On June 28th, Helen Howells had the honour of Chairing IEMA Wales’ first bilingual event focusing on Sustainability legislation in Wales. Two guest speakers, Heledd Morgan, Office of the Future Generations Commissioner and Russell De’Ath, Natural Resources Wales addressed a packed crowd at the Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, with participants coming as far as Edinburgh to learn more about how Wales is changing the way it does business.
Here, Helen discusses her personal take on recent legislative changes in Wales.
Sustainability is a term that is banded about often, but few question the meaning behind the word, which is sometimes misused by those who probably mean ‘financially viable.’ Wales leads the way in its approach to Sustainability, with its legal duty to sustainable development embedded in the blueprint of the Wales Act 2006 and the formation of the devolved Welsh Government. Coupled with the adoption of the Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, Wales punches above its weight in its aspirations and commitment to a nation where all can prosper, now and in the future.
But as Sustainability professionals, we sometimes struggle to convey these broad and at times theoretical concepts to others, which poses a big risk in ensuring that the principles of social and environmental responsibility remains relevant to business. A question I posed at the start of the session was how did people feel when asked the simple question by friends and family, ‘So what exactly do you do, Hels?’ There wasn’t a great show of hands.
And answering that question boils down to what sustainability means to you, after all “we don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.”
What does Sustainability mean to You?
The definition of Sustainability to me, resonates strongly with my childhood and upbringing along the Teifi valley in West Wales. I spent long summers on my family’s farm where I was taught the names of trees and plants, local legends and folklore that held a deep respect for nature, my ‘cynefin’ and the farming calendar that moves to the rhythm of nature’s drum.
My Aunt introduced me to my favourite couplet from T.Llew Jones’ Yr Hydref,(The Autumn). T.Llew was a prolific welsh author, poet and curator of welsh folklore and wrote many children’s books, loved by all of us lucky enough to have experienced a welsh language education. It goes like this:
“Ar hyd ei oes, fe gar dyn
Y pridd sy’ pia’u wreiddyn.”
For my friends who aren’t blessed with the language of heaven, “Man will always love the soil that holds his root.” And it is here that I can start to define my own meaning of Sustainability – to pursue the knowledge of how our ‘cynefin’ contributes to our well-being, and using this knowledge to manage our soils in a way that can sustain my roots, those of my neighbours – our children’s roots, and those of our grandchildren.
So what do you do?
I help companies, charities, and organisations to navigate the nuanced complexities of sustainability by mapping their activities against profit, people and planet. I develop metrics so they can keep themselves accountable which can include sales, carbon, the diversity of their teams and their relationships with customers and suppliers.
But the most common area of work for me is reaching out to organisations and giving them the space to think through their current operational model and support them to create their own paths to sustainability, testing their assumptions, challenging self-limiting boundaries and developing compelling and meaningful narratives to drive changes from the board room to the break room.
Legislating for Values
In terms of the current suite of legislature in Wales, at a basic level, the Environment Act is a legislative expression of our love for our ‘Cynefin’ and the Well-Being of Future Generations Act a legislative expression of our love for our people. And what we must take from these changes are not necessarily the lengthy process-oriented directives for bureaucrats to produce Well-Being Plans and Area Statements, which is a ‘safe space’ for public servants but its bold approach in saying live and work by these values. Be brave, take risks, but ultimately do the right thing by people and planet (to hell with due process)! The challenges facing us as a nation, as humanity, demand urgent attention and the need to embrace creativity, diversity and disruption.