Monday, 26 October 2015

Leading the city

How should cities like Bristol be lead? At present Bristol has an elected Mayor. This system is not likely to change in the short term. The government is keen on Mayors and Bristol has elections in May 2016 where the first ever elected Mayor, George Ferguson, will try to win a second term. Inevitably leadership style and qualities will be part of the debate.

We will have one individual whose job is to be the directly elected leader of Bristol, representing its citizens’ interests, leading the city council and all its services (turnover about £1billion a year). At least one advantage of the current system is ‘They know who I am and they know who to blame’ as George Ferguson himself said on the Daily Politics recently.

On the basis of the rise, in recent years, in both councillor numbers and party membership, Marvin Rees for Labour and Tony Dyer for the Greens are the top two candidates that might replace George Ferguson. It will be interesting to see if either of them say that a new law should be passed and a Bristol referendum held on whether to retain the Mayoral system (Bristol voted 53% for, 47% against on a very low turnout of just 24% in the May 2012 referendum and the turnout in the first Mayoral election in Nov 2012 was just under 28%; more here).

Given the focus on electing one person the leadership style of that person, professed and actual, is a key factor. Leadership is about having and communicating a vision, providing direction, delegating, coaching, ensuring implementation of plans and motivating people. It depends on the philosophy, personality and experience of the leader.

Different situations call for different leadership styles, consider: an emergency; a highly motivated and aligned team with a high and common level of expertise (the Mayor’s Cabinet?). Style adopted needs to be appropriate to the situation and to effectively achieve objectives and balance interests. Leaders that can adapt to suit different contexts have a distinct advantage in terms of achieving success.  

Leadership styles feature: engagement; authoritarian; participative and democratic; free-rein (or laissez-faire); narcissistic; toxic; task-oriented; and relationship oriented elements in different combinations in different individuals and contexts.

Engagement involves both leaders and those working with and for them in understanding the existing conditions, whether its government cuts, city traffic congestion, health and income inequalities, housing availability, tenants rights…and how they can collectively assist in addressing them. It means reaching out to the public, councillors, officers and others to better understand their concerns and interests and openly and honestly to provide a solid foundation for improvements. This collective approach, perhaps exemplified (?) up to a point by Mayor Ferguson’s ‘rainbow cabinet’ made up of councillors of a range of political colours, is akin to democratic or participative styles of leadership which involve sharing decision-making abilities, promoting common interests and practicing social equality.

This approach can sometimes delay decisions and a broad consensus may not always be achieved. Sometimes the consensus achieved may be rather fuzzy, vague or lowest common denominator in nature. So, under certain circumstances someone has to decide and then be held to account – Mayor Ferguson would say it was taking ‘tough’ decisions. If you have a Mayoral system then the whole point is that someone can be clearly identified as where the buck stops and responsibility cannot or should not be passed elsewhere.

The authoritarian (or autocratic) style is where decision-making is centralised and leader focused. The Mayoral system naturally leans in this direction and Bristol’s current Mayor has been accused by some of not listening to and involving people enough, certainly over issues such as residents parking schemes, selling the council’s freehold ownership of Avonmouth and Portbury docks, sacking his cabinet member Mark Bradshaw…(more here). Next years elections will test what Bristol people generally think about this.

In the extreme the authoritarian style does not entertain any suggestions or initiatives from those he or she regards as subordinates. Being authoritarian is one way of trying to strongly motivate people and it can permit quick, firm decision-making. It appeals to some people. It may be necessary in urgent situations. It does not appeal to me however and it’s sustainability is doubtful as it does not engender fairness, loyalty, ownership of decisions and using all skills available.

I don’t favour authoritarianism as a general rule but I do want clear, fair leadership, so free-rein or laissez-faire approaches don’t appeal to me either. With this style there may be a leadership position but it does not provide leadership, leaving the system, such as it is, to fend for itself with little or no guidance or rules. Those that could be working with and for the leader and team decide their own policies and methods. They might, given the lack of direction or encouragement be self-motivated to be creative and innovative. They might be the complete opposite. Different people or teams may take different, conflicting, confusing, incoherent approaches – not good for genuinely solving problems.

