Monday, May 04, 2009

Low Carbon Futures - The Prince's May Day Summit

Last Friday I attended the Prince’s May Day Summit. That’s the Prince of Wales’s third annual convention of businesses committed to a low carbon future, sponsored by Carbon Action Yorkshire, CE Electric UK and KCom Group. The event links London to regional centres all round the country, at least the first one did two years ago. We voted on issues, shared the results with the nation and spoke direct to the national audience. A bit like the Last Night of the Proms, actually, with big screens and reporters across the country. Not this time, though. This year we watched as the Prince and other speakers addressed what looked like a very small London audience. And we only watched - there was no feedback from the regions.

Strange - and disappointing - because since the Carbon Budget and Obama’s green grandstanding, low carbon and climate change are almost mainstream. I was at the regional session in Hull, an enthusiastic meeting ably chaired by Peter Hobday. If we hadn’t had the London link I’d have come away encouraged that more and more people were on side. In Hull the presentations were positive. They didn’t minimise the climate change risks and they showed us best practice and they showed us opportunities. They made us realise that the world is fundamentally changing, that established and accepted business models may suddenly cease to be relevant and unimagined models may suddenly steal your market. Think Amazon. Think iTunes store.

Case studies showed how companies are actively reducing their carbon footprint, and doing it for business reasons. Ariel low-temperature detergent was developed because more CO2 was released through heating water in the washing machine than in the rest of the production, distribution and usage cycle. Marshalls the paving people were the first to footprint all 500 of their products - the nearest competitor has footprinted nine - and they now know how and where to cut carbon further. Their customers know that this is a company which is serious about the environment. ASDA recycles, sources locally and deals with sustainable suppliers. KCOM engages with staff to support its green initiatives.

We learnt about scenario planning; not as a means of predicting the future nor as business continuity planning. Scenarios ask “What if?” What if your key materials double or quadruple in price? What if energy rises by a factor of 10? What if your major customer goes bust? Examining such scenarios helps your company be prepared. The value is in the process, not the result; the process of questioning unquestioned truths, establishing the consequences, weighing the risks and defining the options.

One statistic that I won’t forget showed that while material wealth has steadily grown in the UK since 1960, satisfaction has stayed at the same level. Apparently, we do not need material wealth for a fulfilling life. The problem is that growth has been the only goal for more than a generation; we have no alternative vision and people are scared to give up what they have.

So here’s the challenge. Let’s stop scaring people with global meltdown, climate catastrophe and the end of the world. Let’s draw up our low carbon futures and show people how they can be more relaxing, more fulfilling and maybe more stimulating than the ambitions we have now. At least I came away from the May Day Summit believing that we certainly have the people who can imagine these futures - and the people able and determined to make them reality.

Is the future of your business a low-carbon future? It’s got to be! If you want to talk about how, give me a call - 01904 654986.

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