The Sustainability Challenge – Day three


March 22nd, 2024

The Sustainability Challenge – part of Sustainability Action Week – sees us invite some of our senior leaders to spend the week living as sustainably as possible. It gives them the opportunity to reflect on their experience and share their thoughts with our community. This year our chancellor, Baroness Lola Young, has taken on the challenge. Read on to find out how she got on – if you’re just joining us, you can catch up on day one and day two.

Day three – sustainable living

Able to create just three posts due to a hectic schedule this week, I realised just how long it’s been since I last had a holiday. A purely relaxing, completely free of work obligations break is a distant memory, and after a tough year of demanding commitments, I’ve decided this summer is it—I’m off, and likely for a whopping six weeks.

So there I was trying to write a post on the subject of holidays, vacations and staycations when I started to feel bad about going away and enjoying myself, and it occurred to me that perhaps it would be better if I concentrated my efforts on persuading voters to quiz prospective MPs about what they were doing regarding the environment. Would they, for example, support a private jet tax? And so the guilt born of dreaming about a luxury spa holiday in the Caribbean needed to be off-set by using this blog to encourage involvement in the political process. The result is that I’m starting by stating the obvious: it will soon be time to make your voice heard via the ballot-box (details for those of you who are not sure about  Voter ID registration).

Over the years, I’ve stopped driving, and use public transport for about 85% of my journeys— around 12% of my travels being on foot (the remaining 8% shared between rarely taken taxis and lifts from friends); I don’t eat meat and shop locally about four or five times a week, often walking a round trip of 5-6km to do so.

A shop front with an A frame featuring offersThis is not intended to be a humble-brag: I’m being sincere when I say I know I can and should do more even though some choices are a bit complicated. For example, I’ve been considering whether I should get rid of the old inefficient heaters in my flat (most of which I rarely use thanks to good insulation and interesting thermodynamics. I don’t even need to heat my bathroom) and buy newer, better rated ones? If I do so, will my old kit end up in landfill? In this country? Or somewhere else?

In the early 2010’s there was a well publicised drive to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprints by switching off electrical appliances at the mains to reduce carbon emissions and save money. That’s all good, and I’m happy to turn off and disconnect the laptop, boil only the water I need, etc. But I’m bothered by the idea that it sometimes seems as though it’s all down to ordinary citizens. What about those offices with their lights left to blaze on throughout the hours of darkness on every floor? Okay, so motion-activated lighting has improved the situation to some degree. But even so…

And there’s the corporate private jets, surely one of the least energy-efficient ways to travel across our planet?

The focus on individual action is important, essential even and I still believe the personal is —more often than not— political. But so much of the narrative around sustainability has placed the onus for change on individual citizens, I wonder if we have taken our eyes off the corporate ball (I know, I know but this is the first oblique reference I’ve made to football across three posts!). It’s not a question of either business or individual action for sustainability, it’s a complex interaction of both but businesses and commercial organisations, and public bodies have to take more responsibility for their actions.

Tote bag featuring the words 'Harringay Local Store'Having gone all round the houses, I’m getting to the main points I wish to make:

  1. Now I’ve made it through sustainability week, I’m grateful to have had this opportunity to communicate with readers, and inspired to think about how I could use this medium in the future;
  2. I struggle with my natural inclination to want to dig deep into the politics of how as a global community, we’ve all become so invested in being consumers, rather than active citizen, but that’s discussion for another day
  3. Who knows – concerted group action to lobby for a new law, perhaps a tax on business/private jets could be achievable?
  4. In the end, it boils down to: don’t stress what you can’t change but try and change that which you can.
  5. I’m going to have a look at those eco holidays and summer train trips now…

That’s it for this year’s Sustainability Challenge. A huge thanks to Baroness Lola Young for kindly donating her time to take part in the challenge. If you want to read more, you can catch up with previous challenges.

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