Building Back Better and Greener

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Thank you to everyone who joined us for last week’s #JerichoConversations on Business Life After the Virus: A Greener Future. We asked: for all the talk about a New Green Deal and a post-COVID Green Industrial Revolution, is anything actually going to change? We all want to #BuildBackBetter (apparently) so what are we going to do about it?

Is the great energy transition underway? Can it be accelerated? Should polluters pay? And what future for nuclear as we move towards Net Zero? And what will we change – as business leaders and as citizen consumers?

Provocateur Mike Barry; former Director of Sustainable Business at M&S, opened the session by addressing some crucial points – summarised below:

Why now? What makes this different?

  1. We don’t listen to fact as a society – and it’s time that we did
    In 2017 the number one risk to British society was identified by the Government as a pandemic and yet when the COVID-19 crisis struck we were all looking around bemused, asking ‘how did this happen?’.

    We must not ignore the enormous risk that the climate crisis presents. Time is against us and the climate crisis will not wait. So, CEOs: while 80% of your efforts will no doubt be on survival through the current crisis, keep 20% focused on the bigger change lurking around the corner: and that is dealing with the climate emergency.

  2. We are coming to the end of a macro-economic cycle
    A 40-year cycle that began in the 1980s, ending now in 2020 – book-ended by Regan and Thatcher and now Trump and Johnson. Neo-liberal globalisation was all about making sure that the market had a settlement with society and with government that in return for growth in jobs, consumption and prosperity for many (but not all) they would get light regulation and tax.

    We now see that this cycle has to come to an end: environmentally, in terms of the climate crisis; politically, in terms of populism and the rise of nationalism; and of course socially with COVID. Globalisation has run its course and a new system has to emerge.

    Trying to change during a cycle, like the one we’ve just seen, is difficult as everyone is stuck in the ‘good old way of doing things’, no one is willing to diverge from the orthodoxy. Only through the horrors of a crisis such as COVID have we been afforded the opportunity to step back and assess and recreate the society we want to see.

  3. Issues have been exposed for all to see
    COVID has exposed the ‘just in time’ model of Globalisation. Not just in terms of supply chains but also within our health care systems and education. Our whole way of life was predicated on the system running smoothly and to the minute. Spare capacity and resilience have been sacrificed on the alter of efficiency.

    For the first time, many of our leaders who have grown up only knowing good things have seen just how quickly our economy can be brought to its knees. COVID has hibernated our way of life but the climate change unleashed and unchecked will destroy it entirely.

  4. Citizen desire for better
    Wherever you look, the research shows that we don’t want to go back to the old way. People don’t want to go back to business as usual and want to explore, with the political class and with business leaders, what a new future looks like.
  5. Solutions are emerging
    Even before COVID struck, practical, better and indeed aspirational solutions to the old ways of doing things were emerging. Solar, wind and battery storage were replacing coal. Electric vehicles displacing the internal combustion engine. Citizens exploring a plant-based diet. For the first time the products and services out there combine what’s good for consumers and for the planet.

How do we make it stick? How do we #BuildBackBetter rather than #BuildBackWorse?

  1. Corporate action is needed in partnership with government
    There are so many round robin letters signed by corporates calling on government to #buildbackbetter. But too many CEOs are still passing the buck. We need practical industry decarbonisation plans led by business in partnership with government.
  2. Put a price on Carbon
    We must make the cost of polluting transparent and accountable to all participants in the marketplace. If we get a proper price on carbon, the whole economy can be shifted quite rapidly to a much better place.
  3. Better link social and environmental strategies
    While environmental plans are often ambitious (net-zero, 100% circular) they rarely talk to citizens about the benefits and realities of day-to-day life. They should be discussed in terms of jobs, growth and opportunity. Business needs to make sure that it truly does have an environmental and social ambition that work together.
  4. Put the fourth industrial revolution to good use
    COVID has crystallised a new way for us to work and there is so much power in the fourth industrial revolution to solve the problems that we have today. The genie is out of the bottle and we have to use it for good.

    #Tech4Good needs to be right at the heart of the #BuildBackBetter movement. We must prevent both corporate and state actors from using #Tech4Bad. Good and strong regulation is required to do this – we cannot leave it entirely to the marketplace.


In case you missed it, you can view the conversation on Business Life After the Virus: A Greener Future here.

If you haven’t already, you should check out Mike’s 5 Lessons for Business in Shaping a Sustainable Post COVID World and his 9 steps to being a Better Business in a post COVID world.

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