Sara Parkin discusses the meaning of sustainable development and its importance in making our communities more resilient

March 19th, 2011 by Sara Parkin OBE

Sara Parkin OBE, Founding Director of Forum for the Future, Chairs the SDUK conference on 17 March 2011 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

This is an edited transcript of Sara Parkin‘s introduction to the SDUK conference held at the QE II Conference Centre in Westminster on 17 March 2011.

Sara Parkin OBE is Founding Director of Forum for the Future.

Her latest book is ‘The Positive Deviant: Leadership for Sustainability in a Perverse World‘ published by Earthscan.


“For me Sustainable Development means thinking about and doing something about our economic, our environmental, and our social goals at the same time, and it’s that ‘at the same timeness’ that will decide whether our development is sustainable.  We are still, after many, many years of talking about it, still considering these things far too separately.

The events in Japan have actually underlined the interconnections between all the different elements of sustainability and the systems we use to live our lives.

There’s going to be two big lessons.

One is the need to think about shifting from big energy to a much more locally secure way of supplying the services of energy – the heating, the cooling, the power, and the light, which does mean thinking more about the grid first where people are, and smaller grids with geographically appropriate mixed provision, and that will be the sort of efficiency that we need between generation, distribution, and use, bringing them again close together to get radical efficiencies.  And I think this is a good opportunity to rethink because whatever the outcome as far as nuclear is concerned and however you feel for or against it, it is not going to be easy to make that a big part of our future energy mix.

And the other thing is social resilience.

Tokyo is a big modern city and all the systems that make a big modern city work are breaking down.  There’s no food, they can’t get fuel, there are power cuts.  There is real serious breakdown of confidence in local and national government, which is clearly not coping.  It does not understand how a city works.  It does not understand how to cope with emergencies, and these are the sorts of things that extreme climate and dangerous climate change – those are the sort of things that are going to bear on us as we live in cities or indeed in rural areas, but particularly cities.

So I think that means we really have to think pretty hard about sustainability and the interconnections between, whether it is the way we generate our energy or get our food, and the way we think of resilience in the areas where we live in a much more sophisticated way than we are now.

We must do a pretty rapid transition from where we are now to a much, much more sustainable way of doing things.  We have to remember that thinking and talking are extremely important, indeed, essential, but only action will make any difference.

We are very lucky that Derek Flynn, who is Deputy Director of the Foresight Project, and who has worked on the Foresight Report on The Future of Food and Farming is here.  We have a duo of Ministers.

We have a Secretary of State with us this morning and the other Minister, David Willetts, will be taking part in one of the seminars this afternoon.  We have a chorus of contributions from the practical experience of regulators, local government, business, NGOs, government agencies, and the EU Commission.

This morning we have a great gallop through some really fantastic speakers.

In order of appearance, we are going to hear from David Jordan who is Director of Operations at the Environment Agency, and then next, a case study from Neil Herbert who is Head of Licensing and Business Improvement in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

Our morning keynote comes from Professor David MacKay who is Chief Scientific Adviser to DECC, and then there will be reflections on Cancun – the view of the EU on the international process by Dr. Artur Runge-Metzger, who is Director of International Climate Strategy, DG Climate Action for the European Commission.

And then we’re going back to local government, but an international insight from Philip Monaghan who is the author of ‘Sustainability in Austerity‘, I think a book we all need to read if we have not done so already.  And finally another of our chief scientific advisers, Professor Robert Watson from DEFRA.”

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