Communication a necessity for post-Brexit green business prosperity

The fear and uncertainty surrounding the vote to leave the European Union puts the UK Government under increased pressure to create a strong green policy framework, as sustainability professionals and environmentalists "go on the march" and communicate to create legislative prosperity.

That was the conclusion of a panel of sustainability experts, including the chair of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) Lord Deben and Kingfisher’s head of government affairs Nick Lakin, both of whom called businesses and NGOs to create “opportunity from chaos” by engaging with politicians and the public over the ramifications, and potential benefits of leaving the EU.

Speaking at an Aldersgate Group event in London this morning (6 July) Lord Deben told sustainability delegates – which included the sustainability heads of Ikea and Interface – that Brexit was the “biggest example of self-harm done by a nation for probably 200 years”, but that the time has now come to “shut up” and start talking about what should happen to shape the future.

“We in Britain have done the most difficult thing of all and have made it really difficult for us to contribute to the rest of the world,” Lord Deben said. “Right now, we need to ensure that people don’t do anything for a long time without first thinking and communicating.

“We are clearly not communicating well enough, it’s a fundamental problem of our society….a crisis in communication. It’s not just us. The rest of Europe and the US have ceased to be able to communicate with its population. We are losing the ability to be a nation because we are losing the ability to communicate.

“But we need to show that the once dirty man of Europe who became the clean man of Europe through its membership in the EU has now got to learn to be the clean man of Europe on its own.”

In order to thrive outside of the EU, Lord Deben called on businesses to ignite conversations that engage both the general public and politicians to ensure that a “well-funded intent to reduce the protection for the environment” wasn’t successful.

Communication legacy

Lord Deben’s sentiments were echoed by Kingfisher’s head of government affairs Lakin, who claimed that the DIY retailer – which operates across eight European countries – would refuse to let environmental policies that are in danger of being eroded “fall off the table”.

“We want to continue to see ambitious environmental and climate change legislation within the UK and as a business we want coherent legislation across member states,” Lakin said. “With this in mind, it is vital that exiting environmental protection legislation is not diluted or removed and, for [Kingfisher], a UK standard does not make any sense.

“Business has a role to play in showing where legislation does and doesn’t work and collaboration and communication is key. No one ever said the EU was perfect and that its policies were perfect but it was good and it’s the business role to keep improving it.”

While much of the post-Brexit forecast has been speculative, sustainability industry experts have already moved to alleviate fears that leaving the EU could damage policies such as air quality and recycling. Also speaking at the event was global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright’s head of environment Caroline May, who despite echoing calls that circular economy standards would still apply, revealed that politicians would have to be pressured into not cherry-picking polices that the UK could comply with.

“We had a voice at the table on these legislative conversations and had a chance to influence and lead on environmental and climate change policy and we must make sure that we do not lose that voice,” May said.

“We have a chance to cherry pick some of the laws that were cumbersome, but my concern is that we don’t just cherry pick the laws that we can comply with and disregard aspects such as air quality standards because we can’t meet them.

“It’s important we don’t allow the politicians to dodge the important areas. This is a change to stimulate growth as long as we stay calm and it’s a chance to make ourselves relevant and make our voices heard.”

Whale among minnows

This event comes just days after both Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom attempted to future-proof the UK’s commitment to climate policy, both through the 5th Carbon Budget and a candidate speech.

Also speaking at the Aldersgate Group debate was the Institute for European Environmental Policy’s executive director David Boldock, who congratulated NGOs for their role in pushing for newer legislation post-Brexit, and claimed that the UK would be a “whale amongst minnows” outside of the EU, but one that could still communicate with member states to tackle climate change.

“Brexit is integral and central in Europe right now and everyone else is caught up in this debate and one thing not to do is to stop talking to European counterparts and trying to engage them,” Boldock said.

“The UK does have something to offer to Europe in regards to climate policy and the effort sharing decision and it’s a chance to carry more of our weight. But it can’t be all the usual suspects talking about this, we’ve got to get this out of the box and communicate further.”

Despite the panel agreeing that the 5th Carbon Budget had created a framework to work towards post-Brexit, Lakin admitted that Kingfisher was still apprehensive about how it would “play out in practice” and urged businesses to implement best practice – such sustainable sourcing and the company’s net positive plan – as a way to carve a sustainable future without the aid of government policies.

“As a business the most efficient way to operate internationally is to apply best practice globally and we will continue to do so. I think we need to communicate to push these standards onto our customers but creating the right regulations to raise standards is a challenge.

“If you fast-forward five years in time, there are two books sitting in front of us with two different covers. Brexit will either be a good story or a bad story and chaos does create opportunity and fundamentally this is the opportunity to make things better.”

Matt Mace

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