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Vegetable patch Earth Day, the annual event on 22 April, was devised in 1970 by a US Senator from Wisconsin. Today the Earth Day Network has a global reach. 2009 marks the start of The Green Generation Campaign, leading to 2010, the fortieth anniversary of this important day. A billion people already participate in Earth Day activities, now the largest secular civic event in the world. It's time for us all to take the Green Generation route to the future.

Sustainability As If People Mattered.

We all have to 'Go Green'.... and even back in 1970 many of us knew it.

Whilst we in the UK were busily promoting the then very new Friends of the Earth - at the time perceived by some as a dangerously radical organisation - our eco cousins in the USA were going about their business, it seems, in a rather more formal fashion, via a proposal by Gaylord Nelson, a then US Senator, that there be a national Earth Day.

Today (22 April 2009) sees the thirty ninth anniversary of what has evolved into International Earth Day, with a network of more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries looking forward the fortieth such event, to occur in 2010.

The Green Generation
Now, the focus is on the new-wave Green Generation, a cohort with unambiguously ambitious aims:

* A carbon-free future based on renewable energy that will end our common dependency on fossil fuels, including coal.

* An individual’s commitment to responsible, sustainable consumption.

* Creation of a new green economy that lifts people out of poverty by creating millions of quality green jobs and transforms the global education system into a green one.

Sharing responsibility for sustainability
People of every sort have begun to recognise their responsibility for sustaining the future of our shared environment. Those who have their own challenges, living in a complex multi-cultural society, work together sharing a common resolve to make things better, just as others also do.

But the further you are from where decisions are made, the harder it is to get the support you need to do your part. Sometimes it's money and resources you require; other times it's the encouragement of family, friends and neighbours who don't always understand why wider environmental and community issues matter.

People at the grassroots can feel they have little power to change things.

Small actions are important
But every small effort is part of the greater scheme of things, with important ramifications.

Perhaps it's 'only' planting some vegetables with the kids in an urban space, or explaining to our children why they need to respect their environment - or indeed digging up the White House lawn to plant organically produced vegetables, as Michelle Obama has just done - but from these acts the idea can grow. We're all part of the same shared world.

The environmental movement is growing quite quickly now, even in inner cities. People undertake small projects - helping with a city farm, supporting older people who want to shop locally, or whatever - but over time the ripples of these activities will begin to overlap, as more and more people join in.

Individual initiatives become communal
You may start a small project almost alone but, as others start also do the same elsewhere, there is somehow a change in perceptions.

Through sharing ideas and action we begin to see why everyone must understand that there is only 'one planet' to live on, and that we all have to do our bit to save our environment. Big supermarkets or small traders, there is now an active acknowledgement green issues and eco-initiatives.

All together in common cause
But there's another important thing here too: It doesn't matter where you come from, or what your culture, gender or age is. We must all to 'Go Green', and quickly.

Different people from different places will start in different ways, but we all need to rely on each other. Nobody can 'save the planet' on their own: Environmental sustainability is quite a new idea, no-one rich and powerful 'owns' it.

The idea of sustainability belongs to us all. Here is something we can all contribute to.

A green leveller
The 'green agenda' is a great social leveller, because we are all part of the problem and likewise all part of the solution. Environmental actions, even tiny ones, are critical if we are to sustain our fragile planet; and, happily, sharing our concerns and our ideas for action can bring us together regardless of creed or nationality.

It's not easy to work, often unpaid and in small ways, protecting the environment and looking after the people in local communities. You can feel alone and perhaps unappreciated. But that work is vital and slowly it is being recognised - which is the first step to the work being properly supported.

With luck the Green Generation Campaign and the run-up to Earth Day 2010 will help to make that happen.


Read more about Sustainability As If People Mattered.

violin, amplifier & briefcase The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) represents all sectors of business in the city - including those who work in arts and culture. A current Chamber concern is therefore to maintain and promote the gains made in 2008 by Liverpool's creative, arts and culture sectors. The recent momentum remains fragile, and for continued success it is essential that arts and 'non-arts' businesses across the city develop the synergies to be gained by working together in 2009 and beyond.

Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool

The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a Members' Council which has an Arts and Culture Committee, of which I am chair*. This Committee seeks to help maintain the profile and business health of Liverpool's creative sector; hence the following article, a version of which has just been published in the "Liverpool Chamber" magazine:


We sometimes forget that arts and culture, as much as any other formal activity, is Business. Artistic enterprise brightens our lives and captures our imaginations, and it’s done by people, often highly trained, who earn their living in that way.

It’s therefore important that Liverpool’s Capital of Culture Year 2008 momentum is maintained into 2009. Liverpool needs the arts to flourish because they enhance both our communities and our economy.

Momentum unsecure?
Some of Liverpool’s arts practitioners fear however that the momentum of 2008 is not yet secured. The Liverpool Culture Company expects the ’09 funding round to be ‘highly competitive’; and everyone anticipates that sponsorship will be difficult to come by in the current financial situation.

So it’s unsurprising that Liverpool’s arts practitioners are currently nervous, some of them already publicly predicting ’09 will be a tough call.

New but vulnerable synergies
Of course this scenario applies to other businesses as well; but the arts have developed new synergies and added value during 2008 which, once lost, it would be extraordinarily difficult to reinvent. The ‘08 cultural gains remain vulnerable, and need more time to embed if they are to bring maximum benefit.

This isn’t simply an academic concern. Liverpool’s established businesses are beginning to wake up to how they can work to mutual advantage with arts providers.

Live music brings in more customers; visual arts encourage customers to linger; drama can be an excellent training tool.... and it also all helps the economy to tick over because practitioners are earning and spending money locally.

A role for all Liverpool businesses
The LCCI Arts and Culture Committee is seeking to encourage this beneficial synergy, but there’s a role here too for companies across the city. We all need to say how important the ’08 cultural legacy is; and we need to think how to conduct real business with arts enterprises.

Hilary Burrage
Chair [* retired June 2008], LCCI Arts and Culture Committee

A version of this article was first published in the January / February 2009 edition (Issue 19) of "Liverpool Chamber", the magazine of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Read more articles about Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool, and see more of Hilary's Publications, Lectures And Talks.

Xmas presents (small).jpgChristmas is a time for giving. But what, and to whom? Many would like Christmas to be less commercial, whilst helping those not as fortunate as themselves. Doing this in a way which shows fondness for family, friends and colleagues but also benefits others can sometimes be a difficult balance to achieve.

The Christmas charity gift brochures these days often start to arrive with the August Bank Holiday. We therefore have plenty of time to ponder the dilemmas which then arise:

(a) Do I buy gifts from these brochures, actual items, to give directly to friends and family? or
(b) Do I buy 'gifts' which are actually donations towards items required by needy people elsewhere, often in the developing world - and give my own folk tokens which say that's what I've done, of my own volition, on their behalf? or
(c) Do I give gifts which I have chosen elsewhere and then think about the charitable giving at some other point?

Not comfortable options
Most of these options leave me, at least, feeling rather uncomfortable. Buying charity Christmas cards (or some direct gifts, if genuinely appropriate) is one thing; the recipents still receive the original item. Buying charitable items which are not intended for the 'recipient', but for someone who for us is without a name, living elsewhere, is another thing altogether. The big question is, is it alright to give to charity on another's behalf, without seeing if that's what they wanted?

And, indeed, is it even OK to ask them if it is actually what they'd like to do? Perhaps, they're doing it already? Or even, uneasy thought, perhaps they wouldn't choose to give to the charity we've chosen on their unwitting behalf?

Of course, the precise intention of the charities who mail us is to encourage 'giving' - and few would deny that such giving is needed.

I do not subscribe to the idea that there is no point; I'm quite sure much of the money raised does indeed go to very good causes.

Nonetheless, is it OK to 'give' in the name of someone else? Should we give only what we own ourselves? Is it right to divert gifts from people one knows personally, to people one does not know, whilst also proclaiming a good deed on their behalf?

Another way?
Many would agree that there is a real sense in which charitable giving does reflect the 'meaning' of Christmas. The question then is, how can we do it without seeming to give what is not exactly ours - in other words the gift we would 'give' to our nearest and dearest?

