You were at The Co-operative for 18 years. What are you – and what do you think people at The Co-operative should be – proudest of from those times?
The Co-operative is at its best when it champions issues ahead of the curve. As far back as 1998, The Co-operative Bank said it would not lend to or finance fossil fuel extraction or processing.
It funded research and championed public policy intervention way ahead of most campaigning groups – around Tar Sands, Shale Gas, neonic pesticides. It funded Tyndall to do the first ever [overview] work on shale, and for that information to enter the public discourse. Today, it’s championing the global poverty agenda and making sure it doesn’t get lost in the rapid climate of little England/localism.
I’d also like to think that I’ve left The Co-operative in rude health as far as CSR and sustainability go. By hook and crook I built up one the best resourced corporate social responsibility teams out there – some forty five people and over £10million of annual budget. They also have the essentials of strong foundations and robust architecture: namely, world class sustainability accounting, auditing and reporting and a leading edge revolving three-year Ethical Operating Plan.
A cynic would say “yes, but what about the investment in Manchester Airport?”
My answer would be that many people in The Co-op were and are uncomfortable, but don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. There were a lot of heated discussions about those connections.
What challenges are there for banks/investors around the low carbon economy?
How do we get hold of the billions and billions that are needed to fund the transition. There are wonderful businesses that are doing their bit. For example, The Co-op’s one billion of lending for renewables, and its new head office that will secure the highest ever BREEAM rating. However, as a society, we need to find ways to open up the money in pension funds if we’ve any chance to unlock the necessary investment.
So, crystal ball time; it’s 2020 and we are looking back on a successful transition towards a low carbon economy. What happened in 2013 and 2014 to make it turn out so well?
The Energy Bill of 2013 will determine how serious the UK is about climate change for the next two decades. A well-constructed bill will unlocks finance and creates a revolution in community-owned schemes. Or it could go horribly wrong, with continued growth in gas and shales, which would be a disaster.
Is it too late for individuals and groups to lobby on the Energy Bill?
No, it’s not. Readers can support Friends of the Earth’s 2030 decarbonisation target. They can also support The Co-op’s call for more support for community renewables. One of the more interesting developments, towards the end of the year, is the “Energy Bill Revolution Campaign”, set up by “Taskforce UK.”
It’s trying to create momentum to tackle fuel poverty. It wants revenues from the carbon floor price and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – in the region of £4bn – to be ring-fenced to obliterate fuel poverty. Fuel poverty affects 1 in 5 people at present, and it will be 1 in three if nothing is done about it.
195 MPs have already signed the Early Day Motion, but it needs 270 by the end of the autumn. If we don’t tackle fuel poverty it allows opponents of renewables to set up a false choice: green energy or warm pensioners. Just the other day I heard the CEO of a small energy company claiming that “wind turbines are killing old people”
Transform UK isn’t just the usual suspects like Co-op Energy and Friends of the Earth, there’s also Age UK, Barnardo’s and a host of other organisations.
Now that you’ve left The Co-operative, are you slumped in front of Jeremy Kyle eating day-old pizza or do you have more productive outlets for your time and energy?
As enticing as that sounds, my days will be spent doing much the same thing as I’ve been doing – but I’ll be working with a wider range of businesses via my new Up the Ethics enterprise.
The ‘business case’ for CSR will never be strong enough to support an isolated business in its competition against the unscrupulous. The progressive vanguard reaches a point where it can advance no further in its market without rendering itself uncompetitive. That is, unless the bar for what is the allowable lowest common denominator in society is raised. With the base reset, so is the bar of aspiration.
The last thirty years have seen a hollowing out of Government across the world – together with a parallel reluctance of legislators to legislate. In order to plug this hole in societal governance, business is called on to work voluntarily and collectively to solve problems (even though this could see them prosecuted for acting like a cartel), with many politicians reduced to the role of mere award presenters. There is absolutely no way this approach can get us close to the sustainable society we know only to well we need to create. The next waves of CSR and sustainability heroes need to be (will be!) out and out campaigners. They will be brave, articulate and hark back to the great UK Victorian interventionists; the likes of Robert Owen, John Cadbury and William Lever. More significantly, they will act as a tipping point in the battle for a more sustainable economy. They will champion the Granny State – although Granny will need to be chemically enhanced with new-found powers of scientific literacy and evidence-based policy making!