I am very grateful to Sir Mike Rake for those incredibly kind words which I much appreciate. Particularly as I have been going round this week, all round the country, I kept coming across more and more BT employees everywhere so I have probably destroyed any productivity rate that BT have ever had. For which I apologise, but it does show how important companies like BT are in helping to get the message across about something like START, so I am hugely grateful to Mike Rake and all of BT and others who have sponsored this whole exercise.
And I do particularly want to thank Tim, for his marvellous role and contribution in all this probably since God knows when this morning! And it is very impressive that the technology all worked. I am hugely impressed by all that.
But I really wanted to, if I may, to start by congratulating everyone involved in those presentations. I do have some idea of how hard you have all worked to decide what you would put forward, and clearly you have given a huge amount of thought to all this, and given us an awful lot to think about. I can imagine how difficult it must have been to stand up in front of all these people here, and say what you did, but it was very impressive indeed. Judging by the standard you have set today, I feel very heartened that the business community of tomorrow is going to be in good hands. That’s the great thing.
I also want to congratulate everyone who has been involved in putting together this Working Towards a Smarter Future event. This collaboration between Business in the Community, Sustainability West Midlands, Smarter Working West Midlands, BT, Think Tank and my Mayday Network has provided us with an immense amount of food for thought about the future we all want, and how we can work together to achieve it.
But, ladies and gentlemen, let’s be clear that if we are going to have much of a future at all on this planet we do need to start doing things differently. Not just a bit differently, or differently when we feel like it, but very differently, all the time. The fact is that the way we and countless millions of others are living our lives today is changing the Earth’s climate, perhaps irreversibly. I am always intrigued by the number of people who try to deny that there is any evidence of this. It always intrigues me – I always wonder where people seem to think that greenhouse gases go? I mean, do they escape rather conveniently through a little hole in the atmosphere and vanish happily into space? And the trouble is, of course, that with the amount of gases that we are producing, it is becoming very difficult for nature’s ability to absorb all the extra CO2 to cope, whether it is the oceans or whatever. And so they have now become saturated, they have become more acidic.
And interestingly, I was at the British Antarctic Survey Offices in Cambridge two years ago, and there you can see the icicle samples that they have taken from the Antarctic at huge depths which have revealed that – once you plot out the graph of CO2 – you can go back a million years.
And intriguingly, of course, the start of all this the signs of CO2 build up coincided with the industrial revolution. So that is why it seems to me to be so important to initiate a sustainability revolution.
So we are consuming the natural resources that sustain us at a rate that cannot continue for long. Put simply, we are – right now – causing serious damage to our own life support systems, and time is running out, this is the problem, to do something about it.
As some of you may know, I am coming towards the end of a solid week of chugging around the country – and, in case you are wondering about this, it is all being done in a train powered entirely by biodiesel made from astonishingly eco-efficient used cooking oil. And it is all part of the START project being run by my charities, with the support of a number of major companies, including, of course, BT.
START is not about telling people how awful things are, nor about telling them what they must stop doing, or need to avoid. It’s about showing everyone, in a straightforward and, I hope, inspiring way, the things they can start doing, one step at a time, which will not only improve their lives, but also help our one and only inhabitable planet to sustain us all. Yes, our one and only inhabitable planet.
So, what we have seen here today sets a great example of the thinking that underpins START.
Now as those of you here and in London, who have been involved in my MayDay network know only too well, I have been trying for a very long time, to demonstrate that the real starting point is to recognise a rather staggering fact, so obvious that we might miss it.
Nature has been sustaining all of life for millions of years and although we have developed some pretty amazing technology, nature’s technology is actually the most brilliant technology of all. If you think about it for a moment, nature never grows short of energy, she never produces toxic waste, she never eats into her reserve so that next time round she has less to work with. Nature’s system works productively in a balanced, durable way, year after year after year.
As I say, our technology is also rather brilliant. Here I am in Birmingham, being linked to those of you in London and with all of the Mayday companies who are watching this from the Internet. The technology that makes this possible is becoming ever smarter and more intuitive all the time.
It is incredibly dynamic and we need to keep driving its capability, pushing the boundaries of what we can do with it to help us create better lives and livelihoods, and cleaner, more sustainable solutions for our homes, businesses and schools. And that’s the point I want to make, if I may. Let’s think about how these extraordinary developments in human technology can better mimic the best technology of all. How can we start to develop techniques and systems that do what Nature does, using energy the way she does, operating within the same kind of virtuous circles, where waste is reduced to a minimum and where we end up living off what Nature produces, rather than eating so voraciously into her vital capital reserves?
This is already happening in many fields, and the aim of START is to show people what is possible. I would urge you for example, to take a look at the kind of technology coming out of something called “Biomimicry” which is a blend of zoology and engineering – learning from nature’s systems and mimicking them. But can we go further? I certainly hope so.
