Of course climate change is a much bigger issue and I have only scratched the surface of the subject today. But even the longest and most complicated journey starts with a single step.

I am delighted to welcome you here today. I know how busy you are and the very fact that you are here means that you also gave up a day of your time during the course of the year to join a “Seeing is Believing” visit and to write me a report on what you saw and did as a result.

I still find it amazing it's fifteen years why I felt I had to do something about the things I see. It's the bain of my office's existence. You do want to do something about it and many things are relatively simple and don't need vast amounts of money; for example secondments can make a fantastic difference to people who are struggling and I know that KPMG are particularly good at this. But each and every one of you has reassured me that the reason I started this Programme fifteen years ago remains as relevant today as it did then. All I felt was that if you allow people such as yourselves to see with their own eyes some of the issues facing communities around the country then, with all your experience, skills and insight, you and the companies for which you work could make a real difference. And all of you in this room have proved this to be the case. And you might be interested to know that 4,000 business leaders have now been on such visits and Ian Russell, the chief executive of Scottish Power, is now chairing the very active Alumni Network.

You have just heard from Sly Bailey, the Chief Executive of Trinity Mirror, about the effect that the Seeing is Believing visit she led had on her and I was most interested to read the report written by Roger Alton, the Editor of The Observer after his visit to Brixton Prison and Kid's Company with Miss Bailey. He said:

“It was a transforming experience, personally and professionally. Behind the appearance of criminality and society's subsequent exclusion, lie so many stories of decency, dignity and human worth. The struggle is to bring that to the fore, and it was marvellous, shaming and rewarding to come across a few individuals trying to do that.”

And by the way, if any of you wonder if your efforts are appreciated, let me just tell you something about Kids' Company which, as those of you will know who visited it, is run by a remarkable lady called Camila Batmanghelidjh. She has been struggling for nearly a decade to keep her unique service for excluded youngsters open – it's been a significant struggle I can assure you, I've been there – and she hosted many “seeing is believing” visits. This is what she wrote to me after the Budget this last March: “We heard this week that the Government will be giving us a grant of £3.4 million over three years. Kids' Company would not have lasted for nine years and helped thousands of children had it not been for the amazing support we received from the business people involved in Business in the Community.”

Eamonn Gilmore, from whom you heard a moment ago is, if I may say so, testament to the extraordinary effect which companies can have on the lives of homeless people as well. You can give them the ability, quite literally, to break out of a terrifying trap into which too many fall as a result of circumstances beyond their control. Thanks to the personal leadership of John Varley at Barclays, 675 homeless people have been offered a two-week work placement and the chance to start again. You might be interested to know that Eamonn spoke at a gathering of Members of Parliament which I had about eighteen months ago and I can tell you that his courage moved them all and I am just so delighted to see how well he is doing.

It was equally encouraging to hear from Gary Philips, the Headteacher of Lillian Bayliss School, whom I met when we ran last year's Entente Cordiale visit led by EDF Energy, just what a difference companies have made in raising the achievement of the children in his school. The role of business in raising educational standards is somewhat close to my heart and I am delighted that Bob Wigley of Merrill Lynch, who has done such special work in Osmani Primary School in Tower Hamlets, has agreed to take on the chairmanship of the Education Leadership Team.

And we are now expanding our “Partners in Leadership” programme which has, until now, focussed largely on pairing business leaders with headteachers. Following a series of “Seeing is believing” visits to prisons last year led by Rod Eddington of British Airways, we now have seven companies twinned with the senior management teams of the seven main London prisons – with the interested support of the Home Office….

If you really want to see what other companies and communities have achieved by working together then I do urge you to read the new publication about which Sir Stuart Hampson spoke a moment ago. It shows that whether in urban or rural areas with a little bit of thought you can make a substantial and positive impact.

So I hope that what all this proves is that each of you is in a unique position to make a difference, but if any of you are still wondering what more you can do to help, why not for instance become a mentor to a business started up with the help of my Prince's Trust? Martina Milburn, the chief executive of my Trust, is here today and would be only too willing to put you in touch with a young business that needs your help. After 21 years BiTC has helped start over 60,000 new businesses. Quite a lot write to me and I always write back, and it makes you feel really quite proud. Mentoring can be quite rewarding.

