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Green growth – good for the environment and the economy

This post is by Matthew Spencer, Green Alliance’s director. It was first published in our journal, Inside Track.

Amidst the gloom of austerity politics and melting polar ice we have something to celebrate. Remember all those arcane battles to create the policy frameworks for cleaner water, greater recycling and green energy? After years of slog from advocates, entrepreneurs and a fair few politicians, it is bearing fruit.

Green business activity has become a force in the land, overtaking high profile sectors like telecoms and automotive industry in employment numbers and quietly establishing itself as a major export success story.  Last year it contributed a third of the UK’s growth, and next year it is expected to halve our total trade deficit. If you are reading this, the chances are that you played some part in this success.

Coming of age
In the nineties green jobs were a projection, predicated on future policy and heroic assumptions about its impact on investment. Some of this policy arrived and the noughties saw significant growth but in a dispersed pattern, with jobs occurring in modest numbers in most constituencies in the UK. They were largely unseen by politicians, and totally invisible to economists as they didn’t get logged separately in surveys of business sector activity.

But in the twenty teens green business activity has come of age, as demand for green goods and services has soared in the construction sector, renewables policy stepped up a gear, vehicle manufacturers pursued low carbon technology innovation and the UK has become a major green business service provider to the world. Since 2010 this activity has been picked up in an annual survey by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills which interrogates green business activity across all industrial sectors.

A million green jobs
This data sits behind both the CBI’s green growth report earlier this year and our recent analysis Green economy: a UK success story,  illustrating the significant role of green business in the wider UK economy. It allows us to be confident that, at some point this summer, the millionth person will have joined the swelling ranks of UK employees directly engaged in providing green goods and services. They will be the employee that macroeconomists dream of because green business ticks all the boxes for a rebalanced economy. The probability is that they were taken on outside London, in a thriving manufacturing, supply or installation business, which is growing its exports business to a BRIC country.

Green success
This success story may not yet have penetrated the British psyche, but it is beginning to be locked in to the structure of the British economy. This makes the current anti-environment campaign much less likely to be effective, since even the most tribal of politicians would hesitate to cut off a branch that has a large number of voters sitting on it.

So when you next read a derogatory remark in the Daily Telegraph or the Daily Mail about the costs of climate action, or the downsides of environmental policy, don’t get angry. Enjoy the warm satisfaction of getting even. Private investment follows good environment policy. New jobs are created, and on the whole they are better jobs than average in the British economy. We may have a very long way to go, but our strategy is working.

Written by

Matthew has been director of Green Alliance since May 2010 and has 25 years experience of UK and international environmental issues. Prior to Green Alliance, Matthew was head of government affairs at the Carbon Trust; campaign director at Greenpeace UK and founder and chief executive of the renewable energy agency Regen SW, where he developed Wave Hub, the world’s first proving ground for wave energy farms. Follow on Twitter @Spencerthink