Reflections on the Big Sustainability Summit (part 1)

(Colin Bell)

I spent Tuesday in London at the Big Sustainability Summit, organised in response to the imminent abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission, to ask the question “where do we go from here?” Something like 100-150 were there, from various tiers of government, NGOs, voluntary organisations, “creatives”, businesses, academia and a few others.

Inevitably there was some hurt and anger at what has been lost, much directed at the DEFRA spokesman in the final session. Not to mention wistful glances westward over the border to Wales, who seem to be doing things rather better (more on this in another post). But the main focus seemed to be, as it should be, what we as a community can and should do. Most of this work was done in the numerous Open Space sessions, so we’ll have to wait for the details, but here’s my take on the main thrusts of the day:

  • A recognition that we’re all in this together, need each other and have to collaborate more. Unlike some many events, there wasn’t the undercurrent of suspicion of the business community, and this can only be helpful. Of course, business needs to repay the trust, but it needs to be given a chance.
  • On top of this, a desire to extend the tent wider to bring contributions from those not explicitly “green” – other groups who have some sustainability in their DNA. This includes the faith community, but also many other local and special-interest groups (scouting, ramblers, many others). How we foster the debate with and then inside these groups was the question I brought to the meeting, and I was fortunate to meet others with a heart for and experience in this. Often hard-going but a worthwhile long-term investment was our one-line summary. (Again, further reflections on this to follow.)
  • The importance of looking forward. Many young people have great passion for action in this area. How can we work with them? And how can we best use the new media cropping up at an enhanced rate? Communication can be everything today.

As usual, I was heartened by most people’s response to faith group involvement. A lot know of something good happening on the ground in their area, would welcome more of the same and appreciate efforts to help bring this about. Of course, some brought up some of the less helpful views out there, but a bit of honesty that we’re far from perfect but working to be better tends to go a long way!

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