Are major exhibitions and conferences an effective way to raise climate awareness?

In my role as Head of Sustainability I’m often at environmental events such as the excellent ones organised by the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) and this does make me a target for people who are trying to jump on the latest bandwagon as a way of growing their business.

I can’t tell you how many shows, exhibitions and conferences I’ve been invited to, where the real purpose was to convince Mitsubishi Electric to spend money buying exhibition space or sponsoring part of the event – in order to make sure it was properly funded.  Some of these may well be worth it, but some really are not.

Now I’m certainly not tarnishing all of these ‘opportunities’ with the same brush and undoubtedly, some will grow and become a focus for real change, in the way that Ecobuild did (now a part of Future Build) – and some would argue still does.

Remember that it started out as a fairly small ‘alternative’ show at Earls’ Court before the move across London to Excel. I seem to remember a lot of bike sheds and composting toilets in the early days.

Surely there are other ways to communicate that don’t involve the huge carbon footprint of a trade show?

Martin Fahey2 Martin Fahey Head of Sustainability

It’s good to talk

And we do undoubtedly need to engage in more discussion and dialogue about what needs to be urgently done to help us tackle the climate crisis.  That is after all what Ms Thunberg and her fellow school strikers are demanding.

So I am all for supporting ways of getting people to network, discuss and learn from each other – but does it always have to involve big, shiny corporate stands at big shiny exhibitions?

As we start a new decade, surely there are other ways to communicate that don’t involve massive expense and the huge carbon footprint involved in a huge trade show?

A national debate

And what about those people who will never be invited to such a show, or are not interested in investing the time or effort? How do we reach them as this crisis affects all of us and surely it needs all of us to play our part – doesn’t it?

You may find my next point hard to believe given the antipathy of most people to politics, especially after the last three and a half years.  But I do think we are witnessing the start of a growing awareness amongst ordinary people of the need for the world to do something – and the fact that this means they must get involved.

I think this really started with programmes such as Blue Planet, highlighting the terrible harm our waste is doing to the oceans, with dreadful images of turtles caught in abandoned nets, or a whale hanging on to her baby, who had died from ingesting a plastic bag.

These were wake up moments that really cut through to the masses in a way that no ‘lecturing’ politician or celebrity ever could.

What we need to do is find a way to keep this issue front of mind for ‘ordinary’ people.

Little changes

It has happened with plastic carrier bags and is now happening with single-use bottles, although far more needs to be done.

It is also happening with food as people question whether they need all of the packaging that modern shops provide and we are seeing high street stores change the way they offer goods.

It is also happening with people questioning what they eat and taking part in Veganuary or simply cutting down on meat and dairy.

And these small, individual changes are starting to make a difference and are helping raise awareness of other areas where individuals can make a difference, such as replacing aging oil boilers with renewable technologies such as heat pumps.

Next step transport

I also see it seeping into public debates about issues such as whether HS2 should continue and this for me is a good example of how and why we need to discuss these things.

HS2 was initially sold on the idea of high speed commuting, connecting parts of the country, but actually, the idea of having a dedicated high speed line then frees up the other existing rail lines for more enhanced, localised services, helping to potentially rejuvenate the local areas too.

And done properly, that high speed rail can then compete with air travel, helping reduce aviation emissions somewhat.

The government has recently announced a ban on diesel and petrol cars in what seems a very short timeframe and this is another area where people will be directly affected.

How can I charge my car if I don’t have off street parking? How can we produce enough electricity if we all have electric cars? How are we going to pay for all this?

These and other questions will have to be addressed and many are realising that 15 years is not very far away. This will keep the environment front of mind for the average person, which means it will continue to be a topic of conversation.

And this for me is the key.  We have to show individuals how it impacts on them and their life.  Why it is so important. And why they need to do something about it! 

Green buildings

As a manufacturer of products used to heat, ventilate and cool (where necessary) buildings, you would expect me to have an interest in energy use in the built environment and this is certainly an area where we, collectively can make a big difference.

What you might not expect me to say is that we want to sell you ‘less’ of our products and by that, I mean smaller boxes to heat, cool and ventilate your space.

In other words, buy the right sized and specified air conditioning or heating you need to keep your rooms comfortable in the most energy efficient way possible.

What the construction industry has done in the past is provide ‘comfort’ for the extremes of the British weather, rather than the average. This means that most boilers are oversized, and most air conditioning has more capacity than really needed.

Yes, you need a system that can cope whatever the weather, but you don’t need it on FULL heating or cooling, every single day of the year.  That’s not how Britain and it’s weather works.

What you need is something that delivers absolute, controllable comfort and occupant wellbeing, regardless of what’s happening outside.

It’s all about a focus on sustainability and need, rather than the next ‘sale’. 

AND that my friends, is what it all comes down to at the end of the day!

We know we simply cannot go back to living in caves. That is not the answer.

So how do we sustain ourselves, our businesses, and our lifestyles?

Key word here is of course SUSTAINABILITY.

Martin Fahey is Head of Sustainability at Mitsubishi Electric UK & Ireland