Positive message, not doom and gloom, will move us into sustainability

Companies and individuals need to be told the positive messages of environmental stewardship of resource efficiency and portraying a positive image to customers in order to move society towards true sustainability, according to the panelists at the Talkback event at the UK’s largest environmental trade fair, ET2001.

At the event, whose theme was ‘The Diminshing Wealth of Nations’ and how the attitude of wealth being tied to energy use can be countered, the panelists also agreed that companies or individuals that are clearly and regularly breaking the law regarding issues such as pollution and dumping of waste need to be treated like criminals and face far higher fines or even imprisonment, as occurs in the United States (see related story).

Among the topics discussed was the UK’s burgeoning waste problem. “The reality is there are only limited wasy of getting rid of waste,” said Environment Agency CEO Barbara Young. “The public don’t like incineration; they don’t like landfill.” She added that the Agency is also even beginning to receive complaints regarding composting facilities. Young explained that what is needed is to “create the virtuous circle that one man’s waste is another man’s raw material”. Vic Cocker, Chairman of the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) agreed, pointing to the need for a substantial increase in both domestic and industrial recycling. “We have to set ourselves some very challenging targets,” he said, such as achieving 30-50% domestic recycling very quickly. WRAP will be releasing a 30 point action plan next week which will outline ways of assisting the development of markets for recycled resources. A new European report published this week puts the UK at the bottom of the league for recycling (see Europe section).

The solution also lies with consumers, according to Mark Barthel, Head of Sustainability at the British Standards Institute (BSI), pointing to the problem that even the main political parties, with the exception of the Liberal Democrats, did not take environmental issues seriously in the run-up to Thursday’s general election. The big issue is the time frame involved in solving problems. “Are we doing enough fast enough?” he asked. “And I don’t think we are.” Ray Gluckman, Director of the Climate Change Division at Enviros agreed that solutions can be found. “I’m sure we will solve the problems in due course, but at what cost is the critical issue.”

With regard to the large financial institutions and their investment in ethical and environmentally sustainable companies, over the long term the news is good, said Brian Pearce, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Development at Forum for the Future, as pensions funds look past short term trends in the stock markets, and are “looking at firms which are around for the long term”.

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