Green connections: from London to Liverpool

Last week I spent a day at Ecobuild and then took a train to Liverpool for the Green Party’s Spring conference. In the midst of Excel’s vast halls beside the Thames there was some deep green thinking going on and at the ACC, on the banks of the Mersey, social justice was as much discussed as the environment.

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At Ecobuild, Deloitte Real Estate Partner Miles Keeping (second from right above) presented an assessment of the political parties’ policies on sustainability – essentially carbon reduction. Almost without exception the Green Party topped the tables.

Keeping also quoted a recent survey of over 800 industry professionals by the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment which found that more than half thought Natalie Bennett of the Green Party shows the strongest leadership on climate change. The Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour leaders earned just 23% of the vote combined.

Throughout the day, speakers at Ecobuild made the connections between individual behaviour and wellbeing, building performance and climate change. If asset value, not cost savings, is what really drives change, as Richard Francis of Monomoy Company said, then surely the planet is the ultimate asset.

At times the arena at Excel took on the flavour of a political meeting as when Paul Mason, economics editor at Channel 4 News, called for regulatory intervention to create ‘post-capitalism’: “The market needs re-structuring and supressing,” he said in a session entitled People, the planet and the banks: are they mutually exclusive? Phrases you don’t normally hear at a building trade show.

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The distance between Mason (centre above) and Andrew Sentance (right above, former member of the MPC) was stark. Sentance places his faith in markets but wants growth to be “reasonably shared”. Mason says markets are not allocating resources to where they’re needed.

At the Green Party Conference in Liverpool, Molly Scott Cato, an economist and Green MEP for the South West, took the diagnosis (and the prescription) further. The Green Party’s policy on the economy is characterised as zero growth – it’s actually more nuanced than that. See

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The aim is essentially zero net growth, says Cato. This is not the same as no growth, anywhere. Growth is clearly needed in some areas – sustainable housing, better public transport and environmental protection for example, but should be balanced by reducing wasteful consumption and damaging development.

Beyond that, the Greens want to replace GNP as an indicator of progress/prosperity as it doesn’t adequately measure people’s sense of well-being. They would look to alternative indicators that seek to provide a picture of how we are progressing towards sustainability, equity, and happiness.

In Liverpool Kate Raworth, proponent of Doughnut Economics asked simply “What does progress look like?” It’s balance not simply a rising line, she said.

At Ecobuild the panel essayed some solutions to the growth/sustainability conundrum including green capital accounting; an ‘entrepreneurial state’ that invests in major projects such as renewable energy; pricing externalities and a Nature and Wellbeing Act currently being promoted by UK conservation charities.

In London and Liverpool, I was encouraged by how much common ground there is between those working on energy efficiency, sustainability and wellbeing in the built environment and those working in local, national and European politics to bring about a sustainable future.

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