‘I suppose it was in the early 1960s when I was witnessing the destruction of so much natural habitat, the grubbing up of hedgerows, cutting down of trees, the draining of wetlands, the whole works – and at the same time, the destruction of the priceless historic legacy of our towns and cities. I remember it all happening in the white heat of technology. So the fact that nothing was sacred upset me a great deal.’
‘It must have been quite a struggle when you began and I know that you first talked about plastic way back in 1970 when nobody was doing that. So how much of a push-back did you have to face?’
‘Well, a great deal, but nobody really wanted to know at the time. I think they thought I was completely dotty but the trouble is, as human beings, we tend to get somewhat carried away by new technologies of convenience and I don’t think the consequences and the collateral damage of these introductions are always thought about.
For instance, nano-fibres and nano-particles have been introduced into the environment without adequate research and this has led to micro-plastics cropping up in the oceans and the environment. I remember reading about new technologies at the time and feeling that the key issue is that we need to find a balance in all of this. We need to look at the effects of these technologioes in the long-term.’
‘Sometimes we don’t even know so we have unexpected consequences. From there you went into organic farming yourself – what first put that into your head, Sir? Because again, it was not something that everybody was doing at all at the time.’
‘The reason I was drawn to it was because of mounting concern about the over-use of chemicals and artificial fertilisers made from fossil fuels, the over-use of antibiotics, the over-use of growth promoting hormones in beef production and the over-use of monocultural cropping systems. Nature is not a monoculture – it is based on immense diversity – all these things made me feel that it would all end in tears if it went too far – there would be no tomorrow – especially regarding antibiotic resistence. Of course, the ultimate irony is that, in many ways, our own internal microbiome mirrors natures macrobiome. So farming in this over-excessive conventional way is polluting us as well as nature’s own eco-systems. That’s why I have always thought that the polluter should pay. If you introduced a polluter-pay system, it would instantly start to get us on to the right track.
‘You have now launched the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) and this is something quite new, what is it and what are you hoping it will achieve?’
‘I have spent nearly 40 years of my life trying to work with the private sector and others raising awareness of the need for greater sustainability because of the damage we have been doing to the world around us – particularly global warming which leads to evermore exponential changes in our climate. I tried through endless organisations I set up to try and bring business people together to make them more aware – we ran seminars, conferences, dinners and workshops. Bit-by-bit, we recruited a few people in order to begin understanding and leading the way, but we could never get passed most of the barriers. However, I have noticed in the last 18-months that there has been a complete change of approach. Suddenly, I think people are realising the crisis – the real crisis, the real emergency that we now face and I always worry that being human, we would leave things to the last moment. As a result, we end up with a complete catasrophe because we have hit a brick wall.’
‘I launched the SMI a year ago as I have found that more and more people are interested and engaging with the environment, and there are more and more investors interested in sustainable investment opportunities. But there aren’t enough investment opportunities out there. So what my SMI is trying to do is act as a broker between the investers and finding the sustainable investment opportunities around the world. So despite endless, well-meaning commitments and targets we have yet to transition ourselves onto a guaranteed sustainable trajectory so I’ve come to the conclusion, after all these years, that the private sector has contributed to the problem over the past century but is now a very necessary and critical part of the solution. It is with private sector leadership that we are trying to encourage more and more through coalitions of the willing and I haven’t been wasting my time during this ghastly pandemic in having video round tables and Zoom calls around the world with all sorts of different sectors of the economy. We are now finding engagement on a scale I would never have believed. The SMI is catalysing the private sector to put nature, people and planet at the heart of global value creation.’
‘There is now more attention being paid so we have to grab the opportunity to make the transition that is so desperately needed.’
‘Can I just say that the first nation’s people all around the world are the people who really understand these issues. Their wisdom and understanding of what is sacred, the fact that in Canada, for example, the first nation’s people have always believed that you have to think about the 7th unborn generation. I’ve been talking to quite a lot of first nations leaders in Canada over the last year and it’s high time we paid more attention to their wisdom and the wisdom of indigenous communities. We can learn so much from them as to how we can rewrite the balance and start to rediscover the sense and the sacred because Mother nature is our sustainer – we are part of nature. We are nature. We are a microcosym of the macrocosym. But we’ve forgotten that – or somehow been brainwashed into thinking we have nothing to do with nature and that nature can just be exploited. If we just go on exploiting where we are, whatever we do to nature, however much we pollute her, we do to ourselves. It is insanity… my great ambition is to find out how to rewrite the balance.