Authoritarian and free-rein leadership styles are particularly prone becoming narcissistic, where the priority is the leader themselves - at the expense of their people/team/problem-solving. Negative characteristics such as: arrogance, dominance and a range of hostility levels, are a feature here. Mayor Ferguson has been and will be accused, rightly or wrongly, of at least some these (one of the factors in a Mayoral system is that the person elected is likely to promote themselves a lot, as in much of politics, not least in the attempt to be re-elected). This is a pretty common leadership style, driven by self-absorption, ego, power and desire for admiration.

There is always the risk of leadership being or becoming toxic. This is when having responsibility over a group of people or an organization goes badly wrong (more likely if the style of leadership is consistently authoritarian or free rein or narcissistic or perhaps lurching between these three, not an uncommon occurrence). Abuses of the leader–follower relationship occur and the group or organization – or the city - are left in a worse condition than when he/she began to lead. The 2016 Mayoral election enables voters to give their verdict on the Mayors policies, leadership and its outcomes since 2012 (as well as being about policies and leadership for the future, compared with the other candidates).

We need leaders/leadership able to employ a number of styles depending on the context, whilst generally adopting an engaging, participative, democratic approach. This is the way to be focussed on both the tasks and the relationships at hand when leading. This means balancing: focus on the jobs to be done and relevant interactions amongst people; producing solutions, meeting goals, deadlines and target outcomes, whilst staying active on peoples’ general wellbeing and satisfaction; emphasising the value of good communication, trust, confidence and appreciation for efforts. That’s my take on good leadership for Bristol.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Green Arena for a Green Capital

Focus on the Bristol Arena and related issues, such as transport plans, has become much sharper as the pre-planning application consultation approaches (mid Sept 2015).  We need a Green Arena that fits with the aspirations Bristol has as EU Green Capital 2015 (please sign and share the e-petition on this here). To achieve a Green Arena the principles below should be applied:

There should be a pro-active, fully inclusive approach towards informing and genuinely involving the public, especially in the vicinity of the development, at all stages. This should include the overall development, plans, adapted plans, construction and ongoing feedback after construction and into the operation of the Arena and associated features.

A broad range of development performance measures should be adopted, social, economic and environmental, and these should be regularly assessed, published and subject to public scrutiny. Performance measures such as: the proportion of Arena and associated development users not travelling there by car; the quality of the air in and around the Arena site as indicated by on-site monitoring stations; the proportion of resources used that were obtained from local sources; number of local people employed and the fairness of their pay.

The development should maximise the availability of a diverse mix of facilities and services, integrated well and using local people, local businesses and resources.

The ability to walk and cycle to, from and around the Arena area and key routes to and from it should be the top priority and should be maximised. Use of integrated public transport systems to access the area should also be a high priority. Essential car users such as disable people and the emergency services also need a high priority. There should be minimum provision for cars, except for essential users, as more cars would add to an already congested and polluted city.

Green, open spaces should be integrated into the development in an optimised way and specially designed to benefit biodiversity, human health, efficiency and the reduction of noise, light and air pollution – as well as enhancing the overall quality of the experience of using the Arena area.

The Arena and all associated developments should conform to the highest possible social and environmental standards in all respects, using innovative low carbon and low waste designs and systems, energy saving and local renewable energy generation technologies.

A total, ecosystem style, joined up approach to managing people and resources should be adopted by the Arena and associated developments, based on a sustainability charter drawn up through cooperation with Bristol’s public as co-authors. There should be an annual report facilitating ongoing public input into site sustainability.

The Arena and associated developments should commit to being partners in enabling the provision, purchase and consumption of fresh, healthy, local foods on and around the site.

Further information on the Arena here:

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The business of going green in BS4

Bristol South needs sustainable development and has for years been neglected compared to other parts of Bristol. It was most welcome therefore to see investment projects such as Filwood Green Business Park open for business this May. What the city and country needs is very many more developments like this and even better ones - boosting local economies, creating jobs and going green. Sadly we still have a cuts focussed government, not an investment, rebuilding, sustainable development focussed one as yesterday's Budget clearly shows.

What is sustainable (or green) business though? And why is it so important? Business is about commercial organisations buying and selling. Sustainable (or green) business means the whole commercial organisation and everything it does is socially and ecologically responsible. This has been expanded on and explained in a number of ways (see here).