All the predictions are that if we stand a change of containing global warming then we have to achieve dramatic reductions in the amount of greenhouse gases we produce. At the moment, for every dollar of wealth we produce we emit 770 grams of CO2, but by 2050 that has to have dropped to just 6 grams. And after that, if we wish the developing world to achieve Western income levels, we will have to make sure that for every dollar of wealth we produce we take carbon out of the atmosphere. Our technology and our outlook have to be focussed on that necessity, but technology alone will not achieve the sort of shift that is required. We have to apply our dynamic imagination to improving the way we see our place within Nature’s system – and that includes developing the sort of economic system that works without eroding Nature’s capacity to endure.
Now in a moment, I will tour the Think Tank and I am very much looking forward to seeing the Smethwick steam engine designed by James Watt and built in 1779. That technology started a revolution that swept the world, changing things for ever. What I am calling for here, today, is the need for us to start another revolution – a sustainability revolution, and it is clear to me that technology - and a particularly communications technology – must be at the heart of it.
I’m sure I am not the only one here, or in London, who will dimly remember life before mobile phones or even fax machines. It’s amazing that there was a life before! The pace of change since those not so distant days has accelerated to the point where many of us here today communicate, learn, do business and relax in ways that would have been completely incomprehensible only a few years ago. We have developed incredible ways of communicating, but we must also think carefully about what it is we are going to communicate with all this wonderful technology. It offers real hope. We have never faced a crisis as grave as the one the confronts humanity today, but nor have we had such tools at our disposal to understand and communicate the many things we can all start to do differently, to find our way through.
That is why I am so excited by the achievements of my Mayday network. It was established by Business in the Community and now comprises more than 2,600 businesses, all united in the simple belief that collaboration and leadership are essential in tackling climate change effectively. This is a largely virtual network, achieving real change on the ground. But it is doing so based on the imperative that we have to start doing things, not just differently, but very differently indeed.
We began the network with four themes of “engage”, “manage”, “reduce” then “measure and report.” And this year I am delighted to say that “transform” has been added to the list, because transformation is the best way of describing what we all need to start doing next.
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you have enjoyed being here today as much as I have and that you will continue to support START in its mission of getting everyone – and I do mean everyone – to start taking positive steps to re-frame our collective outlook on the way the world really works and our place within it. Then we might build the kind of world we all want to live in – and leave behind for our children. It really is that simple, but it is that important.
And now I will hand over to Stephen Howard and Philip Green – who seem to be fast becoming the Ant and Dec of Business in the Community events! – to explain rather more about the Mayday to START journey.
Now part of the problem is that, as we all know, getting started really is the hardest step. Let me give you just one example from my own experience.
A few years ago I began to start thinking seriously about the amount of travelling I was doing. People kindly ask me to attend all sorts of interesting and worthwhile events, very often to make speeches like this one, and in all parts of the world. So I began to wonder whether sending a video message would be an acceptable alternative. I thought at first that it might be disrespectful, or look as though I couldn’t be bothered to turn up. But once I started, I found that actually the reaction was invariably very positive. Of course I had to get the proper equipment and learn how to get the best out of it. But now, a few years later, I send disembodied messages to all parts of the world, saving a great deal on my personal carbon budget and with the added bonus that I can contribute to rather more events than I could before.
The same technology is being used today to link us here in Birmingham with those of you in London and with all of the Mayday companies who are watching this on the Internet. But I am convinced there is much more we could start doing in this whole area. The best technology is dynamic; it’s getting smarter and more intuitive all the time. We need to keep driving its capability, pushing the boundaries and testing what it can do to help us create better lives and livelihoods, and cleaner, more sustainable solutions for our homes, businesses and schools.
In a moment I will tour the Think Tank and I am looking forward to seeing the Smethwick steam engine designed by James Watt and built in 1779. That technology started a revolution that swept the world, changing things for ever. Well, we need to start another revolution now, a sustainability revolution, and it’s clear that technology – and perhaps particularly communications technology – will be at its heart.
I’m sure I am not the only one here, or in London, who will dimly remember life before mobile phones or even fax machines (I can see a few puzzled young faces – what on earth is a fax machine?!). The pace of change since those distant days has been accelerating steadily, to the point where many of us here today communicate, learn, relax and do business in ways that would have been incomprehensible only a few years ago. That can be unnerving, of course, but I believe it also offers real hope. We have never faced a crisis as grave as the one that confronts humanity today, but nor have we had such tools at our disposal to communicate the many things we can all start to do differently, to find our way through.
I also want to mention my Mayday Network established by Business in the Community and now comprising more than 2,600 businesses united in the simple belief that collaboration and leadership are essential in tackling climate change effectively. This is a largely virtual network, achieving real change on the ground. But here too the imperative to start doing things not just differently but very differently indeed has been accepted. We began the network with four themes of ‘engage’, ‘manage’, ‘reduce’ and ‘measure and report’. This year I am delighted to say that ‘transform’ has been added to the list, because transformation is the best way of describing what we all need to start doing next.
Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you have enjoyed being here today as much as I have and that you will continue to support START in its mission of getting everyone – and I do mean everyone – to start taking positive steps to build the kind of world we all want to live in, and leave behind for our children. It really is that simple, and that important. And now I will hand over to Stephen Howard and Philip Green, who seem to be fast becoming the Ant and Dec of Business in the Community events!, to explain rather more about the Mayday to START journey.