Profile: Sir Jonathon Porritt

Profile: Sir Jonathon Porritt

Britian’s environmental pioneer Sir Jonathon Porritt is
leading the charge to get the shipping industry to acknowledge the emissions
it’s responsible for and do something about it. Forum of the Future started the
Sustainable Shipping Initiative, which was launched in London late October. Now
with its launch in Singapore Vision2040 goes global.

Sir Jonathon Porritt is leading the charge on his latest
global campaign. This time to get the shipping industry to acknowledge the emissions
it’s responsible for and do something about it. His Forum of the Future started
the Sustainable Shipping Initiative, which was launched in London in October.
Now its vision2040 goes global.   See
separate article on shipping emissions.

We met and talked to Jonathon – as this Knight is happy to
be addressed – and we discussed his early days in New Zealand where his father
was Governor General for a time.

He was born in 1950. He describes his younger years
thus:  “The next couple of decades flowed
by effortlessly at Eton, Magdalen College, Oxford, and dossing around planting
trees and farming in New Zealand and Australia.”

He first got involved with environmental issues in 1974 –
that makes him a definitive pioneer – at the same time as he became a teacher
in a West London comprehensive, which he says he “absolutely loved”.

Ten years later, he left teaching to become Director of Friends
of the Earth where he stayed until 1991, just prior to the Earth Summit in Rio
de Janeiro in 1992, which he describes as “a life-changing experience”.

In 1996, he was instrumental in setting up the Forum for the
Future, which remains his ‘home base’ in terms of all the different things  he does these days do today. He is also Co-Director
of the Prince of Wales’s Business & Sustainability Programme, and was Chair
of the UK Sustainable Development Commission between 2000 and 2009.

In inveterate campaigner, lobbyist and advocate for all
things environmental and sustainable, he has taken to blogging in a big way.

“I’ve been blogging for a long time, but that’s only a small
part of all the different things I’m involved in these days. It’s a funny old
mix. Part advising, part campaigning, part writing and broadcasting, part
lecturing and giving talks. And all done with a funny old mix of companies,
NGOs, Universities and public sector bodies. It’s mostly through Forum for the
Future, but through all sorts of other organizations too – as you’ll see”.

His involvement with government used to be much greater than
it is today. Up until July 2009, he was Chair of the UK Sustainable Development
Commission, a post to which he was appointed by Tony Blair back in 2000.

“The Commission itself is no more, Jonathon says in
exasperation, “as the Coalition Government idiotically decided to get rid of it
which demonstrated, early on, just how utterly vacuous its commitment to being
‘the greenest government ever’ looks like in practice.”

More glimpses into the life and times of Jonathon Porritt
through one of the many biographical portraits on him:

Co-Founder of Forum for the Future, he is an eminent writer,
broadcaster and commentator on sustainable development.  Established in 1996, Forum for the Future is
now the UK’s leading sustainable development charity, with 70 staff and over
100 partner organisations including some of the world’s leading companies.

In addition, he is Co-Director of The Prince of Wales’s
Business and Sustainability Programme which runs Seminars for senior executives
around the world.  He is a Non-Executive
Director of Wessex Water, and of Willmott Dixon Holdings.  He is a Trustee of the Ashden Awards for
Sustainable Energy, and is involved in the work of many NGOs and charities as
Patron, Chair or Special Adviser.

He was formerly Director of Friends of the Earth (1984-90);
co-chair of the Green Party (1980-83) of which he is still a member; chairman
of UNED-UK (1993-96); chairman of Sustainability South West, the South West
Round Table for Sustainable Development (1999-2001); a Trustee of WWF UK (1991-2005),
a member of the Board of the South West Regional Development Agency

He stood down as Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development
Commission in July 2009 after nine years providing high-level advice to
Government Ministers.

His latest books are Capitalism As If The World Matters
(Earthscan, revised 2007), Globalism & Regionalism (Black Dog 2008) and
Living Within Our Means (Forum for the Future 2009).

Jonathon received a CBE in January 2000 for services to
environmental protection.

Here’s what he reports on his work for the Sustainable
Development Commission (2000-2010):

“Between 2000 and 2009, a big chunk of my working life was
dedicated to the Sustainable Development Commission, as its first Chair.

“The SDC was set up by Tony Blair to be the principal source
of independent advice to all branches of government – and across the whole of
the UK. It started small, but gradually established its role, and after the
publication of 2005 Sustainable Development Strategy (which transferred responsibility
for scrutiny of government performance from Defra to the SDC), it grew to an
organisation of about 70 people.

“It is now widely recognised that this put the UK out in
front in terms of equivalent SD initiatives elsewhere in the world. And in a way
that surprised a lot of people, both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown absolutely
respected the independence of the Commission – though they didn’t always like
the advice we gave them!

“We were also allowed to reflect the full breadth of the SD
agenda, with as much of a focus on education, health, the economy and
governance issues as on climate change, land use, transport, food and farming
and so on. And we did a huge amount of stuff on SD strategies, Departmental
Action Plans, procurement, policy appraisal – and all sorts of geeky things that
never saw the light of day!