Descriptions offered are not always complete and objective due to vested interests however, so if you hear a business, or an individual for that matter, talking up their sustainability or green credentials test what they say. Check that they are including and explaining where they stand on these six criteria:  efficiency replacing waste; renewability and not resource squandering; living within environmental limits instead of pollution; socio-economic goals geared to wellbeing for all not more and more money for a few; this generation and those to come, the world over, getting their dues; and local community empowerment.

Truly sustainable (green) businesses should be able to demonstrate that they are: meeting local workforce needs; offering satisfying fairly paid work; using local goods and services; supporting learning and explaining sustainability; reducing inequalities and meeting basic needs; offering car free access for all; preventing poor health; reducing pollution and climate change; using energy, water and materials efficiently; protecting plants and wildlife; working healthily and safely; supporting local distinctiveness; partners in enabling peoples physical, psychological and social development; partners in involving people in decision making.

Filwood Green Business Park measures up well against a range of these criteria. Its design meets the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) Outstanding standard. It was Highly Commended at the BREEAM Awards last year, as the highest scoring industrial building in the South of England. The process used for planning the park was recognised by the Royal Town Planning Institute as an example of Planning Excellence in their 2013 Awards and ideas from local people, such as a green roof, were incorporated. Complete sustainability performance will emerge over time as the business park goes into operation.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Green space protection in Bristol

Green spaces are one of Bristol’s most valued features; one of the most obvious ways you can argue it is, in a relative sense, green. Bristol City Council Council should do all it can to maximise the protection of this finite asset, especially so given the city’s European Green Capital status. It should not permit the proposed development adjacent to Eastville Park Lake (pictured) on land that has multiple protective designations (details here; planning application 15/01870/F) if the designations are to mean something.

National planning policy has the stated aim of protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development. Building over the land pictured would damage the environment and is certainly not a sustainable development.

Many have experienced the disappearance of areas they and their friends and family once roamed around and played in. In an urban area open, green spaces are vital to sustainability and thus our health and the quality of our lives:

·         offering relief from the all too common congestion and other negative effects of development
·         providing ways of connecting with and appreciating the natural world – vital to wellbeing and to encouraging respect for nature
·         giving people a feeling of space
·         providing leisure, tourism, recreational, entertainment, sporting opportunities
·         helping to attact and keep businesses and help them to attract and retain the staff they need.

The above is not an exhaustive list.

Green spaces are vital to sustainability in that they provide key ecological and environmental function benefits:

·         storm water drainage and thus flood protection, as the land soaks up, temporarily stores and then gradually releases rain
·         taking carbon dioxide (and other pollutants) from the air and thus helping to fight climate change and local air pollution
·         provision of wildlife habitat and food supply, aiding biodiversity
·         buffering people from noise pollution
·         providing naturally cooler areas, thus countering the urban heat island effect

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

Land is of course needed if we are to build a sustainable society and so not all types of green space development under all circumstances should be opposed. The council should selectively support and advocate the development of land if it clearly contributes to building the quality of life and sustainability of our neighbourhoods, communities and society by, for example:

·         making use of brownfield sites (research by UWE shows room to build 30,000 houses on Bristol brownfield sites)
·         promoting walking and cycling over motorised travel
·         providing local energy generation,
·         enhancing local food production
·         enabling waste avoidance, reuse, recycling, composting
·         boosting local skills development and small-scale local green manufacturing

This list is also not an exhaustive one.

Please support this e-petition here about prioritising the development of brownfield sites and protecting green spaces.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

All progressive MEPs should oppose TTIP

Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for the South West of England is doing excellent work opposing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the proposed trade agreement currently being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. I wrote to Molly (and all the MEPs representing the South West) expressing concerns about the increase in corporate power and the difficulties TTIP would create for governments wanting to regulate markets for economic, social and environmental benefit. I voiced concerns in particular about the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a specially created legal mechanism allowing investors to bring cases directly against countries hosting investments, without the intervention of the government(s) of the investor’s country of origin. I received a very prompt and detailed reply from her. [Almost simultaneously had a reply from the Conservatives Ashley Fox MEP, who strongly supports TTIP, shortly followed by Conservative MEP Julie Girling – as yet no reply from Labour MEP Clare Moody or UKIP MEP Julia Reid.*] Here’s the content of the Green reply, which lays out the crucial issues and indicates a very clear position opposing TTIP:
Greens agree that the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism is a threat to democratic decision-making. Corporations should not have the right to challenge democratic decisions taken in the public interest, which serve to safeguard our health, environment, social and labour standards, and much more. Corporations should not benefit from a parallel and private legal system.

