I have heard a great deal from Ray Morgan about these amazing activities in Woking, and how he has been leading the way in so many of these different areas of sustainable activities, so I wanted to try and bring a few more people to learn from examples of best practice here. I have had a most enjoyable morning, looking round the shopping centre and causing total disruption!
I really couldn’t be more delighted that you are all going to see Al Gore’s film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. I saw it several months ago and found myself profoundly affected by it. I have known Al Gore for many years. I met him over 20 years ago in Washington and he and I are exactly the same age – a very good vintage 1948! – and I greatly admire his commitment to environmental issues, maintained through times when – as I know only too well myself - such issues were far from fashionable and a positive handicap for anyone in public life!
In fact, we both produced personal statements on the environment as long ago as 1990, with remarkably similar titles. Al very kindly took the risk of being associated with my film documentary for the BBC, called ‘Earth in Balance’. And he was equally articulate and thoughtful in his own book, ‘Earth in the Balance’ which appeared just a little later (as I keep reminding him!).
A hundred years ago, at a time when your predecessors were industriously developing Woking as a major town on the relatively new railway line, few people would have thought that, as well as contributing to this country’s vital economic engine, their activities might also be damaging our planet’s life support system. Indeed, anyone who said as much would have been laughed at.
But over the ensuing hundred years the evidence has emerged, bit by awful bit, to the point where no thinking person can be in any doubt whatsoever about the nature and scale of the damage that we – yes we – are causing. That does not make the message any more palatable, which is perhaps why the film you are going to see is called ‘An Inconvenient Truth’.
The question is what are we going to do about it? I know this is a difficult question at the best of times and that many of you who run the small and medium sized enterprises that are the backbone of this country’s economy have quite enough on your plate already. But this really is a challenge for everyone, both in our private and professional lives. And there are many business opportunities to be had from taking action to tackle climate change. The Stern Report said that the potential global market for low-carbon technologies is an estimated £350 billion a year. And here in the United Kingdom, a recent Government report indicated that the Environmental Goods and Services sector, which comprises around 17,000 companies, has an estimated turnover of over £25 billion – and this is a figure predicted to increase to £46 billion by 2015.
The Government’s recent Climate Change Bill highlights the importance of carbon accounting, and this will be an issue which will be of increasing importance for all businesses, large and small. My own Accounting for Sustainability project, which I launched in December last year, is developing ways to help business leaders make the right decisions based on the real full-life social and environmental costs of what they do.
But the speed of change is not yet quick enough. And it is to force the pace that I have asked Business in the Community, of which I have been President for the last 22 years, to stage a May Day Business Summit on Climate Change. And this is a Summit with a difference. Whilst there will be a gathering at St. James’s Palace, which I will attend, there will be simultaneous regional events at which business leaders will come together and share their experience on measuring their carbon emissions, minimizing them and then mobilizing their customers, suppliers and employees to do the same.
We are going to use the wonders of modern technology to link the events together and I hope this way we can make a real impact. We are working in partnership with the Carbon Trust together with some of the best environmental experts and Opinion Leader Research, and I only hope that one or two of you might be represented at the regional Summit which is being held in Reading. You will soon be receiving invitations – I’m warning you!
But, meanwhile, if you leave with just two thoughts today, that would be a very good start. The first is that doing nothing is not an option. I think you will find that the film will make that point more strongly than I possibly could. The second is that we can – very easily - each do something. I understand the pressures that your businesses have to contend with, but asking questions of yourselves, your staff and your suppliers about the carbon impacts of your products and services will make a difference.
Of course, when faced with an issue as huge and awful as climate change there is a tendency to look for equally huge technological advances that will solve the problems at a stroke. But Woking has already set an impressive example as a Local Authority making a big difference by just looking at energy issues in a different way. It does take real leadership and Ray Morgan, the chief executive of the Council, has demonstrated this in a most remarkable way. The measures he has spearheaded have led to an 82 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions in Woking on 1990 levels – this is a truly astonishing feat, and it should give us all inspiration.
Perhaps there are things in your own businesses that might produce similar results. Sometimes it can be as easy as ensuring all the lights in your offices are switched off at night, that you use low-energy light bulbs and that the computers and other electrical equipment you use are switched off and not simply left on stand-by. Or unplugging your mobile phone charger when it’s not in use. These are easier, more immediate actions that can make a substantial difference – if we can tick off the easier ones to achieve we can make a good start.
You can make a difference if you decide to do so, and I hope you will – because, for me, the lesson of the film you are about to see is that we are all in this together, and that the fate of our civilization quite literally hangs on our response. If I have grand-children one day, and I hope I do, I don’t want them saying to me, “Why didn’t you do something when it was possible to make a difference?” Already – hearing in the seminar we had earlier today – people were saying that their children were much more aware of all the measures that need to be taken then their parents. That is why we are doing this – we are doing it for those that come after us. That’s why it really matters and why I have minded for so long. I hope you’ll see the point of it when you see this film.
We can do it ladies and gentlemen – just think what they did in the last war, when things were getting desperate. All sorts of unlikely, impossible solutions were found, almost overnight. I leave you all to enjoy the film.