Thursday, June 14, 2012

Green economy is taking the spotlight (in numbers as well)

The green economy is gaining visibility in increasing percentages. It appears in the lists of key players in the GDP's of diverse countries, and also in EU and corporate reports. It is becoming a winning strategy for multinationals and a driving force in the development of local economies. Localised self-sufficiency in food and energy is expanding, in response to generally applied logical solutions. The first positive results are encouraging people to look at their own resources (e.g. wood in Slovenia) and capitalize on their value, for their own, and broader global benefits. Sustainable development and the thriving planet model are clear concepts that are consistently spreading within all levels of our lives and activities. As chairwoman of Umanotera, an NGO promoting sustainable development in Slovenia, Vida Ogorelec has been driving the breakthrough in understanding our influence on the development of the planet, sustainable policies and their implementation in local environments in Slovenia for several years. We will take a look at the latest developments and initiatives in green economy, and awareness thereof, aimed at a thriving Planet Earth through her eyes. This is her story.

V: "The European sector of eco-industry has been growing by eight% in recent years and has already reached a turnover of EUR 319 billion in 2008, or 2.5 % of the EU's GDP, effectively surpassing the steel, automotive and pharmaceutical industries..." What is your view on the message of the article written by Borut Tavčar in the Delo daily newspaper?
These numbers are not surprising as they reflect developments in the past five years: following the unsuccessful Climate Conference in Copenhagen the international focus was redirected to the national and regional levels and to business opportunities. Having realised that Western civilisation's development model will not lead to prosperity for it's population of one billion without a devastating global impact, China is moving to the forefront in the search for new approaches. They are concentrating on green economy, which is showing a great potential for growth while remaining within the carrying capacity of the planet. If Slovenia fails to make a deliberate effort to join this trend, I fear that we will be completely pushed aside with regard to these developments and opportunities. In addition to having excellent natural and human potential for a green development paradigm we can also act in unity as a nation. I find great inspiration in this belief, or rather - vision. Our generation has the opportunity to find a great purpose for our actions!
Vida Ogorelec Wagner, MSc, an architect with an MFA in Influence of Design on the Environment from the Academy of Art College, San Francisco, USA. 1989-93 freelance designer/editor, 1993-94 Public Relations Adviser to the Minister the Environment and Spatial Planning. Since 1995, founder and Chairwoman of Umanotera - Slovenian Foundation for Sustainable Development where she has led several national and international projects. In 2006, she was trained in Nashville and received a license to conduct Al Gore's presentations about the impacts of climate change, based on which the An Inconvenient Truth documentary  was filmed. In 2008, she attended the Climate Leadership Programme at the University of Cambridge; in 2009, she attended the Carbon Footprinting Masterclass seminar at the University of Oxford. She participated in the first calculations of carbon footprints of Slovenian companies.
V: To what degree is the Slovenian public - and especially Slovenian companies - aware of these opportunities?
I am noticing an increasing interest in global developments and opportunities particularly among smaller, more dynamic Slovenian businesses. There are a number of dispersed initiatives, a vital undergrowth so to speak, particularly in the energy field, where direct cost benefits are already evident. It is good that new initiatives appear constantly – including in local communities and NGO's – but they are still overshadowed by major economic, predominantly industrial players. I am under the impression that the majority of our major economic players continue to view green topics as threatening and react by blocking initiatives that support a green breakthrough. This was evident during the drafting of the Climate Change Act and the Strategy for the transition of Slovenia to a low carbon society, as well as from the support for Block 6 at the Šoštanj Thermal Power Plant.

V: Which institutional instruments for the development of green economy are still inadequate in Slovenia? Which operators have not yet accomplished their mission of creating suitable conditions for social prosperity?
Political parties definitely stand out among players who fail to understand current developments and see the opportunities that can be created by a breakthrough in green development for reviving economic growth and overcoming the crisis. This is truly surprising as the EU documents on the subject are quite clear, e.g. the “Climate and Energy Package” or the “Europe 2020” strategy, which foresee sound, sustainable and inclusive economic growth. The new “Financial Framework 2014-2020” will also aim to achieve these goals.
The strongest incentives for a green breakthrough are without a doubt economic as they operate directly within the market mechanisms without complex legislation. The most comprehensive concept in this area is the green tax reform, which will terminate environmentally harmful subsidies and transfer tax burdens from work to taxation of pollution and excessive exploitation of natural resources. Umanotera is organising a meeting on this subject in September where we will host Kai Schlegelmilch, a globally renowned expert on the green tax reform.

Photo: Vida Ogorelec Wagner
Source: personal archive

V: What about the civic society? Is there an opportunity to strengthen it's role in the process of comprehensive implementation of sustainable development and a thriving society?
Absolutely! Regardless of our small size our strength is in our potential to integrate and act as catalysts that encourage processes. Our advantage is long-term vision, which is a necessity for sustainable development – quite contrary to politics and business where their temporal horizons are limited by annual business reports and four-year mandates. Our motivational drive is not based on profit or power - it is based on the values and missions of individual organisations. Many of us perform a lot of volunteer work.

V: What about the individual? What is his or her role in green evolution?
Individuals will clearly play the decisive role, each of us in our own way. If we realise our personal potential through social values and co-creativity, as well as a green economy, and establishing connections with similarly orientated people, the vital green undergrowth will grow even faster. I am meeting more and more people, including those from the business world, who are seeking different careers, such that would provide them with greater personal fulfilment. We are living in an interesting historical moment: we feel we are at a great milestone, and I believe that the evolutionary leap in society will be reflected by a mass of personal leaps forward. A green breakthrough is not the only ingredient of this great shift, it is however a very important one, because it is tied to our survival.

V: On 19 June, Umanotera and its partners in the »Plan B for Slovenia« project are organising a conference, entitled "Opening the space for a green development breakthrough". What are the aims of the conference? What do you wish to achieve?
On the day before the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) we are inviting all Slovenian participants to active consideration and implementation of green opportunities:
* Position programmes for a green development breakthrough as the key development vision in Slovenian structural policy for the EU 2014–2020 financial period.
* Reinforce existing and establish new strategic partnerships.
* Jointly draft further steps and measures for supporting the implementation of six programmes for a green development breakthrough.
Nowadays, it is important to build on what unites us. We have detected a high consensus regarding the six programmes for a green development breakthrough, which enable development in a manner that re-establishes a greater social and environmental balance. They are based on Slovenian strategic resources and opportunities. They bring opportunities for new jobs, added value and
breakthrough innovations. These projects implement sensible economics for they provide solutions to the key challenges of our time and the needs of future generations.
6 programmes for a green development breakthrough: self-sufficiency in food with a focus on healthy food and organic production; the value chain of wood processing; energy-efficient renewal of public and private buildings; transfer to renewable energy; modernisation of the railway network with a focus on the second railway line to the Port of Koper and suburban traffic, and sound management of resources with a focus on material efficiency.
V: What about the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO +20) that starts the next day? What significance does it have for our planet? What is the state of global awareness regarding the green evolution and green economy?
This year's conference does not appear to carry the same impact as the one twenty years ago, which was truly, a historic milestone for it adopted the Agenda 21 and four other conventions of major international importance. It will be conducted in the shadow of the economic and financial crisis. However, this provides it with an opportunity to bring forward the potential for green growth, which will be a central topic at the conference.
A universal planetary awareness can hardly be discussed while the differences between the wealthy and the poor in the world are so drastic and while a large part of the world continues its daily struggle for basic survival. Meanwhile, excessive consumption in the developed world is seriously threatening the planetary balance, particularly in terms of the climate. As we have already mentioned earlier, the focus of development, including green development is moving to China, as well as Brazil and India.

V: Is it possible to speak of a new eco-civilisation?
This is a positive vision for the future. I cannot even imagine a decent future for my generation, if we fail to implement the principles of sustainability and the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. However, these limitations can be the driving force that will instigate a leap to a higher level of awareness and being where growth will be achieved primarily in the personal, cultural and spiritual spheres – which are limitless.
In a world populated by seven billions long-term survival is only possible, if we live by Ghandi's principle, namely that "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed".
V: What is the current and future role of Umanotera in the development of a green consciousness in Slovenia?
Umanotera constantly seeks new paths and opportunities for promoting a shift towards a sustainable vision in Slovenia, as an example for Europe and the rest of the world. We are active in three strategic areas – top-down we are active in the areas of theory and politics of sustainable development, bottom-up in the area of practice, while both these areas are supported by the third – IEA (Information, Education and Awareness). Our role has been and continues to be, primarily an integrating one and our speciality is our comprehensive view.

V: Which sources would you recommend for broadening knowledge and understanding of the significance and lasting effects of necessary but absent decisions for achieving the goals of the thriving planet and modern eco-civilisation?
This is not a simple question as each of us have their own areas of interest and activity. It's like taste in music. TED Talks are always a good choice with their versatile and rich collection of inspiring appearances, including those concerning the environment. I can also mention a few books: Natural Capitalism: Creating The Next Industrial Revolution, Paul Hawken; Upsizing: The Road to Zero Emissions, More Jobs; More Income and No Pollution, Gunter Pauli; Blue Economy-10 Years, 100 Innovations, 100 Million Jobs, Gunter Pauli; Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, Janine M. Benyus; Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, Michael Braungart, Climate; Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change, L. Hunter Lovins; The Ecology of Commerce, Paul Hawken; HEAT, George Monbiot.

V: Concluding thoughts?
Vida: Instead of a conclusion I would rather point out an absurd situation in Slovenia with respect to environmental challenges and opportunities: the Government of the Republic of Slovenia is quickly closing down trans-sect and multi-stakeholder institutions. Recently, it adopted a decision to discontinue the activities of the Advisory Council on Sustainable Development and the Parliamentary Environmental Protection Council, while the Government Office of Climate Change was already shut down on 1st April. What does this tell you about our vision?
In view of what has been said, I would like to extend an invitation to participation in the daily activities of Plan B and to constant awareness about the environment.

Do not avert your eyes from the possibility of prosperity.

Thank you, Vida.