As the Parliament has developed its position on TTIP, the Greens have put forward amendments arguing against ISDS in every committee. We have rejected ISDS in the strictest language, as well as arguing that our high standards in labour rights, environment, food safety and animal welfare are not negotiable. Last Wednesday the INTA (trade) committee voted on the TTIP report, which sets out the Parliament's opinion on this trade deal. The trade committee was the final committee to have its say, before all MEPs vote on this report at the plenary session in June.

Unfortunately the Socialists & Democrats group in the Parliament (S&D, where Labour MEPs sit) compromised on their earlier opposition to ISDS. Whilst publically they claim to argue against ISDS, they finally accepted a far weaker 'compromise' amendment, joining forces with the conservative EPP Group, in a move which removed any criticism of ISDS from the report. It even removed any mention of ISDS by name.

We were also disappointed by S&D members' refusal to support our crucial amendments protecting EU-wide environmental standards, which were deemed "out of scope" of this report, and were therefore not even voted on. Disappointingly, they also failed to deliver cast-iron protections for public services, in failing to take a full and coherent "positive list" approach to service liberalisation. We need to ensure that MEPs clearly reject a "service liberalisation by default" approach.

The Green members of the trade committee were shocked by the absence of a clear defence of democratic decision-making in the final report, and, because it did not explicitly oppose ISDS or prioritise the public interest, we voted against it.

Soon we will face the same battle again when the report is voted on in plenary session on the 10th June. This vote expresses the final opinion of the Parliament on the TTIP negotiations. Again, we will table amendments fighting ISDS and upholding high standards for health, environment and society.

You can count on the Green Group to vote against ISDS and to defend public services. But if we are to have a chance for a majority, we need other progressive MEPs - including those in the S&D group - to do the same. So if you wish to take any further action, I would urge you to join us in encouraging other MEPs to support our stronger amendments, rather than joining the right-wing compromise. S&D can and should take a principled and explicit stance – do not give the Commission leeway to undermine democratic decision-making and negotiate away our strong European standards. W.e need all MEPs to vote according to wishes of citizens, not corporations.

We would ask you to please email your MEPs to remind them of your opposition to TTIP. In particular, please email your Labour MEPs*, stressing to them the risks TTIP poses for the NHS; that environmental standards are indeed relevant and should not be compromised; and that ISDS is undemocratic and should be named and shamed as such. You can find out who your MEPs are, and email them directly, using the WriteToThem website:

[Done this but no reply received either from Labour or UKIP*]

Greens in the European Parliament will continue to fight against TTIP and its dangers. For more information, please see the TTIP:Beware What Lies Beneath blog.

These short films summarise the Greens concerns about TTIP:

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Making city buildings energy efficient

What is energy efficiency and why is it important? What social, behavioural and technical ways of improving it in buildings are available?

Efficiency is one of the pillars of sustainability. It means cutting waste of energy and materials. It’s about being thrifty, getting more output squeezed from every input of energy, material, effort, money, time...It means doing the same or doing more, using less.

Why have energy efficient buildings? It’s always going to be more cost-effective to save energy and be efficient than it is to generate it. Not only does it cut household bills, make public organisations money go further and increase the profitability of businesses by reducing their outgoings - it also cuts pollution rapidly, is a very good job creator, increases comfort, cuts noise levels, and can be done using materials often thrown away.

Climate changing gas emissions have, on average and over decades, fallen in the UK (some of the direct emissions at least) but still have a very long way to go to be on target and in accord with the scientific advice and the UK Climate Change Act 2008 (requiring at least an 80% cut from 1990 levels by 2050). Department of Energy and Climate Change figures clearly show that the rate of decline in emissions is slow.

