‘Wilting agenda: Britain loses its appetite for green initiatives‘ made the front page of the Financial Times yesterday. We have a lot to learn, however, from the Brits as they struggle through hard economic times and demonstrate to us what can happen then. Some facts, first:
- With the economy rising to the top of Brits’ concerns, environmental concerns are no longer top of mind. In January 2007, 19% cited the environment as their top concern. A year later, it is down to 8%.
- Echoing its citizens’ change of heart, Gordon Brown and its government are backpedaling on green policies, from landfill, to transport, to renewable targets.
Most interesting, is the public narrative from some of the powers in charge, dismissing the green agenda as if it was either some despicable idea, as in, “People hate this green stuff” – senior member of shadow cabinet -, or some de facto dicy proposition, “Politicians will need nerves of steel to continue with this (the green stuff, he means). If the economy is doing well and we are prosperous, we can afford the luxury of dealing with climate change – or that is how it is seen. But when times are difficult for the economy and we are caught in the vice of inflation, from a politician’s point of view it becomes much more difficult to press ahead with policies that will increase prices.” – John Roberts, from Bank of Canada and United Utilities -
That’s one camp.
Then there is Together.com, a group of British businesses that are choosing a much different approach: “People can save hundreds of pounds a year by making greener everyday choices. The green penny is definitely dropping for British shoppers feeling the pinch from rising living costs.” Joined by no less than Phil Woolas, the environment minister, with some surprisingly good news: “The green pound really can go further – people can cut their carbon footprint and save money into the bargain. The signs are encouraging. We know that people want to cut their impact on the planet – recycling rates are at a record high, emissions from people’s homes are dropping, and since last June we’ve had nearly a million visitors to our online carbon calculator.”
Two paths. The latter one, the smart one, is led by the business sector. Last weekend, I caught a talk from Amory Lovins, from the Rocky Mountain Institute, and was struck by his insistence that business be the path to our salvation. Not the citizenry, not our government. One of the advantages of businesses, and even more so American businesses, is their emphasis on getting things done and on the bottom line. If business can smell money with green, as more and more do, we will have won a big part of the battle.