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Sustainable thinking: how do we make our democracy sustainable?

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Three prominent thinktanks explain their ideas on how to make sustainability and environmental issues a greater part of political thought.

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014.

Thinktanks, research and policy institutes can provide an unparalleled level of expertise and analysis on political issues. Whatever their ideology or affiliations, apparent failings of democracy or the threats posed by unsustainable trends worldwide, ranging from the unethical to the apocalyptic, are principle concerns and irresistible areas of research for many.

But how do they think we can get the better, fairer and more sustainable democracy that we deserve, and put environmental sustainability and responsibility at the heart of it?

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Perry Walker is a fellow at the New Economics Foundation, a leading thinktank that works to promote social, economic and environmental justice. He is also the founder of Open Up, a platform that helps people get to grips with complex political issues.

One way that democracy can be made more sustainable, he says, is the use of an idea called Empowered Participatory Governance (EPG). Walker explains that EPG, at a local level, focuses on specific, tangible problems, involving ordinary people affected by these problems and officials close to them in a deliberative process to develop solutions.

He says, “A good example of EPG in practice can be found in the Chicago Police Department. At the local level, in each of Chicago’s 279 police beats, patrol officers and their sergeants meet regularly with residents to identify priorities and ways of tackling them, and to report back on how previous initiatives are going. When local residents were educated about decision-making and empowered to question officials and experts, they could devise strategies which were more equitable and effective. One Chicago neighbourhood, with rich and poor districts separated by railway tracks, agreed a set of priorities that concentrated on the needs of the poor area.”

Walker argues that structures like those in Chicago can act “as a school for democracy”. In order to make sustainability more democratic, he proposes that the House of Lords could be given an additional role similar to that of Hungary’s Ombudsman for Future Generations or Finland’s Parliamentary Committee for the Future. He says that members of the house could be required to act as a voice for the voiceless – meaning both animals and future generations.

Walker says that Rupert Read – the academic and Green party politician – has articulated this idea best: “He suggests two specific powers for the Lords, in relation to legislation that threatens the basic needs and fundamental interests of future people or of the voiceless. The first of these is an ability to veto new legislation that does this, in whole or in part. The second is to be able to force a review, on petitioning, of existing legislation that carries such threat.”

To help bring the somewhat radical sounding idea to life, Walker recommends the post-apocalyptic novel The Fifth Sacred Thing, in which people wearing animal masks speak in parliament for the voiceless. “There’s a thought,” he says.

www.neweconomics.org

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The influential Fabian Society is one of the world’s oldest thinktanks (arguably, as it was formed in 1884, about seven decades before the term was coined).

It is historically linked to Labour, as its socialist ideas laid many of the foundations for the party’s development. It remains at the forefront of developing political ideas and public policy on the centre-left.

Its environment and citizenship programme is currently asking how politicians of all parties, who just years ago battled it out to be seen as the greenest candidates, have so easily turned their back on ‘the green crap’ and how a new “popular environmentalism” can be fostered. Natan Doron, leader of the programme, suggests that a rethink of what environmentalism means could change everything.

“Our charge against environmentalism is that, like politics, in the UK it’s been chewed over, it’s technocratic, too distant from the lives of ordinary people and conducted by an increasingly small set of elites in Brussels and Whitehall”, he explains.

The society’s findings – gathered through focus groups and polling, some of which is not yet published – indicates that many people define their environmental concerns in surprising ways. Things such as antisocial behaviour and litter were many people’s biggest gripes, while most perceived “environmentalism” to be the domain of Greenpeace and faraway activists.

I think that means a couple of things,” Doron says. “One is that environmental campaigners need to try and change the language and culture of environmentalism. People who aren’t normally interested in the environment need to believe that people from WWF and Greenpeace don’t just care about the polar bears but their local street and their local experience of the environment.

“Connected to that, how can we make environmental policy a little bit more communitarian? How can central government do more to facilitate some of the really good stuff that goes on, for example with friends groups for local parks or community energy schemes, and see it spread out more equally so that environmental policy is very immediate to people?”

Doron admits that this is a tough question to answer, as environmental policy – much of which is geared towards preventing distant, complex things that have not happened yet – is abstract by nature. “But I think increasingly if people have more of a connection to environmental policy and campaigning and ultimately politics at a local level, and feel like they can have more power over their local environment, they will see that connection with the more abstract stuff,” he says.

Pushing the idea that environmentalism begins at home, promoting its tangible, local benefits, could surely make sustainability a very difficult thing for politicians to ignore.