Buildings use a lot of energy and 37% of UK greenhouse gas emissions comes from them (see the Committee on Climate Change on this). A large chunk of city and town eco and carbon footprint comes from buildings. Energy used in buildings largely derives from fossil fuels, which are finite, non-renewable and climate change causing.

One way to define cities is that they are built environments with large numbers of people living and working in them. A higher population leads to more buildings, which means more energy use. Buildings old and new need attention.

So, what are the factors affecting building energy sustainability? Energy use and efficiency; energy type and source; and individual and group behaviour, including management practices, are the key ones.

Some energy efficiency methods that can be used are: insulation; efficient lighting eg LED; high efficiency glass; more reuse and recycling; water saving devices and systems.

Greener energy sources include: various on-site renewable energy sources eg photovoltaic panels; ground-source heat pumps; designed-in wind turbines; combined heat and power (CHP); combined cooling, heating and power systems (CCHP).

Energy efficiency and sustainability can be improved through behaviour change alone, though the most effective approach is to coherently combine efficiency methods, greener energy sources and behaviour change. Being aware and using energy efficiently; switching off when not in use; developing high efficiency habits, like having sufficient heat and wearing warm clothes; managing energy well and to an agreed policy are important.

See the great work being done in Bristol on energy efficiency, renewable energy and energy sustainability here and here.

Improving an organisation’s behaviour with respect to energy efficiency and sustainability requires accounting for external and internal forces.  External forces such as: technology; markets; social change; political factors; legal factors. Internal forces like: personnel changes; poor organisation; workforce composition; workforce motivations; need to avoid inflexibility and/or inertia.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Reflection on the election

The media became very excited very early on at the prospect of a general election and the parties began their campaigns many months before anything official. I doubt that the public relished the spin and very vague promises we get, especially from conventional political parties. The media often focussed on the [limited accuracy] polls and the [wrongly predicted]hung parliament much more than they did on political principles and policies and so didn’t serve the public well. Most political parties focussed a lot on what they thought the polls were showing too, instead of just getting on with real debate, so they did not serve the public well either.

 All elections are important, not least in 2015, with the prospect of yet more austerity, a changing relationship between the nations making up the UK and an uncertain relationship between the UK and EU all having huge implications. There are questions that need to be addressed about current electoral law and electoral processes. Is fair and broad debate facilitated? Does media coverage and access serve the public need and interest? Is the electoral system the most democratic? Have we got the law on party funding right?

The process of an election is important as well as the outcome and it should be treated as such. Yet the media persistently talk of elections as merely a kind of horse race – frequently talking about the betting odds. This does not help us have full, fair and proper debate.

The elections I’ve contested have become more dull and uninspiring over the decades, with the exception of certain candidates and areas of the country. It’s no wonder that a wide and representative range of people aren’t encouraged to get involved. Debates, present and future agendas and learning processes are very important – not everyone fights every general election seat to win this time around, some may not fight to win at all. Isn’t it about time we thought over longer timespans and in a broader, more inspiring way about elections?

narrowness of the debate in conventional politics is part of the problem. There is a large measure of agreement between the usual Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems. They are all consumer capitalists and all have plans to cut vital services!! Debate between them centred on tax and spending differences of only a small percentage of national wealth. All the conventional parties make claims to be radical, all claim to be committed to sustainable development – but none of them said much about this key idea and none of them have taken action to make any fundamental changes in the direction of a sustainable society. Yet issues of reconciling our economy and society with the environment, raised by Greens for decades now, are very much more serious and urgent.

Agreement between the conventional parties could be taken to mean that things are pretty much ok or are in hand – but just look around you!! There are many fundamental problems, for future generations and in other parts of the globe in particular. Thus Greens like me contest elections, win or lose, to: offer voters a radical option; demonstrate that to genuinely solve problems the interconnections and interrelationships between economic, social, political and environmental factors must be addressed; raise the really big issues like the gap between rich and poor here and globally, caring for the elderly, climate change and our energy-hungry lifestyles, global justice, democracy and the EU, how we can live our lives now so that future generations can also lead decent lives with real choices.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

If I were a Councillor...

