I'm a Lean, Mean, Green Machine ... The unforeseen impacts of COP26 and the Green Revolution

I never thought such a time would ever come when sustainability would be top of the global agenda and people queuing up to attempt to reduce their carbon footprint. Ripped out of the hands of the alternative few, sustainability has been adopted as the must have essential for the masses.

Driven by COP26, G7, and the Governments policy reform, to create a Post-COVID / Post - Brexit new Green Revolution and to #BuildBackGreener. Realigning the UK workforce to fill the huge skills gaps including 'Green Skills' and 'Green jobs' needed to deliver our ambitious 2030 Net Zero Carbon Target is music to my ears.

The concept of sustainability is partially derived from a 3 pillar model of ‘Environmental, Economic and Social Sustainability’. Meaning, that you need a balance between each of these different elements to get it right. Historically, the focus has been on the ‘environmental’ pedestal, with the other elements as mere afterthoughts. This is shifting and a better balancing is now emerging.

For example, the UK government is throwing billions at it with huge national programmes to drive decarbonisation, improve home energy performance and to support us to make the switch to a low-carbon economy, in the race to net zero carbon. Companies are publicly declaring their new green commitments to work towards carbon neutrality and are embracing the need to change. Sustainability is where it needs to be, for us to even attempt to tackle the real climate emergency crisis that we all face.

Cue the slightly awkward tumble weed moment: However, alongside the ‘be careful what you wish for’ adage and you have a rough approximation of the uncomfortable unease the current fashion is causing in me.

Overnight a whole new green scene has suddenly emerged. In three consecutive TV advertisements yesterday evening, each advert referenced sustainability and the environment. Everyone and their dog are boasting their green credentials, momentum has replaced substance and personally, it does not feel right quite right yet. The scramble and race to publicly declare a commitment to sustainability before COP26 seems to be on the agenda of every marketeer and CEO in the land.

Sustainability is a complex beast, developed over the past few decades and established on a sound scientific evidence base. The often-overlooked social sustainability pillar, emphasises the need for organic, community-engagement based social change, to deliver a solution to climate change. The youth of today, can certainly gain the credit for initiating the current debate and igniting the touch paper.

Now that it has gone ‘mainstream’ I am conscious of quality Vs quantity debate. We can not develop the capacity overnight and we must ensure that solid foundations are in place to create a stable, sustainable platform. Education is the key; sharing the history, development and scientific basis of climate change is a must. Improving the eco-literacy of society is an important step in our collective sustainability journey. This will aid the breaking of social barriers associated with sustainability as a lifestyle choice and the fact that it is okay to be at a different stage in the journey.

I accidently fell into studying environmental science in the early 1990’s. As an academic failure and rebel at school, I was quickly saved by Further Education, after a short stint as a postal cadet in central London. Pouring through the clearing offers on A level results day, I was unconsciously attracted by the prospect of studying the then unfashionable undergraduate course in environmental science in Plymouth, followed by postgraduate studies in Wales. My short-lived career as an environmental consultant was brought to a sudden halt, when the stark reality of the real world kicked in and I realised that pounds went before principles and that I would have to disregard all that I had learned. I quickly retrained as an A level biology lecturer and had an exciting career teaching science in Africa (Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya & Uganda) intermixed with a successful career in Further Education in Inner London Colleges.

Now that Further Education has finally received the recognition and funding it deserves and has been repositioned as the agent for levelling up and reskilling the workforce; coupled with the emergence of sustainability, I now find myself in quite a unique position.

I am working on some exciting projects on decarbonisation funded by the governments Strategic Development Fund (SDF).

I have written a new level 1 award in Environmental Sustainability, that I hope to launch soon, to help support colleges and employers on their sustainability journey. I am trying my hardest to help influence and create change where it is needed.

There is an urgent need to create frameworks, green accreditation standards and to provide the FE sector and businesses with the tools they need to deliver a coordinated response to sustainability. At present the huge void and space is being filled, but through more of a scramble to claim first past the post prize, rather than a coordinated plan to effectively deliver sustainability.

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