South West Wales biggest sustainability conference took place on 14th June 2018, exploring the challenges & opportunities of Implementing the principles of the Circular Economy in line with The Well-being of Future Generations Act (Wales) 2015. With a host of great speakers, lots of regional businesses and representatives from all sectors, Empowering Future Generations was an inspiring event and the start of the journey to transform the well-being of South West Wales.
The opening address was given by Dr. Jane Davidson, Pro Vice-Chancellor for External Engagement and Sustainability at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David. Jane has won a number of UK awards for her work. From 2007 – 2011, Jane was Minister for Environment, Sustainability and Housing in Wales where she proposed legislation to make sustainable development its central organising principle – the Well-being of Future Generations Act came into law in April 2015.
Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, closed the event at the end of the day. Sophie was appointed as the first Future Generations Commissioner for Wales in February 2016. Her role is to act as a guardian for the interests of future generations in Wales, and to support the public bodies listed in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 to work towards achieving the well-being goals.
Leader of Swansea Council, Cllr. Rob Stewart provided an update about Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, to an audience of business people unanimous in their support for the project. There was a lot of anticipation in the air about an imminent announcement about this important regional project. A couple of weeks following the event, the announcement came from Westminster that the UK Government would not be supporting the project.
Empowering Future Generations was the region’s first major circular economy conference, held on 14th June, and brought a diverse mix of around 250 participants together at the Liberty Stadium. The day was a cross-sector opportunity to explore how this region might rise to the challenge of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, which requires organisations to embrace the principles of long term thinking, collaboration, prevention, integration and involvement, in pursuit of the 7 well-being goals. The move towards a circular economy and “zero waste” is a key component of this – changing the way businesses and people think in order to redesign, reuse, recycle and remanufacture, as opposed to the linear make-use-dispose model that we currently operate on. But it’s also about the move towards a “well-being economy”, where we prize more highly the well-being of the planet, ourselves and our communities, than purely economic growth at any cost.
With 20 expert speakers from across industry, all excited about Wales potential to lead the way in this area, it was a jam-packed agenda which was kept on track by expert chairing from Dr Jane Davidson of University of Wales Trinity Saint David. The Well-being of Future Generations Act is undoubtedly a catalyst for culture change, for transforming our economy and developing differently to the rest of the UK and the rest of the world. But some key barriers were also identified, not least procurement. Only when public bodies truly embed well-being principles into the way they evaluate and select their suppliers, will businesses be empowered to change.
And at the other extreme, it’s about personal choices and individual behaviour, and our speakers challenged us all to reflect on this. Do we pick up a single use non-recyclable coffee cup, or a china one? Do we put in the extra effort it takes to find a sustainable mode of travel, or do we jump in our cars? Do we hand back our plastic waste at the supermarket checkouts, or do we continue to tolerate obscene levels of plastic and non-recyclable packaging across the retail sector? Going further, do we empower ourselves as leaders when we go to work, to make change happen in our workplaces and businesses? Often, change happens as the result of one passionate and determined individual refusing to accept the status quo, deciding to combine their personal convictions and their professional influence as a force for good.
It was an inspiring day, with numerous examples of businesses and organisations who are pioneering new ways of working and making change happen. What made our event distinctive was undoubtedly the healthy mix of public and private sector participants, and the involvement of third sector organisations and social enterprises, brought together in a spirit of co-creation. With council leaders, officers and local councillors from across the region, as well as large businesses and small companies from all sectors, policy makers from Welsh government, experts, novices, advocates and cynics all taking part – not just in the conference but in the collaborative afternoon workshops – it was a very thought-provoking day, rounded off by a call to action from Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.
But it’s only the start of the conversation. For many of us, the Empowering Future Generations conference was the first time we really considered how much needs to change if we are to create a prosperous, resilient, healthier, more equal, cohesive, vibrant and responsible Wales. The challenge now is to make that change happen, by continuing to work together around some of the ideas proposed at the conference.