By Jonathon Porritt | 24 February 2011, 11:14 BST
The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is organising its final event on March 1st, prior to its demise at the end of March. Despite more and more people now recognising the government’s decision to axe the SDC as one of its most crass, ideologically driven decisions so far (as evidenced by the fact that they haven’t yet worked out what (if anything) to put in its place), there will be no recriminations on the day. It will be all sweetness and light as delegates explore the appropriately upbeat challenge of ‘taking sustainability to scale’.
That inevitably means the focus will be on civil society and the business community, as government ministers wouldn’t even understand what ‘taking sustainability to scale’ means. But if you ignore government, there are some truly exciting things going on, which ensure that sustainable development is alive and well in the UK.
Perhaps most encouraging of all is the way in which leading companies are pressing on with their sustainability strategies regardless. This year’s Plan A Conference in February attracted 1,200 suppliers to the QEII Centre, not just to listen to both the chief executive and the chairman of M&S eloquently reaffirming their own personal commitment to Plan A, but to get stuck into an extraordinary range of very practical sessions about improving their performance. Last year, there were just 400 suppliers.
The same kind of ‘growth in interest’ has happened with the annual Ecobuild Exhibition and Conference. In its first year, Ecobuild attracted fewer than 1,000 dyed-in-the-wool green building enthusiasts. More than 50,000 people will be attending this year’s event at the ExCel Centre in Docklands. (It would have been a few more if the various government ministers who had committed to coming to Ecobuild hadn’t pulled out at the last moment – demonstrating their usual impeccable political judgement).
And then the Co-operative launched its Ethical Operating Plan on February 17th. Although the Co-operative has always worked on many corporate sustainability issues, it has never really brought it together in one coordinated strategy. This plan does just that, spanning the breadth of its work, driven forward by 47 very ambitious commitments.
Although most progressive companies today happily recognise the importance of social justice in what they’re doing, it’s just not at the heart of their own sustainability journeys. The Co-operative Ethical Operating Plan sets a benchmark for embedding social justice – both internationally and here in the UK.
The Co-operative also reckons it will be involved in 10,000 community-related projects in the UK over the next three years. And that’s the other reason to be hopeful on the ‘scaling up’ story – the huge amount of community-level activism the length and breadth of the country.
So does it matter that the government has shown zero leadership on sustainable development since the day it was elected? Of course it does – so much else could be happening if they even started to get their act together.
Happily, however, there’s no shortage of people with both the vision and the energy to get on and make things happen elsewhere.
Source: Forum for the future