Five minutes with ...Jonathan Porritt

He's one of the best known environmentalists and he's on a mission to ensure we all realise it can't just be business as usual if we want a world that's habitable

Jonathan Porritt

Sir Jonathan Porritt has been campaigning on climate issues for half a century

What drives you to fight for the planet?

Well, I've been at it for nearly 50 years! I joined the Green Party in 1974 – I joined lots of organisations in the early 1970s. I'm still trying to work out why the world is so utterly stupid when it comes to understanding environmental issues and how critical it is to the future wellbeing of all humankind. I've spent quite a lot of time over the last four or five years working particularly with young people, so that drives me today. I’m trying to support the work of young people's organisations and make sure we don't leave the world in even more of a mess for them than we're currently likely to do.

What would you say is the highlight of your career in environmental sustainability?

I guess because so many things have flowed from it... I was involved in the Earth Summit in 1992 – so a long time ago, for sure - and I spent more than three weeks out in Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit. It was really a crucial time for me because it enabled me to see exactly how many people were beginning to see the world differently, were beginning to understand the nature of the challenges ahead. It included businesses, it included a huge number of other sectors in society, including religious and faith leaders, who were gathered in great numbers in Rio. And for me, coming off the back off 20 years of campaigning with the Green Party, it opened up a different perspective on how to accelerate change in society and to do that, basically, by working with that kind of energy rather than constantly- well, not working against it, but constantly campaigning to stop people doing bad things. From that point on, it became obvious to me that it was just as important to enable people to do good things rather than stop doing bad things. And that's pretty much what I've spent the last 30 years of my life doing.'

Do you think brands are doing enough to tackle climate change?

They're certainly moving a lot further and faster than they've done before, there's no question about that. We've seen a very significant uptick in terms of corporate commitments around sustainability. Oddly enough, particularly in the last few years, despite the pandemic, corporate sustainability has been prospering. But it's very mixed. You get some sectors where companies are doing a lot. If you look, for instance, at the fast-moving consumer goods sector, you can see companies doing enormous amounts to persuade their consumers that they really do care about this stuff. If you look at some of the more common intensive sectors, for instance, the water industry or cement manufacturers or steel production, you can see them gradually waking up. But it's taken quite a long time for them to commit to the kind of targets that they now need. So, it's a sector-by-sector thing. But overall, if you think back maybe ten years ago, you would have had a huge amount of what was described as ‘greenwashing’. These days, there is a lot less greenwashing. We do have a lot of companies seriously committed to getting their act together.

Sir Jonathan Porritt was talking to Jack Hayes.