I'm beginning to think there may be a way. This 'solution' depends on the amount of cash available and the sort of personal contacts one has; it's not really appropriate, say, for hard-pressed families with children where money is scarce. But for the rest of us it might work.

Christmas consortia
How about an agreement that, special exceptions apart, we all give direct personal gifts costing no more than an agreed sum - but at the same time we get together to 'buy' that much-needed donkey, tree, kids' trip, hoe, emergency kit or whatever?

It would take someone to make the initial arrangements and act as 'treasurer', and maybe each year a different member of the group might undertake that task. But it's a project which would enable us all to choose something personal for those we know and love, whilst also sharing a goal in a positive group activity, be it as colleagues, family or friends. How much each person can give would be confidential between themselves and the 'treasurer' only, but all would have contributed.

Maybe 2006 is the year to set up the rota, even if there's no time now to try the idea out fully before the festivities begin? And here are some of the many links which will take you to see what's on offer:
Charity Christmas Gift brochures.jpg
Concern Worldwide
gifts4life
Oxfam Unwrapped
Wish List (Save the Children)

Has anyone tried this way? Does it work? Maybe you could let us know in the Comments box below?

Tony Blair has been unwavering in his determination to tackle low horizons head on. This challenge lies at the bottom of all his thinking on schools and how to improve them. But maybe the voluntary, faith and business groups the Prime Minister so wants to see become involved in schools should ask themselves first what they could do to raise ambition and opportunities for the wider families of the children who most need support.

Education, education, education.... and never conceding the politics of aspiration for all. The two things are, as Prime Minister Tony Blair rightly says in his Guardian article (18 November '05), intimately connected. For almost all of us, and never more so than for those around the centre-left, this truth is both self-evident and compelling.

Perhaps however the Prime Minister's idea that 'there is a huge untapped energy in the private, voluntary and charity sectors for partnerships to help state schools' is only part of the truth.

From where I look - in Merseyside, as someone who has seen quite a bit as a teacher, social worker, researcher, evaluator, entrepreneur and so on - I'm not sure this hits all the nails on the head. It may hit some; but not all.

The options for partnership action are wider
I'm still unconvinced that Tony Bair's wished-for partnerships are most urgently needed in schools as such. For me, working on the ground, the politics of ambition has to be much broader than 'just' schools - though this is a part of the equation.

Ambition simply inside the school gates is not going to take many children very far. I accept that the Prime Minister's idea of education-other sector partnerships is (at least for now) a matter of choice; but many of the least blessed parents who, like everyone else, want the best for their children, are less concerned with well-meaning voluntary and faith groups or businesses getting involved with their kids, than they are with getting themselves into work.

For lots of people on Merseyside the main objective is just to get a job - and preferably a decent one. If voluntary and business interests, for instance, want to support disenfranchised people, perhaps they could begin by finding ways to employ them.

There are plenty of currently almost-trained adults on Merseyside whose future trade registration depends on work experience which is very hard to find. (Small businesses say they can't afford to provide this for apprentices; and most of Merseyside's economy is small businesses....) So how about starting with opportunities for less privileged parents and carers to show their children what 'real work' is, by being able to actually do it, for pay?

Ambition is a cultural thing
I don't doubt for a minute that Tony Blair genuinely wants to see progress and improvements for our children and their futures. He's absolutely right to throw down the gauntlet to us all. If we, voluntary, faith, business and other communities, want the best for children, we do indeed need to think hard about where we can best support and encourage.

And we need, too, consistently to challenge complacency, incompetence and / or narrow comfort zones, whether in local communities, schools, hospitals, industry, churches or indeed politics itself. If there are employment, educational, medical or other practitioners who don't cut the mustard, they need to understand just why this is not acceptable - though not at the (perceived) expense of people 'at the coalface' who are in fact doing a good job.

I still wonder however whether we have the right 'mix' in all this, as yet. Tony Blair has identified and articulated an important, probably fundamental, problem, in that he sees (and always has seen) education and ambition as key elements of a successful future for everyone. But I'd like to think that all those sectors apparently so keen to go into partnership to support children can grasp the aspirational challenge outside the school gates, as well as inside.