Working with Government

By Justin Francis, co-founder and CEO of Responsible Travel

In 2018 Michael Gove, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, asked me to join a small group of business leaders advising Ministers (unpaid) in the Department for Environment on how business – across all sectors - can help protect and restore nature.

It’s very easy to stand back and criticise Governments and politicians, and of course scrutiny is vital, but Theodore Roosevelt said -

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…”

I chose to join the Council for Sustainable Business (CSB) – to get in the arena and try to help Government with nature - alongside running Responsible Travel. I did so knowing that despite twenty two years of work Responsible Travel is very far from sustainable, but with the belief that we will fail all of the world's nature and carbon goals without taking the majority of business like ours facing difficult challenges and trade offs with us.

Here’s what I worked on and what I’ve learnt

I’ve worked on -

All of this work is far from perfect, but I hold to Roosevelt's maxim above - nothing changes without making an imperfect start and the only people that create change are those in the arena willing to listen and learn from critics.

  • I helped make the case to Ministers for the Jet Zero Council to progress sustainable aviation fuels and the decarbonisation of aviation.
  • I helped create new planning laws to require house builders to leave 10% more biodiversity behind after a development than before.
  • At the request of Ministers, I joined a global group including the UNFCCC and leading NGO’s working towards establishing a new global goal for nature – to arrest the declines in nature by 2030.
  • I led the creation of a nature handbook for business with advice, tips and case histories by sector.
  • I worked with the CSB to host a business leaders’ event at COP26 and secure pledges from 20% of the UK’s top 100 businesses to join the journey to a nature positive future. I learnt never to give a speech after Al Gore.
  • I’m now working to create a government backed digital platform to enable businesses to find, donate, and engage their staff and customers in nature recovery projects.

What I’ve learnt -

  • Business and government aligning for nature is a powerful combination. It’s still sadly very new.
  • If any of us want to create widespread change, we must work with Government – at a local or national level. Change might be slow, but when it happens it will be big.
  • Restoring nature is the biggest challenge of our lifetime – and inextricably linked to climate change. The global targets for biodiversity – to arrest declines by 2030 – are extremely ambitious. The UK Govt has made it a legally binding target.
  • Most Ministers and civil servants are extremely dedicated and hardworking, as determined as the rest of us to save nature and as sensitive to criticism as the rest of us. Balancing competing interests to make change fast is extremely demanding.
  • Every business should study leading corporations in sustainability,and their impact reports, as well as small pioneers - there is a lot to learn.

Written by Justin Francis