out when you engage with people, when you talk to businesses and policymakers and City Councils, find out what their priorities are, and use their language. Understand what their pressures are and what their concerns are, and present the opportunities that are most attractive to them. And when you start building, you know, it’s climate change, circular economy, a lot of these issues are all interrelated – material and resource use material security as well. So thinking about manufacturing industries and the security of materials to manufacture new products, China’s been well advanced on that for a long time in terms of their electronics industry. But now, the EU and the UK is starting to think about well, what industries do we have? And how can we ensure that we’re getting a secure supply of materials to be resilient and to continue the industries that we want to operate. These are systemic problems that you need to engage a wide range of actors in order have comprehensive systemic solutions that are going to be effective. and last. And when you start bringing those different actors together, they have different priorities and different issues that they’re trying to address. And by linking up all those issues, then you can start moving things forward, because it’s very hard, you know, as citizens, as a planet, it’s been really hard to engage in action on climate change, because it seems so ephemeral, like it’s in many decades time, or in two decades time, or in one decades time, we’re going to start feeling effects, and it’s going to be in this country, and then it’s going to be here, and it’s really hard to engage in that. Whereas if you’re talking about more immediate issues or concerns, then that’s easier to respond to. And we’re more wired to do that. And by having a multi stakeholder dialogue, and involving different actors in the solutions, then you start bringing more and more of those factors into play in the short term. So I think that’s one way of shortcutting and kickstarting action, I think, to address these issues.

Sandy Hore-Ruthven 45:16
I couldn’t agree more. I think, actually talking about climate change, I’m not sure how useful it is. For a few intellectual people, and people who are thinking long term about the future, it’s fine. And of course, it’s worth talking about, but I do have lots of conversations within the Green Party, people who say “people aren’t getting climate change”. So what’s the answer? Well, it seems like a sort of Englishman abroad approach – you just speak louder and harder, but say exactly the same thing. And lo and behold, it doesn’t work. So just talking louder and harder about climate change doesn’t work. What the green movement hasn’t been great at is listening and really understanding what people’s issues are, whether that’s business – you do need to make money if you’re in business, you do have worries about HR issues or your premises, electricity bills and all those things that are really important. And until we learn as a green movement to listen first, and then respond, I think we’re still banging away and nobody’s really listening. I think we need to become experts in other things – crime, education, health, all of those things that concern people on a day to day basis, and understand how our beliefs intersect with theirs. And then that’s where you’ll find the solution. And that’s where you find the movement that will really produce change. Often I think it will happen very at the community level. Crime is an issue in one place, pedestrianisation is an issue somewhere else. So actually you need to listen locally to what people are concerned about, and work on those issues. Rather than trying to have a global, or sort of blanket national kind of, right, we’re going to tackle crime and that’s going to be our thing. It has to be locally and that way you really, really engage people.

Livvy Drake 47:18
I always use the example on this thing about the green movement of vegans, and I don’t want any angry vegans to stalk me! Because I have been a vegan – I’m now a Flexigan, and so I don’t deliberately eat dairy products and eggs. But I was vegetarian all my life and I always thought “those angry vegans! Really, do they engage anyone?” and there’s all these pictures of them burning things and shouting, and there’s been a real crossover into people reducing their meat intake and people who’ve gone vegan, and they’ve done it – a lot of people because of the environment, myself included – and then lots of people did it because of their health. And if you look at the products that are on the market, and I always show a picture of my slides of the buff vegan bodybuilders. That is a good model for why we need to change our behaviours. So, you know, this is the thing about how we engage people, is we have to stop talking our language and banging on because we could do better things, and they’re much more attractive and get better results.

Sian Conway 48:33
I am conscious that, by the nature of creating this kind of panel and bringing together people in the green space and putting it out on a platform like Ethical Hour, that talks to the green audience. We are still going to be within our echo chamber here. But I think there’s some really valuable lessons about how we start to break out of that echo chamber and I think that’s the crucial piece of work to be done. Actually engaging people. And if anything, this moment in time has maybe shown us what other people’s priorities are, it’s given us that opportunity to start that listening work. And really just make us see the importance of that listening work and engaging people and meeting them where they’re at. I think we’ve explored some big themes and some big parts of the system. But actually, there’s a lot here to be learned about how we go forward in a more resilient way and a more engaging way to get people involved. So with that, in mind, that kind of context, my final question to each of you is, with that in mind that our audience is actively engaged in this green conversation and is climate focused as their angle, what do you think is a practical step they can take from engaging in this conversation and listening to what you’ve had to say, to really take this forward, and to start that work of building back better?

George Cole 50:07
I would start with, obviously thinking about your own operations and your customers and the services that you’re offering. But there’s an incredible power to being engaged in your supply chain as well. And thinking about the ripple effect that you can have by talking to suppliers. Often suppliers can offer greener solutions, or they will find them if you speak to them about it. That can have a great ripple effect back up through the economy and beyond the borders of your city or or your country even, and we’ve seen more and more that that’s an incredibly powerful way to have wide scale change. In fact, if one company, if one important customer is requiring a green service or greener product or greener credentials, then it makes sense for their supplier to just switch to that model and supply that to everyone. And so you can actually ripple out to other customers. That lifts us all up together, I think. Just starting those conversations would be a great way to start. And also, recognition and accreditation. I think that’s really important for people who are trying to do something good in this space, for it to be recognised. Resource Futures is a B Corp, and that’s a really great organisation, which is basically environmental and ethical businesses that meet a certain standard of addressing their impacts and transparency. But it’s also a great network as well to look at other businesses that are offering a wide range of products and services and engaging them. So you can you can grow your network of suppliers and you can become customers of other people with other businesses with similar values to you. Building on that network and growing your business in that way can can lead you down a really interesting path.