I'm the Green Party candidate for Knowle ward in the May 2015 local elections. I was born, brought up and still live in Knowle and have campaigned as a Green locally for over thirty years [several yrs of it are recorded on this blog]. I've been a candidate many times in local and general elections, including in Knowle and Bristol South. 
I work as an Open University Tutor, teaching environmental decision making, environmental management and environmental science, having previously been a science teacher and industrial technologist.
I originated and coordinated Sustainable Knowle, the neighbourhood Transition group (, work closely with Bristol’s successful group of Green Councillors and have served on council committees [See About page for more].
I want Knowle and Bristol to be healthier, fairer, more lively and enjoyable places to live. This means fighting those things that are reducing your quality of life and cutting the options available for the future of your children, grandchildren and theirs, especially: inequality; unfairness; loss of community safety, security, power and influence; waste; resource squandering; pollution. I want decent living today that leaves a decent future for the generations to come and will work particularly hard for these dozen priorities.
  1. the retention and improvement of locally available housing, facilities, services and jobs and the availability and use of local resources
  2. far better, cheaper, more extensive public transport; much better cycling and pedestrian provision  
  3. inclusive, informed, genuine public participation in community life
  4. open, involving, accountable, ethical attitudes and policies
  5. broad-based measures of progress - social, economic and environmental
  6. the protection, enhancement and if possible increase in open, green, natural spaces; biodiversity enhancing developments
  7. adopting and achieving high land, air, water and environmental quality standards; safe, secure and stable neighbourhoods
  8. education for sustainable living in schools, colleges, universities and wider public life
  9. innovative low carbon and low waste systems and designs; local energy saving and the micro-generation of energy
  10. much better waste avoidance, reuse and recycling
  11. more local, fresh, healthy food availability; more home and allotment grown food
  12. organisations and people acting with social and environmental responsibility
I write regularly on a wide range of issues including: on the Bristol 24/7 online news site (; on the Sustainable Cities Collective website (; here on my Sustainable Cities, Sustainable World blog; on Twitter (, on Facebook and elsewhere.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

In praise of things public

Things that are public are available to everyone. If they are truly public that is. This makes it a positive, valuable, powerful, democratic idea. Take for instance: public health, education and social services; Bristol’s excellent public parks and open spaces; public meetings; and public rights of way.  

Some things we call public are not determined by what the public want though. Take public transport for example. Private companies own and determine rail and bus services, subject to regulation, with limited public involvement. The result is they are not run for people as a whole and are not done by and for the people. The same can be said for what we call public utilities like gas, electricity and water. Ownership and running of such things should be fully open, accountable and public.

The public interest (or common good) should be determined by broad, inclusive, direct and indirect public involvement not a minority of powerful, wealthy private interests.  Private interests can afford to by-pass public services, using private vehicles, private schools, private health care.

Things truly public are open, accountable to and shared by the people. Greater Bristol’s public transport system should be run by a strategic transport authority operating in the public interest. We forget the very large increase in public health that resulted from public provision of clean, safe drinking water and sewage removal and treatment. These services provided some protection from disease and sources of harm. We should apply the same strategic thinking to transport. Traffic congestion is a definite source of harm, with 29,000 deaths per year caused by air pollution, including hundreds in Bristol. Only smoking causes more premature deaths.

Public enquiries into developments like new roads or power stations need to be genuine, real exercises in public participation. Elected representatives such as Councillors, MPs, Mayors, Police and Crime Commissioners should be subject to public opinion between elections (recall), with a by-election triggered if enough people in an area sign a petition. It’s the public that should decide what - and who - the public really wants. 

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Creating jobs through resource conservation: the circular economy

Half a million jobs would be created by transforming our economy from a take, make and throwaway one to a genuinely green one which optimises efficiency, renewability and working with environmental respect. This is the conclusion of a recent report by the Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP)  and the GreenAllianceBristol’s green ambitions are thus good economically and socially as well as environmentally – but radical change is best. The more ambitious the plans the more jobs are created.

The report found that whilst significant further recycling and remanufacturing would generate more jobs it’s even better to make substantial progress with these and add in major development of the re-use and bio-refining sectors as well as shifting from product manufacturing to product-service systems. Politicians and other decision makers would need to be much more active and ambitious and set the frameworks needed for this, including setting higher standards for product and resource recovery. They need to fight for instance at EU level for mass job creation through resource conservation.  

