- Learn to grow your favourite vegetables
- Find the word in every human language there is or has ever been for ‘respect’
- Adopt a pet or two from a shelter (or pay to foster some in a shelter)
- Be your own boss
- Read Catch-22 (several times)
- See Petra at sunset
- Sleep in a tent in the pouring rain with someone you love
- Write 100 letters to supermarkets demanding they only sell responsible products and get your friends to do the same
- See whales in the wild
- Listen to Rachmaninov’s second symphony
Sometimes I can barely keep up with the pace of the sustainability debate. After the great response to my open letter to Asia Pulp & Paper (see http://tiny.cc/sac5j ), no sooner had I put the finishing touches to that blog post when news reached me that Sky is currently running adverts for APP, whilst promoting a ‘partnership’ with WWF to save rainforests. In turn this coincided with last night’s UK Channel 4 Dispatches programme, ‘Conservation’s Dirty Secret’, in which WWF and Conservation International (see http://tiny.cc/e2u09 ) were, to put it charitably, embarrassed, not helped by dismal media performances from their respective leaders. The upshot: when WWF’s UK CEO is not on national television saying turtles are amphibians, his organisation is taking money from a conservation partnership with a broadcaster taking advertising revenue from one of the greatest enemies of rainforest conservation in the world. This can’t go on. And an awful lot of people are saying so, at least in private.
Some people would use this perfect storm to turn on the conservation movement. They would hijack this PR misfortune as proof that the green movement is full of hot air and bad science. That is the wrong reaction. We must not abandon conservation, or the (good) organisations that promote it, but we must do a lot better. My colleague Charles Secrett offers a manifesto blueprint for change in the NGO movement in today’s Guardian. You can read Charles’s open letter to the green movement here http://tiny.cc/xkvex
Big NGOs risk becoming a total irrelevance if they do not take a long hard look at themselves. Not only are they jeopardising hard won victories through poor leadership, bad communication and a lack of ideological coherence. They are playing into the hands of those who would like the environment movement to disappear, allowing the world’s worst firms to carry on their exploitation of the planet’s dwindling resources unhindered.
Today, I went to a stakeholder forum convened by L’Oreal in London. Their sustainability director, Francis Quinn, was infinitely more eloquent about global challenges and the conservation agenda than most NGO leaders and, needless to say, all politicians. It depressed me that it should take a cosmetics firm executive to reaffirm my commitment to sustainability at a time when its greatest public champions are letting down the cause so terribly badly. I could have listened to Quinn for hours, whilst I found my finger on the off button for most of last night’s Channel 4 documentary. I only stayed with it in the way you stay with a dreadful reality show – you wait for the car crash moment to happen. It did last night, long before the programme ended, along with my respect for big NGOs who take the corporate shilling.
In the end, business will tackle these issues and resolve as many of them as possible, for their own self interest. And yes, they will do so in partnership with NGOs. But it will be the NGOs who are truly independent of vast corporate financial relationships, or those that deliver grassroots, ground level, measurable conservation improvement. I’ll be backing the kinds of groups in those two categories. Where that will leave the new NGO behemoths, I’m really not sure.
In my latest column for Ethical Corporation magazine, I look back at some of the lessons of their recent Responsible Business Summit, offer a change for next year’s agenda and explain why in my view we still have a big task ahead in bringing marketeers into the sustainable business world. The column is here http://tiny.cc/8n5gg
Today I write no more than 50 metres from the sea, in a house overlooking the English Channel. It is right on a pristine pebble beach. There is a clear blue sky, with Brighton and Bognor Regis peering at us far from the distance to my left. This house, which belongs to my wife’s family, was built by her grandfather in the early 1970s – a shared family summer retreat that has given three generations and an army of cousins and friends pleasure over countless summer months.
The next generation of the family may not be so lucky. The one after that almost certainly not. In 50 years’ time, the chances are that if I am still blogging and wanted to return to my current location, I’d either be drowning or sitting in a boat. Even the British government isn’t pretending that this stretch of coastline is one they can protect. If this little row of beach houses is lucky enough to survive at all, few would be willing to pay the buildings insurance premiums that will surely be demanded. Which presumably means that the balcony from which I write will, perhaps in my lifetime, be gone.
The harsh realities of what is likely to come have never been starker than in recent days. We’ve had a report from Oxfam predicting that food prices are likely to double by 2030. The International Energy Agency has revealed that greenhouse gas emissions rose by a record amount last year, despite the global recession, leading to the highest carbon output in history. Limiting global warming to a two-degree rise (the generally accepted threshold for avoiding catastrophic climate change) is therefore probably now a pipedream rather than a possibility. We’ve seen the effect of a drought devastating crops throughout the UK. Water is being sprayed like mad on the fields behind this house. The National Ecosystem Assessment confirmed that nature’s services are worth billions of pounds to the UK, yet around 30% of those services are being degraded. Greenpeace activists are bravely trying to stop the Arctic being destroyed for our lethal addiction to oil, which is the chief culprit for so much of the climate crisis in the first place.
I fear too many people are sleepwalking through this crisis. In most businesses, governments and indeed in some NGOs. The general public is definitely asleep on the ticking clock whose warning alarm grows ever louder. The media doesn’t help. The amount of news space given to Cheryl Cole not getting a job on a television programme in America and then repeating her misfortune in the UK actually symbolises a national disease, far more lethal than the new E-coli strain whose origins will doubtless at some stage be linked to some human interference with nature too. The column inches (not to mention BAFTA accolade) given to a troupe of incredibly stupid people from Essex says a lot at a time when any decent maker of drama, comedy or factual documentary is struggling to get anything of quality commissioned for mainstream television.
Sitting in the sun as the waves lap over the sun kissed pebbles, a happy wet dog at my feet and a wife reliving her childhood memories, it’s hard to get too down about anything frankly. But this simple scene, with its modest homes, quiet community life and gentle seascape masks a calamity that will probably wash this place away forever. It’s worth thinking about when you choose your next car, buy your next washing machine, and decide which brands, politicians, media and NGOs deserve your loyalty in the coming years.