Sian Conway 52:29
Where can we connect with Resource Futures online, George?

George Cole 52:34
We have a website, www.resourcefutures.co.uk. And we’ve just published our first impact report. We’re nonprofit, employee owned and carbon nets zero. A living wage employer, and whilst we’re a limited company, a lot of the work that we do, we want to do for the impact it has, so we’ve brought that all together for the first time this year and done a report on it. So that’s worth checking out. And you can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn as well.

Sian Conway 53:08
Fantastic. We’ll link all that up in the in the notes that go with this video. Livvy, what are your thoughts about practical next steps for people?

Livvy Drake 53:15
So George is saying about accreditation. Another great network to get involved with is the Business Declares community – business declares a climate emergency. There’s loads of examples from big businesses and small businesses on how you go about doing that. That’s a great thing to start that process because that also then helps you to think about how you start pivoting your business and what you need to do. And then I’m going to do a bit of a plug! I think lots of people have had this time away. So if you’re bringing your organisation back together, start reviewing your sustainability policy, and if you haven’t got one, create one and really see what your team is motivated by, and how they want to make those changes. I have got a workshop coming up in July and you can find me on my website sustainablesidekicks.com And also on LinkedIn – I’m there as Livvy Drake and I’m always sharing things from the sector.

Sian Conway 54:20
Thanks, Livvy, and I’ll link up the links in the notes with this video to the workshop as well. So if you haven’t got a sustainability policy, you can start thinking about what that should look like. Asha, what do you think in terms of next steps and practical actions people can take?

Asha Mistry 54:38
I think I’m going to go along the lines of what Sandy’s been saying – listening. I think we all need to listen to each other and within your business, listen to your team members, to your employees. And to anyone around you that you know that has a voice and has something to say, because I’m sure everyone has an opinion on how we should build back better. And so have those conversations, and see what people have to say, and make your decisions based on what the people you work with want. I think that’s really valuable because if it’s what you want and what your team members want, then I think some change can can occur in a positive way.

Sian Conway 55:31
Absolutely. And where can we connect with you online?

Asha Mistry 55:36
I’m on Twitter and I’m on LinkedIn. And if you want more information about how Leicester University can help you, if you’re an SME in Leicester or Leicestershire, then visit the University of Leicester website.

Sian Conway 55:54
Fantastic thank you. Sandy, what about you, any thoughts on next steps?

Sandy Hore-Ruthven 55:59
I would say act now. Your business, your community, your local authority area will all have improved its environmental performance in some way or another. People are working from home,there’s less people driving. And so I think if you can find a way to embed those changes now and capture that moment, that’s really, really important because you have made some gains already. Find out how you can do that. And that’s either pressure your Council, or if you’re in business, how do you make sure that you can help your workforce to work more from home, so all of those things. And we have made some gains, you know, our carbon emissions are down. Our streets are cleaner, our air is clearer, people are using their parks. So just capture those gains, whether it’s in your personal life or your business life or in your community. And then I suppose I would say in the long run, we need political change, so vote Green! And if you’re in Bristol, you can look me up on SandyForMayor.co.uk. Or just look up the greenparty.org. Or if you’re in Bristol, Bristol Green Party, and you can find out more about what we’re doing.

Sian Conway 57:16
Fantastic. Well, thank you so much to all of you for giving us your time today to come and talk to us and elaborate on these really important points. I think, for me, one of the key themes that came from this discussion, and that is a core value of what we do at Ethical Hour, is collaboration, and actually having these conversations and making room for these conversations. So a little plug for me that we do have a Twitter chat every Monday 8pm UK time using the #EthicalHour hashtag, where we try and start and hold these conversations and listen to the people in our communities. So if this has got you thinking, then obviously that is potentially a good place to start coming and doing some of that listening work. But do feel free to connect with our speakers today on the various platforms and do let us know how you’re taking this work forward and what your thoughts are. Thank you everybody so much for joining me and for such an insightful conversation. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.



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1 Comment
  • Shampoo bars
    Posted at 21:45h, 24 October Reply

    I’m not someone who is big on ethical consumerism (my buying decisions won’t be based on how much plastic there is unless food is involved – essentially my purchasing decisions are selfish by nature), though i will only buy free range.

    I believe that while most people don’t buy based on ethical decisions when they’re shopping, they would prefer to buy ethically if there’s an option (and if the product advertising reinforces that idea).

    I think that consumers views have changed over the years and you don’t have to be a tree hugging hippie to buy ethically. On the other side, ethical products don’t have to be inferior.

    To that end, I recently discovered shampoo bars which are ethical and i believe superior (I’ll link to them in the url part of the comment box). I would never have bought these in the shops, but a friend put me on to them.

    Now I am more open to buying other ethical products, because i think that there must be a lot of cost cutting that results in a drop in quality, which ethical products don’t suffer from.

    The supermarket shelves are changing…

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