The key green idea is to create a circular economy based on making, reusing and remaking: fewer resources are taken from the environment; management is sensitive and centres on renewable resources; production is efficient, clean and for long life; product and system use is efficient, with high emphasis on repairing and maintaining; products and resources are re-used (or recycled or used as an energy source if re-use is not possible).

All these green ideas and more were key topics explored and discussed between 3-5 March at Resource 2015  the yearly congress and exhibition bringing  together 11,000 attendees: individuals, organisations and businesses large and small.

The circular economy concept and the Resource event itself should be more widely reported, especially in aspiring green cities like Bristol. Independent environmental consultancy ResourceFutures  is one of the sponsors and participants. Bristol University's  BruceHood , Professor of Developmental Psychology in Society, was a speaker this year, covering issues like: what makes us want to own things; what we think of second-hand items and sharing.   

In the circular  economy waste does not exist as resources recirculate. Diversity is designed and built into systems, processes and manufacturing - making communities and society more resilient. Energy is managed well, used efficiently and comes from renewable sources that don’t significantly pollute and won’t run out. The whole idea is based on systems thinking, seeing situations in total ie as a whole, accounting for interactions, interrelationships and interdependencies between parts.  The significance is that society would dynamically stable, secure and able to persist over time, leaving a decent world for future generations.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Managing our environment: 10 key concepts

Here are ten key environmental management concepts and what they mean from my perspective. I've chosen: Environment; Sustainability; Sustainable Development; Management; Environmental Management; Stakeholder; Complexity; Decision; System; Perspective.

  • Those affecting and those affected by a change.  = Stakeholders
  • The quality of a system that has many components, all interconnected with each other = Complexity
  • Development that meets the needs of the present without reducing the ability of future generations to meet theirs. = Sustainable development***
  • A way of experiencing the world; a point of view, one of many, all to be considered = Perspective
  • Set of things existing in relation to each other, defined by someone…natural and non-natural, observer dependent; not just our surroundings or the biophysical world but also humans and their social, economic and other systems. We are a part of it, are dependent on it...there are multidimensional interrelationships and feedbacks...human-centred definitions are flawed. We are always linked in and are not in control. = Environment
  • Control, organise and arrange for use of aspects an environment…with natural components, technologies, people…by an individual, organisation or community. = Management
  • The capacity to live without undermining the systems that support life = Sustainability***
  • The managing of human-environment relationships, involving controlling, organising and creating new circumstances for new policies and practices to occur. = Environmental Management
  • A whole, made up of interconnected parts organised to perform a function(s)…(perspective dependent). = System
  • Conscious choice to take or not to take; a particular action or set of actions. = Decision

***Variety in the definitions of sustainability: examples

Acting in recognition of the fact that social and economic systems have to work within and are dependent upon our environment (systems).

Transition from a consumer to a conserver society (transformative).

Reconciliation of production and reproduction (feminist, via journalist/writer Bea Campbell).

Achieving a set of economic (and social) goals not centred primarily on economic growth, with growth meeting conditions and being selective (economic).

Coherently and consistently combining: efficiency; renewability; living within environmental limits; strong local communities; fairness, local and global; health, wellbeing and quality of life; fairness, now and on into the future (my own, more operational definition).

The capacity to live without undermining the systems that support life (ecological).

Development that meets the needs of the present without reducing the ability of future generations to meet theirs (Brundtland, UN Committee, sustainable development).

Friday, 2 January 2015

Sustainability assessment in four steps

What is a sustainable state or sustainable use? Here is how I'd go about assessing these in four steps:

  1. Is the current system state (country, city, business, neighbourhood, process or product...) well established through monitoring key factors such as: efficiency; renewability; living within biophysical limits; socio-economic goals geared to wellbeing, fairness and equality; empowerment of local communities? And is the data valid and reliable?
  2. Is any variation from a sustainable state efficiently and effectively detected, using indicator alert zones as appropriate?
  3. Once unacceptable variation is found, are systems for assessing root causes and enacting corrective action in place?
  4. Are there records that previous variations have been picked up and effectively corrected? Go to 1. 

The process overall should be subject to a well accepted process of inspection, verification and certification, preferably independent, on a regular, appropriately frequent basis. All organisations involved should run themselves sustainably. 

Easily said, far from easily done!!