From the Summit: Does anyone care about the environment?
Once again I have returned from The Times CEO Summit in London having spent a day with some of the UK’s leading business leaders. Together we heard presentations, we debated the issues of the moment and we asked questions of politicians and entrepreneurs. The Times did an amazing job once again.
At the same event last year Rupert Murdoch sat at the next table with his son James on one side and Rebekah Brooks on the other. None of them were there this year, Brooks was in the dock and the Murdochs elsewhere. Last year David Cameron visited – this year we had to settle for Vince Cable and George Osborne. A lot can change in a year. The agenda was similar though – through the morning talk about picking winners and how to champion and finance new talent.
Whilst listening to a very distinguished panel of Ana Botin (CEO Santander ), Charles Dunstone (Chairman Carphone Warehouse), Brent Hoberman (Co-founder PROfounders Capital), Luke Jonhson (Chairman Risk Capital Partners) and Geoff Watts (CEO EDITD) the issue of green taxes was mentioned by Johnson. He said that it was no good if green taxes made us one of the less competitive places in the world.
Other than this, there was little other mention of the environment by anyone aside from Lord Mandelson briefly talking about his previous work on carbon reduction. It seemed that the environment was no longer on anyone’s agenda.
I like Johnson, or at least I liked him. His weekly column in the FT is insightful and compelling and his public speaking is interesting and engaging. But in the 1990s I used to read a magazine called Business Age. Johnson was always in it being quoted using the most foul language and portraying himself as a laddish hero. I felt that perhaps he should grow up. Years on it seemed he had.
Given the opportunity to ask a question I picked up on the point of green taxes to Johnson and also to the rest of the panel. I pointed out the recent report stating that if everyone on earth lived as we do in the UK, we would need three planets. In light of this, I wondered if the panel felt that economic growth should be pursued at any cost or if being environmentally responsible could actually be the opportunity for growth that we are all looking for.
I was bowled over by Johnson’s response. He has no interest in the environment dismissing talk of “armageddon” and “paranoia” and stating that mankind would find a solution and that there would be rational solutions coming forward [for global warming]. To think otherwise would be to embrace decline and would lead to unemployment.
None of the other panelists wanted to comment. It seems that as long as the UK is competitive and we have economic growth then the planet does not matter.
This is fundamentally wrong. The key to sustainable growth has to be respect for the environment. Rather than making us uncompetitive we should be embracing the circular economy and rebuilding our own manufacturing sector in a new and forward thinking way.
If Luke Johnson has an open mind I would welcome the opportunity to show him how our factory at Straight plc has been transformed by pursuing a low carbon agenda. How almost all the raw material we use is now recycled and how our energy will come from the wind. How this has transformed not only our thinking but our profitability too.
Camilla Cavendish who is Associate Editor of The Times told me afterwards that she used to cover a lot of environmental stories but it seemed this had fallen by the wayside. But talking about these issues in a “we can’t afford it” kind of way misses the point. It is not just about global warming but about having a business that can survive long term by making more with less.
Like me, Luke Johnson has young children. It is time we all worked to make the world a better place for them without stealing their future from them. Time to grow up.