As I prepare to leave Hubbub at the end of June handing over to the new CEO, Alex Robinson, I thought it would be useful to reflect on the wider global context for the organisation and the UK’s sustainability movement in general.    

The horrific war in Ukraine is causing shockwaves around the world speeding up many trends that were already occurring and creating a new series of crisis. Analysts are predicting a global food shortage, radical changes to energy policies, a cost-of-living crunch and associated political and social upheaval. 

At times of unprecedented change there is a risk that policymakers will head for short-term solutions regardless of long-term consequences creating protectionist policies that may have localised benefit but create wider global problems. We are already seeing this play out with the UK government providing windfall benefits for fossil fuel intensive energy companies rather than investing in energy efficiency and the severely watered-down Food Bill which has been extensively criticised by experts from a range of sectors.

The sustainability movement in the UK needs to stand strong against these knee-jerk reactions whilst recognising that the war has moved the world to a different place requiring a change of strategy and narrative. What might this new approach need to consider? 

The climate crisis is also a social and political crisis 

The war has made it more obvious than ever that the climate crisis has a social and political dimension. Climate policies will fail if they penalise those least able to pay creating a social and political backlash. The sustainability movement needs to embrace this realisation ensuring that campaigns and policies are seen to be fair and just to all sections of society. 

Reimagination 

Tinkering around the edges is not going to address the scale of the challenges we now face. Bold new thinking is required using the speed and ingenuity often more associated with start-ups rather than larger organisations. To address the increasing global resource crunch hyper-efficient solutions will be required, supply chains will have to be scrutinised to assess political risks and more localised solutions will be required in a world where the benefits of globalisation are being questioned. 

Collaboration 

Broader collaboration will be the key to guiding us through the crisis. We are already seeing previously competitive organisations coming together to create strategies addressing problems such as the shortage of fertiliser. This trend needs to accelerate bringing together organisations from across society to explore novel approaches that can address the new reality. 

New priorities 

The war has starkly revealed the fragility of our global food system.  Heavy reliance on a small number of staple ingredients requiring intensive farming methods creating high levels of waste has led the UN to warning that we are facing a food crisis.  This vulnerability will increase with more extreme weather events whilst high transport costs will put financial pressures on those least able to pay.  Creating a more sustainable food system must become an absolute priority as this will help tackle the climate crisis and the cost-of-living crunch. 

Language 

The sustainability movement has long been guilty of creating a language that can feel distant and confusing to most of the public.  At a time of increasing stress and uncertainty this must change with the movement more clearly explaining how the recommendations it is proposing will provide benefit to households, policymakers and society. For instance, rather than talking about the ‘circular economy’ should we not explain this approach will create less reliance on political unacceptable regimes and build national resilience?  

Crucially, we must recognise that the global dynamic has significantly altered. We face a time of great risk but also opportunity. I know that Hubbub is already reacting to these external circumstances by increasingly linking social benefits to the wider environmental crisis, extending their work on food and continuing to seek collaborative solutions. These will also be themes that I take forward in my new organisation. Alongside these efforts the wider movement needs to do all we can to ensure the changes that occur over the coming months effectively tackle the growing financial, social and climate challenges we confront.  

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