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Jilly Forster

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A World of Countless Environmental Opportunities

Posted: 01/11/2012 12:29

Hurricane Sandy Climate Change

I've been saying recently that the environmental agenda seems a little flat. Partly due to the petering out of all the great initiatives of the 20th century; culminating in Rio+20, big promises and little action. Partly due to politicians barely paying lip service to the issue - there's no discussion of climate change in the US presidential election, even as the nation is hammered by hurricane Sandy. Having attempted to position itself as the greenest government ever, the UK Coalition has no joined up environmental agenda - it is mishandling the UK energy policy, even as I pen these words.

However, in the most important respect, it isn't up to politicians. The environmental movement never asked permission when it got going in the 60s and 70s. It made people, including politicians, sit up and take notice. As James Murray succinctly highlights, it really is up to the environmental organisations of today to get their acts together, communicate better, celebrate success and unite behind a clear set of messages.

Of course politicians are going to be behind the game but the game is where modern-day environmentalists are at, what they're thinking, how they're working, what they're achieving through collaboration. And, in several crucial ways, our contemporary environmentalists have left their deep green forebears behind. In place of apocalyptic rhetoric, a more pragmatic approach has appeared, practical idealism. One that accepts that, more than politicians, it is organisations and businesses that drive change, in collaboration with, sometimes in opposition to, consumers and citizens.

I like working with organisations who accept that business-as-usual is unsustainable; those who recognise that working within constraints is the norm, that managing actual risks is better than standing atop a mountain foretelling doom.

The problems may be huge and global, planet-sized even, but some of the solutions are small and local, human-sized. Any organisation that accepts that it has environmental impacts and wants to reduce them deserves support in my book. This isn't just about recruiting members and volunteers or generating funds to manage a project. There is also a need for them to get help defining their messages and communicating them, often to very sceptical audiences. The people who need convincing are not deep green. They are mainstream, fearful or cynical of green products and services. They do not necessarily respond to rational arguments about what might be happening to the world. So those championing environmental initiatives need to find ways to overcome this, and connect with the mainstream on terms that work for them.

Through the Green Deal in support of the low carbon economy, the Government thinks it is incentivising householders' desire to make home improvements that boost energy efficiency and save money. But clean technology is only the answer if it is accompanied by behaviour change. There is no point insulating your house to improve energy efficiency if you use the resulting money savings to buy a bigger car with higher emissions. How do you engage with householders to create the level of trust that leads to buy - in and accompanying widespread behaviour change? Action must be more than piecemeal; all individuals must be encouraged to engage in a deeper way with environmental challenges.

Good policies can play a crucial role in the development of the low carbon economy. And the short-term costs associated with green measures really do deliver long-term benefits. But these long-term benefits depend on organisations having the confidence to take advantage of the countless commercial opportunities in environmental best practice. I'll be ready to help them communicate the benefits and I don't care if these modern day pragmatists are called neo-environmentalists or new environmentalists. I'm here for the duration.

 

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