Environmentalism can be about me having beautiful local surroundings and bringing my community together; it’s about lowering my household bills and making my local economy and the global economy more resilient to shocks; it can create job; and it leads to good health outcomes,” Doron says.

If you look at it like that, these are suddenly a set of things that are quite hard to disregard as ‘green crap’, or a policy just for good economic times.”

www.fabians.org.uk

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While many ponder the responsibilities of politicians and citizens in the pursuit of sustainability, Sally Uren, chief executive of Forum for the Future, suggests a decisive role could be played by a third participant – business.

Forum for the Future collaborates with businesses small and large, primarily in the food and energy systems, empowering industries to work towards a sustainable and ethical future. Like most, Uren believes that it is us – the citizens of the world – that can drive democracy forward.

“I think that there is a lever that has not been adequately pressed, which could really wake politicians up to sustainability, and that is civil society,” she says. “Politicians are in it for votes, to get them elected. One of the reasons why sustainability really hasn’t mainstreamed properly in political dialogue is the general view that there are no votes in it. While civil society is sleepy and apathetic on this agenda, politicians will remain the same.”

However, Uren proposes that businesses could play the same role as local initiatives or climate disasters – as instigators of citizen engagement – if they began treating people as more than consumers. “Businesses run brands; brands can change behaviour by acting with citizens in really complicated ways,” she says.

As an example, Uren points to the work of Unilever, a company leading by example in sustainability in the developing world. Through its soap brand Lifebuoy, Unilever has led a massive behaviour change campaign trying to educate one billion people on the benefits of handwashing.

“Businesses working with government’s can really solve some of these issues”, she says. “I don’t think government has woken up to the blurred boundaries between themselves, business and civil society. Historically government makes rules, creates enabling conditions, business tries to make money, and we consumers – not citizens – go with the flow. But that has been changed, fuelled by transparency and digital platforms, the roles and responsibilities of those three sets of actors have changed.”

What is needed now, Uren argues, is an improved understanding on the relationship between the three actors and a consensus on what it should achieve: “We need to see better alignment of agendas as neither one alone can make the changes we need to see.”

www.forumforthefuture.org

Photo: Debbie Schiel via freeimages.com

Further reading:

Power to the people: how do we make our democracy sustainable?

Political parties on the spot: how do we make our democracy sustainable?

One size doesn’t fit all: democracy is not always the best form of government

‘Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?’

The Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014

Economy

Report: Green, Ethical and Socially Responsible Finance

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“The level of influence that ethical considerations have over consumer selection of financial services products and services is minimal, however, this is beginning to change. Younger consumers are more willing to pay extra for products provided by socially responsible companies.” Jessica Morley, Mintel’s Financial Services Analyst.

Consumer awareness of the impact consumerism has on society and the planet is increasing. In addition, the link between doing good and feeling good has never been clearer. Just 19% of people claim to not participate in any socially responsible activities.

As a result, the level of attention that people pay to the green and ethical claims made by products and providers is also increasing, meaning that such considerations play a greater role in the purchasing decision making process.

However, this is less true in the context of financial services, where people are much more concerned about the performance of a product rather than green and ethical factors. This is not to say, however, that they are not interested in the behaviour of financial service providers or in gaining more information about how firms behave responsibly.

This report focuses on why these consumer attitudes towards financial services providers exist and how they are changing. This includes examination of the wider economy and the current structure of the financial services sector.

Mintel’s exclusive consumer research looks at consumer participation in socially responsible activities, trust in the behaviour of financial services companies and attitudes towards green, ethical and socially responsible financial services products and providers. The report also considers consumer attitudes towards the social responsibilities of financial services firms and the green, ethical and socially responsible nature of new entrants.

There are some elements missing from this report, such as conducting socially responsible finance with OTC trading. We will cover these other topics in more detail in the future. You can research about Ameritrade if you want to know more ..

By this report today: call: 0203 416 4502 | email: iainooson[at]mintel.com

Report contents:

