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Government plans for a ‘green revolution’ based on the green tech and renewable energy industries appear narrowly focused. Integrating sustainability principles and performance within the conventional economy is important too, says Michael Townsend

ccording to Chris Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, we are now making the transition to a sustainable economy. This is a welcome statement from the Government, which had been quiet on all things sustainable since its early “greenest government ever” fanfare. While detail has been lack- ing, we do now have the signs of emerging strategies. It is now worth- while looking behind the rhetoric, to see what the plans are made of and whether they have the potential to make the desired impact. So what is the substance behind the Government’s plan? It is good to see some recognition that we need to rebuild a balanced economy and reduce our over-dependency on financial services. Although this reali- sation has been a long time coming as the roots of de-regulation and an unhealthy reliance on this sector have been around since the 1980s. One key assumption underpinning both the Government’s deficit reduction plan and its economic strategy is growth. The maxim behind the growth plan appears to be ‘more’: more competition, more scien- tific research, more infrastructure and more local growth. The growth assumption is itself a thorny issue when considering a sustainable economy. Should we be promoting growth, given the issue of finite resources and capacity of our planet? Or should we perhaps recognise there may be limits to growth and that the current crisis provides an opportunity to explore alternative economic models, for example low/ zero growth, new economy, circular economy or cradle-to-cradle philosophies. Opening up the debate on this requires bold leadership,


looking forward to what the world needs, rather than defaulting to outmoded models and assumptions.

Basing a strategy on growth is also somewhat risky economically; at the time of writing, some forecasts indicate we will achieve 3% growth in the UK this year, the Economist Intelligence Unit has issued a sobering forecast, predicting a further global economic slowdown in 2011. This, allied to the continuing crises in the Euro zone, means that nothing can be taken for granted, least of all the expectation of continued growth. If we assume for now, however, that it may be desirable for purely economic reasons to promote growth in the short-term, this raises another question that many have been asking for some time, albeit more vociferously in the face of the recent spending cuts: where is the growth going to come from? The private sector is cited as the key driver for creating demand, stepping forward to create new jobs. But where will this happen, which sectors should we focus on? How should we compete on the world stage and what will be required in order to become successful? While the Coalition has identified six sectors for support, to many these will look like the usual suspects, 1990s thinking. A vital element underpinning the growth assumption is what Huhne calls “a green revolution leading us toward a low carbon future, with cleaner energy and greener growth”. While this is desirable, it does appear to be rather narrowly focused on what may be called ‘new green’ only, for example green tech and renewable energy industries,

Sustainable Business | February 2011 | 27

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