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January 21, 2009

Russell Downing:Can we afford not to be sustainable?

The centre manager at Sheepdrove Eco-Conference Centre says sustainability is no longer simply an option for the events you organise, but an imperative – and not just for the future of your company and your industry, but for the world itself.

I have read the recent CSR vs Recession articles with interest over the last few weeks and by and large agree with what most of the contributors have said. Sustainable and green policies are often more efficient and economical in both the short and long term. From venues to organisers, opportunities exist to improve sustainability, and there are standards, certificates and accreditations galore available to prove our worth.

There is, however, one fundamental flaw in the theory of the articles and the commentators.  The question should not be whether we can afford to be sustainable in a recession; the question should be whether we can afford not to.

The only option
We have one planet and little time to correct the mistakes of the past. If we cannot afford the green and sustainable option, we should not pay less for the alternative, we should simply do without? The choice to be sustainable should not be based on the costs involved, but recognition that climate change is a fact and the sustainable option is the only option.

For many, a slowdown provides the perfect excuse to shelve their corporate social responsibility (CSR) plans, a chance to mop their brows and breathe a sigh of relief that yet another reason has surfaced for them not to do what is right. They save their capital, profits and bonuses, while doing nothing to save the planet. 

The recession will run its course, they may (or may not) survive, and they will hope that soon after another excuse arises to save them having to worry about the environment. I expect the first will be the need to re-build their brand and market share after the downturn!

The world is watching
I appreciate that such strong views are unlikely to be shared by the masses; they don’t make short-term commercial sense. At a time when businesses are struggling, they would and could not be supported by many. But, these views, however extreme, are a logical extension of the current situation and need to be both voiced and considered.

I do not belittle the work the industry has made so far in our journey towards sustainability. The creative and flamboyant nature of events makes our challenge far greater that most. But the fact that we are so creative ensures that the world is watching. We need to set an example, put fears of the recession behind us and march on with our sustainability plans, secure in the knowledge we do it for the right reasons and the future of the planet.

As the economy spirals downwards and consumers and businesses head for budget options, spurred on by the Government’s suggestion that we spend our way out of debt, I am reminded of one particular moment from Al Gore’s film The Inconvenient Truth, where he uses images to discuss the balance between money and the world. Effectively he is saying that without money, life goes on and we slowly rebuild our economies and the future. But without the world…?

Russell Downing is centre manage at Sheepdrove Eco-Conference Centre

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