On Thursday last week (04/05), I stepped down from my role as Founder Director of Forum for the Future. Nearly 30 years on since myself, Sara Parkin and Paul Ekins brought the Forum into being. My colleagues organised a wonderful farewell party for me, prompting me (for once!) actually to prepare a proper written speech. This is it.


It’s just wonderful to see you all here – quite a gathering!

As you might imagine, I’ve been thinking a bit (well, quite a lot, actually!) about what I’d say this evening. The truth of it is that I’ve just been overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude, not just for my time with the Forum, but looking back over nearly 50 years, reflecting on just how fortunate I have been –

  • To have had a safe and very happy childhood – and adolescence – with parents who never let me forget how privileged we were, but who simultaneously gave me nothing but support. Even though they were worried that I had completely lost my marbles when I joined the Green Party in 1974!
  • How fortunate I was to have stumbled early on across such great teachers in the books I was able to get my hands on then – Fritz Schumacher, Donella Meadows, Rachel Carson, Herman Daly and so on.
  • How fortunate I was to have had an astonishingly rewarding and educational ten years as a teacher in a London Comprehensive …
  • … and to have had the good sense to know when the right moment came to seize hold of an incredible opportunity as Director of Friends of the Earth in London in 1984.
  • How fortunate I was, because of that, to have been sent as a ‘roving reporter’ to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 – by the Daily Telegraph, of all God-forsaken right-wing rags!
  • And to have taken away from that experience the strongest possible conviction that what mattered next for me was to start working with people’s positive energy, leading directly to the setting up, as Co-Founder, of both Forum for the Future and the Prince of Wales’s Business and Sustainability Programme – both of which continue to thrive.
  • And how fortunate I’ve been, throughout that time, to have had so many amazing friendships – most of them, it has to be said, involved in one way or another with this great sustainability work of ours, and, for the last 40 years, to have had the support and love of my partner Sarah (with the occasional pushback!), blessed as we both have been by two wonderful daughters – with our older daughter, Eleanor, here this evening.

With all that good fortune, how could I not have ended up carving out some kind of useful role for myself – and thank God that I realised very early on, in 1973 as it happens, that I really wasn’t cut out to the lawyer! Despite being ‘gabby and excessively argumentative’, as one of my teachers once said!

Tonight, of course, my gratitude spilleth over for 30 wonderful years with the Forum, of which I can unhesitatingly say that I feel more proud than of anything else I’ve done. It’s a joy that so many of my colleagues, past and present, are here this evening.

I know many people say this, but the Forum really is nothing more and nothing less than the people who work in the Forum – fired up, as they are, by their passion for people and planet, so supportive of each other, necessarily made of very stern stuff facing into the painful reality of our shattered world, yet always, always, seriously fun-loving!

So, moving on is a wrench, to say the least. But as someone who’s watched many organisations implode as a consequence of one variety or another of Founder’s Syndrome, I thank my lucky stars (again!) that it was possible for me to step back from any serious decision-making role in the Forum a long time ago – in fact, in 2005, when we appointed our first excellent CEO, Peter Madden, also here tonight, and then stepping even further back with the appointment of Sally Uren in 2013. Ten years, Sally!

Thank you again, Sally, for your very generous comments earlier. Actually, it’s almost impossible for me  to express my gratitude to you. However far back I may have stepped from hands-on decision-making, the Forum was then and always has been my cherished baby (organisationally speaking!) It’s meant so much to me that you have come to love the Forum as much as I have, over your 20 years in the Forum, and to have been such a constant, resilient and inspirational leader, through thick and thin.

But, like everybody in this room, Sally and I know for sure that we’re heading into some very troubled times. Off the back of 30 wasted years – and, yes, in all my naivety, I really did think we’d witnessed a real turning point at the Rio Earth Summit – off the back of those 30 wasted years, things can now only get worse. And then worse again. And then a whole lot worse after that.

I know that’s not exactly ‘on message’ for a joyful leaving party – but that’s the truth of it, and even a leaving party is no place for the all-too-prevalent self-censorship that dogs our world.

Which is why it’s so special for me to be sharing this moment here in Unilever House – after a somewhat astonishing 27 years acting as an advisor to Unilever!

I’m still here in that role, with no self-censorship required, for a simple reason: I sort-of love this company – for its integrity, its searching after the truth of what it knows it needs to be doing, and inspiring so many others to think differently about what they need to be doing. And I also happen to have a very soft spot for Marmite!

Ironic, then, that my old organisation, Friends of the Earth, chose to target Unilever’s AGM yesterday – for its lack of ambition in not having set a target to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 45% by 2030. By all accounts, Unilever’s Chair and Alan Jope did a good job reassuring those protestors (and it’s great to have FoE’s two Co-Directors here this evening!), but like every other Chair and CEO in progressive companies today, here’s what they couldn’t say:

‘Actually, we entirely agree with what you’re saying, and we stand ready to meet your demands – ONCE you get today’s utterly useless politicians to reframe the markets in which we still have to compete – to mandate or incentivise what we all so urgently need to do – to rewrite the rules of the game – and, in the process, allow us, as business leaders, to remove our names as signatories to those short-sighted politicians’ insane Suicide Pact – to use António Guterres’ compelling phrase.’

That’s not to let business off the hook. Companies don’t have to use that kind of language (as if!), but it is really disappointing that so few of them are prepared to speak out – unambiguously – to articulate that reality about ‘the rules of the game’, and how hard it is to do what they need to do given this political paralysis. And it’s particularly disappointing that companies today are still so reluctant to speak out against the excesses, the dark arts and the utter immorality of today’s fossil fuel industries. Time to break ranks, surely?

Forgive the anger! But decades of dealing with feckless, venal, dishonest and wilfully ignorant politicians fills me with a kind of non-specific universal rage.

Don’t worry: I know that anger on its own is a dangerous psychological driver! I learned a long time ago that one can only avoid the corrosive impact of anger by converting it into action – especially around the Climate Emergency.

And it’s that action today, particularly on the part of astonishingly courageous climate campaigners, and particularly young climate campaigners in XR and Just Stop Oil, that gives me real hope.

For me, that’s where pride comes back into the mix. Vicariously, I’m so proud of those young people showing us how it really is. And I want to feel proud again of my country as a genuine leader in addressing the Climate Emergency, rather than a deeply cynical leader in STIDA – Setting Targets Instead of Doing Anything! Beyond that, I want to feel proud again of my country in general – it hurts, on a daily basis, to wake up feeling ashamed of pretty much everything this ghastly Government stands for.

And there’s something else for me personally. I still want to feel proud – for what would be the first time ever in my life – of my own generation. I don’t feel pride on that score today. Indeed, I really can’t understand how our bystander generation, this disproportionately blessed but uncountenanceably complacent and uncaring generation, can really live with itself.

So, if I’ve anything else to add to what I’ve been able to do over these 50 years – it’s in that space of intergenerational justice that I still hope to be able to make a bit of a difference. That’s it really. My ‘theory of change’ – let’s not forget this is a Forum for the Future event, and no Forum event is complete without a little bit of ‘theory of change’ bullshit – is all about the potential for contagion:

  • Contagion in spreading hope through action;
  • Contagion in amplifying the stories of young people’s inspiring courage, against all the odds;
  • Contagion in the power of grief, to help people see the world in a very different way;
  • Contagion in laughter, joy and celebration – though I fear I haven’t made a very good job of that tonight!

So that’s where I’ll be, all being well, making myself as contagious as possible! And I seriously hope not just to stay in touch with you all in that space, but to be stepping out together to face some much bigger challenges than any of us have had to face before.