As the built environment sector becomes more aware of the climate crisis, Anthony Probert says we need to move past certification and ratings systems to achieving long-term sustainability through harder-hitting, site-specific, user-focused solutions
The Daily Express has just launched a major green campaign, calling for zero VAT on all green goods and services. A few months ago The Sun asked its readers to pledge to reduce their waste, eat less meat, curb plastic use and to recycle, reuse and repair more by joining its ‘Green Team’.
This is wonderful, welcome news. But do you sense a ‘but’ coming?
Well, no, but yes, but no. These moves by national tabloid newspapers are a great and good thing. The key justification for any media campaign is that editors and publishers believe a large chunk of their readers care about the issue in question – or can be made to care. And, just as importantly, that very few of their readers will be turned off by the campaign.
So The Sun and the Express’s green pivots signal that environmental protection, nature conservation and climate change are becoming more and more mainstream. It’s about time.
I first wrote an environmental campaigning article 40 years ago. The piece was about the need to phase out lead additive in petrol, which was damaging the brains of children and poisoning wildlife. It was written for the local newspaper which gave me my first job, and it drew entirely on the brilliant campaigning work of an organic chemistry professor at the local university, Reading’s Derek Bryce-Smith.
By the late 1980s I was getting big pieces on global warming and climate change into the Independent, where I had fetched up as environment correspondent. I claim no credit, and I hate to go into “When I were a lad….” mode. But maybe age and experience give me some perspective on newspaper environmental campaigns.
I do remember a long, bitter cold snap one winter in the mid-1990s, when snow lay across most of the country for days. I managed to get a large piece on the front page, the gist of which was “Never mind the freeze – global warming is coming, and the UK needs to take it seriously”. Running that showed a kind of courage on the part of the then editor, one Andrew Marr.
As I write this, snow has lain on the ground in my part of Kent for nearly a week. It’s really cold and a little warmth would be welcome. But I’ve not noticed any climate change naysaying. “Global warming is a hoax” isn’t trending.
Most thinking people now realise that an overall warming trend does not rule out the possibility of cold snaps. Weather always brings surprises; climate is about averages. So, while all manner of crazy conspiracy theories and hateful untruths spread through social media, the overwhelming scientific evidence for man-made climate change seems to have stabilised the concept in the public mind.
And so, the Sun and the Express run their green campaigns. Great. They and the Daily Mail need to make up for their nasty anti-green campaigning in the past, of which there has been plenty.
And let’s see if they stay the course. In the coming years we are going to have to phase out petrol and diesel cars, gas boilers in households and fossil-fuelled aviation if we are to meet our climate change pledges. That’s going to require regulations and bans and taxes. There will be campaigns of opposition. If the tabloids survive, whose side will they be on?