Well Ladies and Gentlemen, I don’t really know what to say after all that. I am grateful to Stephen for those incredibly kind words. The trouble is that so often I am following on from what Stephen has said and he says it all so brilliantly and so articulately that I hesitate to say anything else, he has said it all for me! I am intrigued by the video that was shown, because it is slightly alarming that I seem to have worn nothing but the same tie for the past 25 years! Ladies and Gentlemen, I suppose that this evening really is a celebration of twenty-five years of meddling, interfering and generally aggravating as many people as possible! Julia Cleverdon, in her wonderfully generous and straightforward way, calls it mobilising! Whatever it is, it has actually taken years off my life...!
But, now my turn to thank all of you, Ladies and Gentlemen, for responding to the challenge and for making the whole difference, the whole difference to so many people’s lives, and their communities, and for demonstrating that responsible business is more “profitable” in every sense of the word.
And for me it is wonderful to see so many people from all the different organisations that I have worked with over the years sitting with us this evening because, as I said to some of the PT ambassadors this afternoon, some of whom are sitting here now, you are the future. The fact that we have been able to help you is entirely due to wonderful supporters from the private sector as well as some from the public sector, so this does provide me with an opportunity to say how deeply appreciative I am of all your support.
And this evening is also an opportunity to thank people like Stephen O’Brien, who for some unknown reason sidled up to me so many years ago along with one or two others and asked if I would take on the Presidency of Business in the Community. In those days there was something called the One Per Cent Club - brave souls, business leaders, who really helped to start the whole effort. I said, “Are you sure you want me?” and he very rashly said “Yes” and that is how I became involved. It does provide me with an opportunity just to pay tribute to Stephen O’Brien and Julia Cleverdon and to Stephen Howard for the incredible role they have played in all this. And to all the other people who have actually tried to put everything into practice. When I am standing here in the Albert Hall with so many of you, I can’t believe how it has grown to this extent.
I would also like to pay tribute to the nine chairman of Business in the Community that I have known, because they have been absolutely crucial in all this. All the memos they’ve endured from me what Julia for some reason insists on calling black spider memos I thought I was writing rather well!
All of these memos were probably rather hopeful in my case like sending messages to Father Christmas up the chimney! - but occasionally some have been acted on so I am very grateful for that.
It’s rather special for me that tonight’s gala dinner is taking place here, in this world famous hall. The Royal Albert Hall, named after my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather was built, as Stephen Fry said, along with the museums which adorn the South Kensington estate, out of the profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851 the brainchild of Prince Albert. Prince Albert wanted an exhibition that would demonstrate to people all the wonders of the modern world; that would celebrate the advances of the industrial age. Speaking at the launch, which took place at the Royal Society of Arts, Prince Albert said that the Great Exhibition, if nothing else, would be: “a new starting point from which all nations would be able to direct their further exertions.”
Now, of course, we have begun to see or I hope we have begun to see! that the particular model of industrialisation we have adopted needs a bit of reviewing and reforming along with the current paradigm of economics in light of the huge and growing threats to our existence, let alone to the successful functioning of Nature’s delicate balance. In other words, we must put Nature back at the centre of what needs to be a virtuous circle. To be genuinely sustainable, we need a fresh approach but the trouble is few people know where to begin. So, some four or five years ago I felt we needed to take a leaf out of my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather’s book, only that back then, four or five years ago no-one really wanted to know. However, things have moved on and so now, in an echo of the Great Exhibition, I am launching something called simply Start. While the Great Exhibition hailed the benefits of the Industrial Revolution, Start will extol the virtues of a Sustainability Revolution. It will show people the technologies, techniques and principles that exist now, which will not only improve our lives, but will also help the planet sustain us all by operating more in harmony with Nature’s processes and cycles than against them, which is currently the case. It will neither lecture nor hector but, instead, will demonstrate and explain, in ways that everyone can understand and using everyday language. We have created partnerships with some of the country’s well-known household names, including Asda, EDF, B&Q and M&S, Waitrose, Addison Lee, Virgin Money, BT and a consortium of water companies convened by Philip Green from United Utilities as well as non-government organisations and charities. We have also persuaded advertising agencies to help create a campaign which will finally explain to people that a green future can be a positive future.