OVERVIEW
What you need to know
Report definition
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The market
Ethical financial services providers: A question of culture
Investment power
Consumers need convincing
The transformative potential of innovation
Consumers can demand change
The consumer
For financial products, performance is more important than principle
Competition from technology companies
Financial services firms perceived to be some of the least socially responsible
Repaying the social debt
Consumer trust is built on evidence
What we think
ISSUES AND INSIGHTS
Creating a more inclusive economy
The facts
The implications
Payments innovation helps fundraising go digital
The facts
The implications
The social debt of the financial crisis
The facts
The implications
THE MARKET – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Ethical financial services providers: A question of culture
Investment power
Consumers need convincing
The transformative potential of innovation
Consumers can demand change
PUTTING FINANCIAL SERVICES IN AN ETHICAL CONTEXT
An ethical economy
An ethical financial sector
Ethical financial services providers
GREEN, ETHICAL AND SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE ISSUES IN FINANCIAL SERVICES
The role of investing
Divestment
The change potential of pensions
The role of trust
Greater transparency informs decisions
Learning from past mistakes
The role of innovation
Payments innovation: Improving financial inclusion
Competition from new entrants
The power of new money
The role of the consumer
Consumers empowered to make a change
Aligning products with self
THE CONSUMER – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
For financial products, performance is more important than ethics
Financial services firms perceived to be some of the least socially responsible
Competition from technology companies
Repaying the social debt
Consumer trust is built on evidence
Overall trust levels are high
THE ETHICAL CONSUMER – SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE ACTIVITIES
Payments innovation can boost charitable donations
Consumer engagement in socially responsible activities is high
Healthier finances make it easier to go green
SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE COMPANIES
37% unable to identify socially responsible companies
Building societies seen to be more responsible than banks….
….whilst short-term loan companies are at the bottom of the pile
CONSUMER TRUST IN THE BEHAVIOUR OF FINANCIAL SERVICES COMPANIES
Overall trust levels are high
Tax avoidance remains a major concern
The divestment movement
Nationwide significantly more trusted
Trust levels remain high
CONSUMER ATTITUDES TOWARDS GREEN AND ETHICAL FINANCIAL PRODUCTS
For financial products, performance is more important than principle
Socially conscious consumers are more concerned
CONSUMER ATTITUDES TOWARDS TRANSPARENCY
Strategy reports provide little insight for consumers
Lack of clarity regarding corporate culture causes concern
Consumers want more information
THE ROLE OF FINANCIAL SERVICES FIRMS IN SOCIETY
The social debt of the financial crisis
THE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF FINANCIAL SERVICES FIRMS
For consumers, financial services firms play larger economic role
Promoting financial responsibility
CHALLENGER COMPANIES AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Consumer trust is built on evidence
The alternative opportunity
The target customer

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Economy

A Good Look At How Homes Will Become More Energy Efficient Soon

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energy efficient homes

Everyone always talks about ways they can save energy at home, but the tactics are old school. They’re only tweaking the way they do things at the moment. Sealing holes in your home isn’t exactly the next scientific breakthrough we’ve been waiting for.

There is some good news because technology is progressing quickly. Some tactics might not be brand new, but they’re becoming more popular. Here are a few things you should expect to see in homes all around the country within a few years.

1. The Rise Of Smart Windows

When you look at a window right now it’s just a pane of glass. In the future they’ll be controlled by microprocessors and sensors. They’ll change depending on the specific weather conditions directly outside.

If the sun disappears the shade will automatically adjust to let in more light. The exact opposite will happen when it’s sunny. These energy efficient windows will save everyone a huge amount of money.

2. A Better Way To Cool Roofs

If you wanted to cool a roof down today you would coat it with a material full of specialized pigments. This would allow roofs to deflect the sun and they’d absorb less heat in the process too.

Soon we’ll see the same thing being done, but it will be four times more effective. Roofs will never get too hot again. Anyone with a large roof is going to see a sharp decrease in their energy bills.

3. Low-E Windows Taking Over

It’s a mystery why these aren’t already extremely popular, but things are starting to change. Read low-E window replacement reviews and you’ll see everyone loves them because they’re extremely effective.

They’ll keep heat outside in summer or inside in winter. People don’t even have to buy new windows to enjoy the technology. All they’ll need is a low-E film to place over their current ones.

4. Magnets Will Cool Fridges

Refrigerators haven’t changed much in a very long time. They’re still using a vapor compression process that wastes energy while harming the environment. It won’t be long until they’ll be cooled using magnets instead.

The magnetocaloric effect is going to revolutionize cold food storage. The fluid these fridges are going to use will be water-based, which means the environment can rest easy and energy bills will drop.

5. Improving Our Current LEDs

Everyone who spent a lot of money on energy must have been very happy when LEDs became mainstream. Incandescent light bulbs belong in museums today because the new tech cut costs by up to 85 percent.

That doesn’t mean someone isn’t always trying to improve on an already great invention. The amount of lumens LEDs produce per watt isn’t great, but we’ve already found a way to increase it by 25 percent.

Maybe Homes Will Look Different Too

Do you think we’ll come up with new styles of homes that will take off? Surely it’s not out of the question. Everything inside homes seems to be changing for the better with each passing year. It’s going to continue doing so thanks to amazing inventors.

ShutterStock – Stock photo ID: 613912244

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