Let's stop guilt tripping people into being green

Nina Skubala
Head of Climate Strategy | Business West
18th December 2014

Forget carbon targets. Think sustainable neighbourhoods. Nina Skubala, Initiative Manager Business West and Vice Chair of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, thinks it’s time to redefine being “green” if we want to achieve everyone’s buy in.

2015 is here: Bristol’s year in the sun. But there are some real concerns that we still run a risk of switching people off by making them feel that leading a sustainable lifestyle is expensive, difficult or even dull. It’s time to redefine being “green” if we want to achieve everyone’s buy in.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t all strive towards having smaller carbon footprints. Or that it doesn’t matter if we plough on using fossil fuels at the current rate.

My point is this: for many of us just getting through the day is a tough enough task without worrying how many food miles we’ve burned up, or CO2 we’ve been responsible for by driving rather than cycling to work… let alone obsessing about whether or not we have left food on our plates.

Read the forum sections of our local papers and online blogs you’ll see plenty of people who are already unenthusiastic, and many downright unpersuaded, about the whole green agenda… not least those who rail against restrictions on car use, or reclaiming our streets.

There’s a real risk that being green is seen as a middle class pursuit – something that’s a lot easier to do if you can afford to put solar panels on your roof, drive a hybrid car or shop at Waitrose.

So I do hope that – as we get closer to being Green Capital – we can put this whole green thing into some sort of perspective, and see it as an opportunity to think of it in terms of developing sustainable communities and healthy futures and foster a vision that, if not everyone, far more of us can buy into.

Because the last thing we need to do as a city during 2015 is to sow divisions rather than spread harmony.

So what’s MY vision of a greener Bristol? Critically: how can everyone in the city benefit?

To me, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to relook at our city and – rather than being guilt tripped into being told HOW we should live – make some informed, collective decisions on how we want live… and not just us either, but our children and future generations. 

Personally, I’m really optimistic that there is plenty of common ground – because, given a choice, most of us would want to live in sustainable, resilient, self-reliant communities. And that, at the very heart of it, is what being “green” is all about.

So what does a sustainable, resilient community and city look like? Years ago it was how most of us lived: in a village. Goods and services mostly came from local suppliers – recirculating wealth rather than seeing it sucked out by multi-nationals. The community itself played a bigger part in looking after each other and running communal facilities, and making the decisions that affected local lives.

Of course we’re now living in a large and expanding city, so pining for a rural past serves no useful purpose… but so many areas of our city – neighbourhoods, suburbs, even streets – have established a real village feel to them.

Look at places like Gloucester Road and St Marks Rd, Easton and you’ll see residents shopping locally, cafes are buzzing, street markets are springing up and community groups are thriving. That shouldn’t be a surprise: you only have to look back at the times we’ve had street parties to mark big occasions to recognise that a great many of us would welcome thinking and acting more locally.

But surely that runs counter to our increasingly digital world? Not in the least. We are all quite capable of living locally at the same time as working globally. Indeed, digital connectivity will be enabling more and more of us to do that in the years to come and the possibilities that may arise from the “internet of things” and smart cities is uplifting: and that’s as green and carbon-free a vision as you’re ever likely to get.

So if I can embed one thought to go away with, it’s this: let’s use next year to re-evaluate what being green really is… and try to build a more sustainable, more resilient and self-reliant Bristol. Now that would be a real legacy from our year as Green Capital.

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