For most businesses, I suspect the first step they take towards sustainability is about getting their own houses in order, whether driven by the beliefs and interest of internal employees, or more frequently now as a result of pressure from external stakeholders be they shareholders, consumers, the press or their customers.
It is precisely because this is the typical entry point for the majority of businesses that BITC’s Mayday Network was so necessary and has such a large membership, as it has provided a structure and framework to help focus attention on the most important issues and a means to share learning so that businesses can accelerate their achievements in cutting their carbon footprints. What membership of the Network also leads organisations towards is the next step of the journey, which is about the wider sphere of influence they have and the substantial difference they can make by influencing their customers. For a company like B&Q, for example, reducing the number of trips their lorry fleet makes is an important change to make, but the impact of persuading half a million of their customers to insulate their homes effectively is many, many times greater.
This is where Start comes in. Start is the public-facing initiative that mirrors the Mayday Network as the business-facing initiative, and picks up the baton of the Mayday commitments to influence consumers as key stakeholders. The objectives of both are the same to stimulate behavioural change in the U.K. in order to reduce our society’s impact on the world around us and to make our lifestyle sustainable into the far future.
The goal of Start is to take all of the negative and complex language that is typically used to explain these issues, and to replace it with simple, positive messages about actions we can all take to live more sustainable lives. It is also to take the depressing future choices which are laid out for us either the destruction of the world around us, or the loss of our lifestyle and replace them with inspiring ideas for what a better, more sustainable future could be, showing how interesting and exciting sustainable innovation is. We seem to assume that a more sustainable future must be a worse one, when actually there is no reason why it shouldn’t be far better and much more enjoyable. And as businesses know only too well, people are far more likely to act when tempted towards an outcome they desire than when forced away from something they are trying to avoid.
One of the challenges with the process management and costcutting which carbon footprint reduction involves is that in year one, results are significant and the people in the organisation feel motivated to rise to the task. Inevitably, in year two the savings are harder to come by and the overall percentage achieved tends to reduce, and even more so by year three. I suspect that this can feel like walking into an ever narrowing funnel where your room for manoeuvre is more and more restricted and you have less and less choices available to you. However, I would have thought that businesses at this stage in their journey actually have an unrivalled chance they have enough knowledge and momentum to allow them really to embrace sustainability as an engine for innovation and growth and, when used in this way, suddenly the funnel opens up again into a world of opportunities. Just as showing the public a positive picture of a more sustainable future is so much more likely to generate behavioural change, so approaching sustainability as a means of creating opportunities for business and of stimulating innovation is a powerful mechanism for engagement and growth. Interestingly, we should perhaps be paying attention to South Korea’s “Green Growth” strategy as its ambition puts many other countries to shame the goal being to take South Korea’s existing industrial strengths and translate them into green equivalents.
The experience of working with the private sector over the past twenty-five years has convinced me that it holds the key to the future. Why? Because, apart from anything else, so many companies have turnovers far larger than the economies of many countries; they increasingly control what is left of our water, our agricultural produce, our fish stocks, our trees and forests and the source of our energy and fuel. And because of the immense and frightening challenges we face in terms of the currently unsustainable and dangerous pressures on Nature’s vital ecosystems Nature’s own economy or Natural Capital the previously convenient situation has changed dramatically, to the point where the private sector must now shoulder a burden of responsibility it has never had for the continued protection and enhancement of those ecosystems without which there will be no future business nothing but escalating conflict over scarce resources, vast movements of displaced people whose livelihoods have been destroyed and a consequent threat to your current business model. This is precisely why I have been badgering you all, interfering incessantly in a busybodying way and, no doubt, driving you all to distraction for so long! If you are insane enough to want me to continue as President of BITC then you must, I am afraid, help me create the biggest and most effective Global, Responsible, Business Alliance ever known to man but an alliance that works in effective partnership with the public sector, the NGO sector and communities all around the globe. Globalized business must now mean global responsibility at the local level in order to maintain both Natural capital and community capital for the future. Will you all then help me to achieve this so that in twenty-five years from now (if I am still alive and there is anything left to sustain all of us!), we can look back with some degree of pride that such a partnership with such an alliance did in the end prove to be the catalyst for saving our and our grandchildren’s future? Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen.