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Far From Finished

SUSTINERE stories:

In conversation with : Gareth Redmond-King, Head of Climate and Energy Policy, WWF UK

In 2017, we launched ‘Sustinere’, an Ozone Coffee series of events which showcase and celebrate sustainability and ethical practices in the hospitality industry. In March 2018, our collaboration with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Earth Hour saw a candlelit evening of discussion, conversation and of course, delicious food. We are constantly striving to improve our sustainable practices in all areas of the company and look to organisations such as WWF and events like Earth Hour to inspire us.

WWF work with hospitality business owners and operators to lead by example and take advantage of the influence we have on our communities. It’s this support that has helped WWF provide solutions for the environmental challenges we face. The annual event, Earth Hour has influenced climate policy in Argentina, Ecuador and Wales, and is responsible for a ban on plastic in the Galapagos Islands; but they know their work is far from finished.

As our future generations look to face the worst environmental affects of our broken planet, we can’t leave this for them to solve at a later date – it will be too late. Events such as Earth Hour are crucial to help the world to sit up, take notice, and take action.

This year marks Earth Hour’s 11th year since inception – what changes in public attitude towards environmental issues have you seen in that time, and what would you like to see in the coming years?

On climate change, I believe we’re finally getting away from the idea that it’s controversial – that maybe there’s evidence it’s not happening. Of course, there are still climate change denying voices, but the public – wherever you ask them about it – believe that climate change is happening, that it’s caused by humans, and that we need to tackle it. According to a poll last year, over two thirds of the UK think this way. For 80% of them, climate change’s impact on wildlife and nature is their main worry.   

When the World Economic Forum surveys Millennials around the world each year, they find climate change and environmental issues are at the top of the list of what worry them the most. Politicians now recognise that, which is why we’re seeing some encouraging changes in the UK.   

Take plastics – it felt like a big step to put a tiny charge on plastic bags, just two and a half years ago. Now, the Government is talking about charges on other plastics, about deposit schemes to encourage recycling, and a ban on plastic straws. The television series Blue Planet II told an amazing story about our oceans and the impact of plastics. We now have to tell the same stories about the other environmental impacts – climate, our food system, waste, and other forms of pollution. That’s what we try and do with Earth Hour each year, and we hope to step it up in a really big way over the next year or so.

For hospitality, a lot of our trade is around disposable consumables. What major impact have you seen on the environment as a direct result of this?

The impact of disposable – but horrifyingly durable – consumables have become so big that it’s now impossible to ignore. Plastic waste litters every corner of our planet – from the slopes of Everest, to the depths of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. We’re now eating and drinking through plastic waste because it’s so firmly embedded in the food chain – from years of just ‘chucking it away’ and not caring what happened to it. The horror around the scale of it is only matched by the realisation that we don’t know

what impact it’s going to have on human health in the long term. We already know the devastating impact it’s having on wildlife (anyone who didn’t weep when Sir David Attenborough described seeing albatrosses feeding plastic to their chicks has no soul) and it’s our revulsion at this that’s turning the tide.

Businesses of all kinds have a huge impact on the environment – materials, consumables, supply chain logistics, energy use. When businesses make an effort to reduce their impact, it not only contributes to wider action but it also shows others how it can be done.

"When the World Economic Forum surveys millennials around the world each year, they find climate change and environmental issues are at the top of the list of what worry them the most.”

What can the hospitality industry do to seek to reduce the harm to the environment that has come to be associated with the way that we eat and drink?

The hospitality industry would do really well to get out in front of this, and identify not just how to get plastics out of the picture but also how to help customers make other choices that lower their environmental impact – where and how food is sourced. What if more businesses helped to show people what they could eat to help the planet? WWF help with the evidence to inform this – but the hospitality industry has the day-to-day relationships with customers and suppliers to help make it happen.

There are also big impacts that the hospitality industry can have in terms of their energy use through cooking, heating and power. Any business owner can make choices about who supplies their energy and how green that power is with many smaller companies offering ‘renewables’ tariffs. Oh, and my own personal bugbear – please stop heating the outdoors!

Tell us something we are all doing that’s terrible but we are yet to action against. For example, a few years ago, we were all aware of the harmful affects of straws yet it isn’t until recent months that we have seen a genuine push against them.

Apart from using energy to heat the outdoors, you mean?

How we travel needs to change. Emissions from transport are increasing and although our cars are getting more efficient, they’re also getting bigger – and there are a lot of them. Emissions from vehicles don’t just contribute to climate change, they’re also poisoning our air. Using cars less is one of the biggest positive impacts we can have. Vehicle sharing, using private hire vehicles, switching to electric public transport, and more space for cycling and walking are all needed to clean up our travel. For businesses, this can mean choosing suppliers more carefully and putting pressure on their choices around how they transport goods.

"We already know the devastating impact it’s having on wildlife (anyone who didn’t weep when David Attenborough described seeing albatrosses feeding plastic to their chicks has no soul) and it’s our revulsion at this that’s turning the tide.”

The UK government has proposed a 25p ‘Latte Levy’ tax against all takeaway cups. Do you see this form of initiative as the way forward to combat waste?

Yes – it’s the basic ‘polluter pays’ principle. The 5p charge on plastic bags has had a huge affect on take-up of the bags and people’s behaviour. Some people are less likely to use disposable coffee cups just because they know the impact that they have. Thousands of people have made a promise for the planet as part of our Earth Hour campaign this year to ditch the disposable cups and carry a KeepCup or similar instead – but we know that doesn’t motivate everyone. Economics teaches us that charging helps; behavioural economics teaches us to make it easy for people (such as selling reusable alternatives in coffee shops), and that social pressure helps. Tax has its place, but so does action from businesses to make it possible – to help make it easy and attractive to do the right thing.

Recent years have shown us that ‘guilting’ the public into action and change isn’t an effective form of education. What’s the key to changing the public’s opinion? Where do you even begin?

It’s about being optimistic. It’s easy to be pessimistic about climate change but there are so many reasons not to be. For a start, we know the solutions – including clean energy, cutting waste, and protecting our oceans and forests. We also know they work – the UK alone have cut emissions by over 40 percent since 1990. Showing people that there’s an alternative is important, looking to a future where we are all responsible for taking individual actions, and where governments and businesses work together – that’s what will make the big changes.

What does the long-term future look like? What milestones would you like to see ahead?

An end to single-use plastic, sustainable food (everyone eating less meat and more plants), processed foods and toiletries using sustainable palm oil, and an end to fossil fuels by relying almost entirely on renewables by the middle of this century. All of these will help to halt the decline we’re seeing in our wildlife all over the world and restore nature as we end poaching, pollution and other forms of human exploitation. In short, working together to protect this beautiful, amazing planet, and the species that call it home.