The Business Case for Sustainability

The very narrowly overturned move that sought to amend the UK Energy Bill with a 2030 decarbonisation target said some interesting, if slightly predictable, things about the state of national politics. It offered yet more proof of the cross-party divisions in approaches to tackling the carbon issue, with several coalition members rebelling against the Government’s official stance that it should be left alone until next year. Whilst this indicates that some opinions within the House of Commons are starting to shift towards a low-carbon economy, it isn’t enough and it’s taking too long.

Kate Roche, Rolton Group

Excuse the stereotyping, but evidence suggests that the key to changing the minds of the small majority who stopped the target’s implementation is unlikely to be found using the current well-versed narrative of a sick Mother Earth and sad images of polar bears falling off melting ice. Whilst the central argument is no less valid than before, its integrity has been weakened by associations with sandal-wearing hippies, which makes people (particularly business people) switch off because it appears so far removed from their interests. Alarmist speeches don’t stir confidence in the need for widespread implementation of sustainable technologies either; they only serve to convince people that the task is too great and therefore isn’t even worth considering. Let’s be honest here, the vast majority of the powers that be will think with their pocketbooks far sooner than with their bleeding hearts.

The truth of the matter is that the low-carbon transition will take time and it’s not going to be cheap, which makes it unattractive to the fiscal ideals of George Osborne et al. Such is the nature of any paradigm shift, however, and whilst ‘time is money’, wasted time costs even more. What needs to change is the way the problem is presented.

When writing any sort of speech, one thing must be considered before all else: consider your audience. Just as Tony Blair misjudged his when addressing the Women’s Institute in 2000, I can’t help but think the sustainable industry is missing a trick by continually trying to appeal to the better nature of Government and major corporations. Instead, the persuasive business case for investment in renewables and low carbon technology needs to be put under the spotlight: many companies are already realising the value to be found in low carbon implementation and taking action for themselves. This is because, regardless of views about climate change, nobody can deny that the cost of fuel is rising and will continue to do so exponentially, and even with relatively high initial capital requirements, sustainable initiatives are starting to look like a more secure alternative.

Perhaps the solution is to leave the politics to the politicians and to make our own arrangements based on the undeniable economic facts that present themselves over the long-term, rather than only considering what’s cheap today and tomorrow and running with it. In the time since David Cameron introduced his ‘greenest government ever’, all that’s been evident in legislation has been hesitation and a lack of any integration between policies, and the sooner the UK addresses its carbon problem and takes remedial action, whether top-down or bottom-up, the less severe our circumstances will be in the decades to come.

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Originally Posted on Rolton Group: Engineering the Future.

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