Who is the real enemy of sustainable economics?

Mike Tuffrey


Posted in: Environment

Who is the real enemy of sustainable economics?

August 01, 1995


The 25th anniversary celebrations of the Shell Better Britain campaign, scheduled for June 21, had to be cancelled, a casualty of the controversy surrounding Shell UK’s intended deep-water disposal of Brent Spar, an oil storage and loading buoy jointly owned with Esso. The event and the presentation of the 1995 Best of Britain Awards have been postponed until later in the year, but the campaign’s new magazine, Interactive, has been issued, setting out a fresh vision firmly focused on community-based sustainable development. New elements include:

  • an information service with a network to exchange ideas;
  • grants for action by local groups, up to £2,000; and
  • a Partnership Innovation Fund offering a small number of larger grants for projects which test ideas for sustainable development.

Contact Peter Woodward, Shell Better Britain Campaign, on 0121 358 0744


A powerful new wave of environmental concern will have a profound impact on the world of business, predicts a new report, Who needs it? Market Implications of Sustainable Lifestyles, published by Sustainability on June 30. One key trend will be using less rather than just recycling more. Progressive companies will capture a major share of booming eco-markets, as the focus for environmental improvement shifts from supply side (pollution control, energy efficiency, clean production, etc) to demand side (green/ethical consumerism, life cycle assessment, ‘green’ taxes, etc).

The report argues that attention will turn from green consumerism to sustainable consumption and hence sustainable lifestyles. Ten ‘sustainability vectors’ are identified, defined as shifts in ethical and socio-cultural values, macro economics, technology and political concerns. The implications of this for ten industries are examined in detail. Contact John Elkington, Sustainability, on 0171 243 1277


New environmental resource materials for use by international hotels were launched on World Environment Day, June 5, by the International Hotels Environment Initiative. An Environmental Action Pack for Hotels, a step-by-step practical guide, and Going Green Makes Cents, a video, aim to help hoteliers to use environmental management to reduce costs, motivate staff, improve efficiency and build customer loyalty. The International Hotels Environment Initiative is a programme of the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum. Contact Lucy Bernard, International Hotels Environment Initiative, on 0171 321 6384


Education Secretary, Gillian Shephard MP, announced on June 14 three measures to improve environmental education, including developing a code of practice for teaching materials, a database of resources for teachers and a guide to good environmental teaching practice. Also published in June by the Department was a report of a recent conference, Education and the Environment – the Way Forward.

Contact Department for Education and Employment on 0171 925 5555


A celebration of UK Waste Savers, an environmental educational initiative, launched in December 1994, was held on July 12 at the Risley IV Landfill Site and Visitor Centre near Warrington. The pilot initiative, a partnership between Groundwork and UK Waste Management, aims to link global environmental issues, sustainable development and practical action. It involves around 900 children in waste management projects with a field classroom at the site. Contact Sue Scott, Groundwork, on 0121 236 8565


Esso UK has helped to fund a Wildlife Garden at the Natural History Museum. Opened on July 10 by the Environment Secretary, John Gummer MP, it is a flagship project of European Nature Conservation Year and will be used for educational programmes and school groups. Contact Rebecca Stewart-Smith, Esso, 0171 245 2999


The closing date for the 1995 British Environment and Media Awards is August 31 and the winners will be announced on October 24. Organised by Media Natura, with sponsorship from Manweb, Johnson Matthey and National Grid, they aim to recognise excellence in the communication of environmental issues by the media. Contact Emma Craggs, Media Natura, on 0171 240 4936


Legion indeed are the lessons to learn from Brent Spar. Of course some will conclude that community involvement does not work, if even Shell’s 25 year Better Britain track record did not save it. But they are wrong. It was the reaction in Continental northern Europe, not in the UK, that halted the sinking. Shell UK understands that securing a ‘licence to operate’ goes far beyond government permits alone. Multinational companies with transnational brands must learn to engage in the community consistently and effectively in every market.

The most important lessons go deeper. We are still very far from being able to debate, informed by reason not emotion, the trade-offs between the lifestyles most people still want and the environmental damage they cause. So Sustainability’s new report could not be more timely. And let’s take that debate into the schools, where kids have embraced recycling with enthusiasm but not changed their lifestyles to match.

But that’s not enough. £30 million is one estimate of Brent Spar’s extra on-shore disposal costs. Just imagine if Shell put that sum of money, matched by the other six oil majors, into a global campaign around Sustainability’s ideas, educating and informing consumers, other companies and governments. Then even Greenpeace might concede that a somewhat noxious lump of concrete two miles down under the Atlantic is a risk worth taking if thereby it stopped our unsustainable conduct as countless millions of consumers. As Pogo, the American cartoon character, once observed “We have met the enemy, and they is us”.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 23 – August, 1995