“The essence of the SDC’s success was an extraordinary
combination of a really smart, highly-motivated Secretariat, and the
Commissioners themselves – all experts in their own respective fields, all
sharing a passion for sustainable development as ‘the central organising
principle’ for the whole of government.

“Sadly, the SDC is no more. It fell foul of the incoming Coalition
Government’s ‘quango cull’ – or, to be more accurate,  it fell foul of some deep ideological
prejudices and a craven reluctance to expose government performance to any kind
of independent scrutiny. As was subsequently confirmed when the Government also
got rid of the Audit Commission.

“I’m still spitting
with rage one year on from this act of cretinous vandalism  – as is still reflected in my blogs from

“To get a better sense of what we were able to achieve
through the SDC’s ten year span, you can still check out the archive website

Jonathon might appear in every respect as an important
English gentlemen, maybe even resembling a British businessman (which he is) or
even a “conservative” politician, which he is certainly not!

Here’s a delightful
piece he wrote on:

Trees In The Blood

I often wonder how trees get into one’s blood. Neither of my
parents had the remotest interest in trees, and my mother would endlessly wax
lyrical about the landscapes of Lincolnshire (where she grew up) which for me
border on the god-forsaken precisely because they are so tree-less.

I grew up in London – more particularly, near Hampstead
Heath, a precious oasis of semi-natural green in the middle of London. It’s
small, in real terms, no more than a couple of hundred acres. But through the
eyes of an eight-year old boy, it was absolutely huge and much too large to be
properly encompassed at ground level.

So my first relationship with trees started predictably: God
had obviously put them on Earth for me to climb. I first learned about nature
and my interdependence with nature hanging precariously out of the branches of
those wonderful, long-suffering trees, taking equal pleasure in the sense of
danger, the sense of isolation and the sense of being utterly at home.

From that time on, I was completely hooked, and remain an
unreconstructed dendrophile to this day. I’ve encountered many trees, many
woods, many forests since then, and fashioned many intimate relationships with
those trees. I have found myself replenished and enriched in more ways than I
could begin to describe.

In the early 1970s, over three separate years, I ended up
(for all sorts of peculiar reasons) planting a 70-acre patch of scrubby land
just outside Auckland in New Zealand with tens of thousands of radiata pine.

I have to say I felt very good about every aspect of that
process. I revelled in the planting, month after month, often in high wind and
pouring rain; I loved watching the trees grow, thinning them out pretty
ruthlessly, pruning them rigorously to maximise end value; I even enjoyed (in a
rather more confused and painful way) the moment when they were all cut down at
the end of a normal cycle of 30 years.

So I love trees as much as the next person. But I’m not
sentimental about cutting them down – at the right time – and managing them
properly until that time. As long as there’s respect – and even awe – embedded
in that relationship.

That’s why the Coalition Government’s crass,
ideologically-inspired decision in 2010 to flog off the whole of the Public
Forest Estate instantly enraged me. It was both arrogant and cheap at the same
time; it was equally contemptuous of local communities (with their own
particular set of loyalties and affinities for their woodlands), and of the
Forestry Commission, which had transformed itself into a highly effective
manager/regulator after the “bad days” of the 1980s. It was despicably
care-less – as were the craven reactions of the national NGOs that so
unquestioningly went along with this sell-off proposal.

And that’s why I helped set up Our Forests – with an
eclectic bunch of people who all care as deeply about England’s woods and
forests as I do, albeit for all sorts of different reasons.

And that’s why I’m still determined to see things through,
even though the Government would appear to have backtracked on its original
proposals. I don’t trust them an inch, and though I think that the big NGOs
have now got the measure both of this Government and of the general public’s
determination to protect its woodlands and the Public Forest Estate in general,
I’m not sure I can quite trust them either on this particular issue.

I know that’s not a very “friendly” position to be adopting,
and it’s obviously caused some strain between myself and many others in today’s
Green Movement. Not least because I know that most of the individual members of
those organisations care about forests and woodlands in pretty much the same
way as I do, and would instantly resonate with these powerful words from John

“No religion is the only religion, no church the true
church; and natural religion, rooted in the love of nature, is no exception.
But in all the long-cultivated and economically-exploited lands of the world,
our woodlands are the last fragments of comparatively unadulterated nature, and
so the most accessible providers of the relationship, the feeling, the
knowledge that we are in danger of losing.”

Jonathon received a CBE in January 2000 for services to
environmental protection.

Not expecting Sir Jonathon Porritt to ever stop in his
efforts to set the world on a greener or more sustainable path, he gathers a
lot earnest and well-connected people around him.

He has not only successfully spread the word, but also his
influence, and as with his latest Sustainable Shipping Initiative he brings
together movers and skakers in the business world, who see this is the right
thing to do.

He might be one of Britain’s environmental pioneers, but he
is unlikely to see that his job is done for a long time yet.  A knight in shining armour?  He wouldn’t see it that way. But he is a man
who means business and gets things done.
Just what’s needed to lead the “action for a sustainable world”.


Leave a Reply