pushing an elephant up the stairs

I’m Malcolm, I’m one of the merry band of Environmental Practices Advisers that covers the South West of England.

I’ve been staring at the blank screen for a couple of minutes, trying to work out how to chip in from the sunny SW when all of the posts before me are so full of amazing projects and plans.  What do I add to the mix? Perhaps a slight bump in the road?

It can sometimes feels like I’m selling snake oil when after decades of working in sustainability I’m still out there telling people that they really should insulate that loft space, or that it’d be really nice if they could turn things off when they go home at night.  I’m convinced that by now we know what we should be doing. The actual doing however, is the tough bit.  I walked into a property office a couple of weeks ago and found that although no-one except the property administrator was in and hadn’t been for three hours as they were all out working hard, that every single computer and light was on in the building.  We all know that we should turn things off, recycle, use less but actions are proof, words are sweet as honey. Basic stuff.

Keith and Paul up there in Wales have done some amazing things around sustainability over the years and through their hard work and the efforts of a lifetimes pushing by the beard that is Rob Jarman, it’s rubbing off on other parts of the National Trust.  However, it’s definitely rubbing slower in some parts than others – although it might not be politically correct to put this in the public eye, as an organisation we don’t have all the answers and we haven’t fixed it all.

I find myself, like many environmental professionals across the globe in all manner of organisations pushing sustainability at a management team who have other priorities. Mostly involved in trying to earn enough money to keep our fabulously diverse range of landscapes, buildings and coastline protected for my son, and his children to enjoy in years to come.  A kind of sustainability, yes, but a view blinkered by the shackles of traditional business models.

Sometimes, sat in strategy meetings surrounded by talk of selling more scones, I’m reminded of the REM song The Great Beyond and more particularly the line “I’m pushing an elephant up the stairs”.  In this case sustainability is the proverbial elephant and it can sometimes feel very very hard to be the unfortunate soul attached that big backside, dodging the poo.  As US President Obama has arguably found to his favour, it can take something big to shift opinions and although you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy, perhaps what we need is a Hurricane Sandy scale wake up call. A clarion call to action if you will.

This isn’t meant as a doom and gloom message as all of the environmental practices team across England, Wales & Northern Ireland are out there day by day, looking in septic tanks, mingling with spiders in loft cavities;  fighting the good fight.  In the SW we’ve done some great stuff in projects; we have biomass boilers, we have PV panels on grade 1 listed castles, we have fancy LED lights, we’re looking at better understanding of our building’s energy requirements.  So we’ve done some great work but almost all of it involves the words flagship, exemplar, pilot or major projects.  It’s the exception rather than the norm and it should be a reality check for us an organisation to understand that we’re not all on the same page when it comes to the basic ‘buy in’ to a green agenda.

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