June 2012: Roundtable notes

Realising a Green Economy – the social challenges

Luke Wilde – director TwentyFifty Ltd

“UNEP has developed a working definition of a green economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.”

Looking forward to Rio+20 and the focus on the ‘Green Economy’ gives us a good opportunity to look at the social challenges that this presents. Many people will be sceptical of what the outcomes of Rio may be but people will be talking about the social dimensions of a green economy and there is a ‘perhaps we can?’ attitude starting to emerge.

Environmental technological challenges are largely social. There is a struggle to engage with people and for them to understand the issues and there is a struggle with growing social inequalities. In western society and developing economies poverty is a barrier to new environmental technology being taken up. If we look at who is buying high efficiency or electric cars and the solar panels it is only a particular social class, those with the money to afford it.

We need to transition the poor and vulnerable towards a green economy as well as the rich and powerful for a green economy to be truly sustainable.

Questions that need to be addressed include, “how are we going to feed a population of 9 billion in 2050”? If the answer is with increased mechanisation then how will we occupy or employ 9 billion people? What should businesses be doing to address these issues?
The climate agenda with its carbon accounting is cost saving but is not taking into account its social impact. This attitude is starting to change. UN guiding principles are about getting proactive about CSR and addressing the social impact of your whole business especially its impact on the most vulnerable of our societies. As Eleanor Roosevelt said it’s how a society treats its vulnerable that is the measure of its civilisation.

Good case studies are the work of Cadbury and cocoa farmers in Ghana.
A Green Economy that fails to address social issues will fail to be a sustainable economy.

John Atherton The Stable Trading Company

A documentary of Monty Don setting up a small holding with recovering addicts plus a local mental health hospital with 50 acres resulted in the beginning of Stable Trading’ s story. Registered as a C.I.C or Community Investment Company that offers to be the best of the charitable and business worlds, but can in fact be the worst of both.
In its beginnings Stable Trading has tried many ventures, some have worked, others haven’t and others are still to take off!

They have a farm, a classroom, a bakery and they have had a shop (and will do again). Creating job and training opportunities for adults with learning difficulties, those who have been unemployed for a long time and offenders. A fantastic example of engaging with marginalised members of our society and creating a truly sustainable business around them.

As the story of Stable Trading shows it isn’t always easy working marginalised members of society but it is doable and is true example of a wholly sustainable business.

Questions & Answers

What went wrong after Rio the 1st and will we all be sat here in 20 years time with Rio+40 looming?

Lack of political will, we all got greedy and unfettered corporate power. We have the capacity and ingenuity to sort it out but it will take a lot of work.

Is it the duty of the consumer in the west to try and transform corporate behaviour?

There is power in the west to improve corporate behaviour. Provenance is becoming more important but he doesn’t really believe in the ethical consumer. There isn’t enough awareness about the environmental and social impacts of our food. In many examples change is being led from within companies not by consumer demand.

Do we have a moment of opportunity to change the model?

Yes we do, however there is tension, particularly with expert consultants. Do you work with the innovators or do you work to transform the laggards?

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