So, while I have such an influential audience held captive here, I can't resist taking the opportunity to say something regarding another issue about which all of you are, I am sure and I hope, concerned, and that is climate change. This is one area, of course, where the ‘seeing is believing' approach lets me down. I only wish I could show you examples of climate change as graphic as those you have seen on various social issues on your visits with this programme. But perhaps I can fall back on reporting the views of the vast majority of the scientific community who have looked at this subject. Based on their research, when the Prime Minister spoke on this subject to my Business and Environment Programme 10th Anniversary gathering last Autumn he said that climate change was the biggest long-term sustainability issue facing us all. For what it's worth, I believe he is right. So the question then is what are we going to do about it? Clearly this subject is going to continue to get an airing at a political level, and especially this year while the UK holds the Presidency of the G8 and the EU. But a challenge of this magnitude requires a co-ordinated response, based on actions, across every sector of society, and the role of the business community is going to be critical.

Following the Prime Minister's talk, my Business and Environment programme established a ‘Corporate Leaders Group' on climate change. This comprises fourteen of the United Kingdom's (and in some cases the world's) largest companies. They are now in the process of finalizing their report. Now I don't want to steal their thunder by talking in detail about their recommendations, but I can safely say that anyone who thinks that major businesses are either complacent or reluctant to engage with the issue is in for a surprise. On the contrary, the group will offer to support the Government in strengthening UK policy, to increase substantially their own investment in low carbon technologies and services, and to work in partnership with the Government in providing leadership on climate change as an issue, with the British public, with other UK businesses and with international businesses. The role they are offering to play is highly strategic – essentially helping to create a political space in which effective policies can be introduced and global progress can be achieved.

And obviously this is immensely encouraging, but it raises the question if I may say so of how all of you, and indeed all the other members of Business in the Community, will respond to the lead set by this group?

Business in the Community's Environment Index, which was started ten years ago and which some of you will have completed, has given us the evidence of how companies are increasingly measuring and managing their environmental impact. It includes a substantial section asking companies how they manage their response to climate change and I have to say that the answers provide a somewhat mixed picture. Between 2002 and 2004 the number of companies which were unable to demonstrate any improvement in reducing carbon dioxide emissions fell from 30 per cent to just under 20 per cent. This is progress. And there was also an encouraging improvement in the number of companies who measure and publicly report their climate change data, and in those who set and report targets. But – and it is a big but - the number of companies who can show an improvement in reducing carbon dioxide emissions over three to five years has fallen considerably - from just under 40 per cent to just over 25 per cent. It is also interesting that every single company participating in the Index listed climate change as one of their top five environmental issues and areas of risk.

So, it seems to me that awareness of climate change is no longer the problem, at least for the larger companies that make up the bulk of the entries to the Index. The focus now I think probably has to be on specific actions and this is where I would like, if I may, to enlist your help. Would you be willing for instance to run a workshop on the issues for your own company and others, but particularly including those small and medium sized businesses that find it so difficult to work out what to do on these longer-term, less visible issues? To give you just two examples of what has happened already, Boots have run energy management workshops for fifty-five companies and Severn Trent joined forces with the UK Climate Impact Programme to run a workshop on assessing climate change risks and responses for another nineteen companies. There will also be workshops on these subjects at Business in the Community's National Environment conference this year.

If we can create a whole wave of such practical workshops across the UK, matched by an effective public education programme – again on practical issues such as energy efficiency – and an enhanced programme of technical innovation, I believe we might begin to make a real difference. Anything from only boiling the water that you need in a kettle, switching off lights at night-time and not having the television on stand-by. There would also, I believe, be commercial advantages for British business in getting ahead of the game in this way. Some of you may remember the problems of the ozone layer which surfaced about twenty years ago. The initial reaction from the usual suspects (by which I mean some of the Trade Associations and their lobbyists) was to say that there wasn't a problem, or if there was it would be much too expensive to do anything about it. Yet, as the evidence of the problem mounted, and the Montreal Protocol came into force, some companies were much quicker than others to start working on effective alternatives to the ozone-depleting chemicals and gained a significant ‘first-mover advantage'. And – twenty years later – there is evidence that the hole in the ozone layer is beginning to mend.

Of course climate change is a much bigger issue and I have only scratched the surface of the subject today. But even the longest and most complicated journey starts with a single step. So I hope each one of you might take just one practical, action-oriented step on this issue, with your own and other companies. And I know that there will be plenty of advice available on how you might to do this.

You will be pleased to know that I have nearly come to the end, but just before I do I want to say farewell to someone who's played an important part in the programme. Emma Latham, who has run the “Seeing is Believing Programme” with enormous commitment and quiet efficiency for the last five years is moving on to pastures new and, on behalf of all of us, I just wanted to say a heartfelt thank you and send her our warmest good wishes for the future.

And hear endeth The Fifteenth Lesson!