New Green Radicals: Guy Thompson
After a 20-year career working on environmental policy, Guy Thompson became managing director of EnTrade last year.
Entrade is an offshoot from Wessex Water Group which operates an online market platform enabling land managers, businesses and public bodies to collaborate on providing environmental improvement services.
Guy was previously CEO and a founding executive director of government advisory body Natural England, and before that director of leading environmental think tank Green Alliance.
Do you think it’s important we respond to the climate emergency?
Yes of course, but it’s equally important we treat climate change as the most visible symptom of a wider environmental emergency. With the effects of climate change already apparent, mitigation and adaptation are now two sides of the same coin.
For example, in planning new woodland to reduce carbon emissions, we need to get the right trees in the right places to get the benefit of their cooling effect in urban areas and to alleviate flooding and biodiversity loss in upland catchments and rural areas.
Why do you think we need green radicals at a time like this?
Business-as-usual is patently not working. The default tends to be to ask for more of the same policy and regulation, but incrementalism has failed.
We need radical solutions to provide hope and to disrupt and shake up the inertia and cynicism. The nub of the problem is systemic: markets and supply chains don’t reflect their dependency on natural resources. That’s a big hairy challenge that only radicalism will fix. Anger may raise political awareness but will only take us so far. It will be essential to have people with the vision and optimism to come up with radical, practical solutions and the energy and dynamism to get them to scale.
How would you define a green radical?
Someone with the optimism and vision to think differently and challenge the status quo. I’m convinced there is a business case for environmental improvement that extends beyond corporate social responsibility.
We need green radicals who can collaborate with finance and business to unlock the huge technological, economic and social changes needed.
Do we need to redefine markets?
Yes, the role of markets is absolutely pivotal. Regulation has a role to play but in setting the bar, not prescribing the solution. Targets alone won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for example. Markets and private capital can provide the oomph behind the investment and innovation in technological and economic change that is so urgently needed.
At EnTrade, we use the power of the market to solve problems. We’ve shown that the price discovery process for environmental solutions exposes choices and enables better collaboration.
Do you regard yourself as a green radical?
100%. The environment has for too long been regarded by business as an intangible or reputational risk. We want to turn that on its head by incentivising private business to invest in public goods, and give citizens and communities agency in pricing and determining the choices that will help them to improve their local places and environment.
How do you build the business case for radical change?
Start with the why. Too much of our discourse is about the how. Don’t wait for perfection: build your business case from the bottom-up and work with the best available science (the perfect science is a chimera in any case) to make something happen. Real world examples trump a business case every time.
EnTrade emerged from a ground-breaking bit of R&D where Wessex Water chose to collaborate with farmers rather than building a carbon-intensive tertiary treatment.
Look for where regulatory and commercial drivers coalesce, but the noise and inertia around business- as-usual is preventing scalable solutions to emerge .
What’s the biggest barrier to you driving change?
Inertia. We’ve unwittingly created a ‘regulatory-industrial complex’ around the environment that simply polarises opinion and sucks the energy out of collaborative action. At EnTrade, our credo is to make change by taking small, credible steps towards our long-term goals.
What’s the secret to taking a radical idea mainstream?
Collaborate and listen hard but never, ever deviate from your conviction in your long-term vision. Seek out the innovators and early adopters to build alliances with – there’s no point banging your head against a brick wall with organisations or individuals who just aren’t ready.
Harness the power of tech and social media – as witnessed by the growth of the tech giants in mainstream goods and services, platforms are the dominant business model of our age.
What’s the most radical thing you’ve ever done?
Leaving an established leadership role at Natural England to get behind a start-up. I had an excellent grounding in policy and regulation in the voluntary and public sectors in the first half of my career and, with that foundation behind me, am loving being more entrepreneurial.
Who are the other green radicals that inspire you today?
Professor Dieter Helm – he might be a deeply establishment figure, but his latest book presents a radical blueprint for reforming the UK land economy. Dame Fiona Reynolds, for inspiring people in the environment through values like natural beauty. Andy Griffiths at Nestlé, who is pioneering ways to adapt business models to reflect their dependency on natural assets for supply chains and employee retention. Stephen Tindale – a role model for me when I was at Green Alliance. His passing was a huge loss to innovative green thinking.
What one radical thing would you like people to do right now to change our future?
Stay optimistic and retain a resilient mindset. People will respond to solutions not anger.
This interview forms part of a series of interviews that were published in a new report, New Green Radicals: The business leaders responding to the climate emergency. The report follows last year’s ‘Meet the Disruptors’ and 2017’s ‘Secrets of the Pioneers’ reports, and this year features interviews with entrepreneurs, leaders and creators who are providing radical solutions to the climate crisis.
The report is produced by Greenhouse PR in association with BusinessGreen and was launched at the BusinessGreen Leaders’ Summit on October 23rd. Follow live on social media with #NewGreenRadicals.
At Greenhouse, we support a wide variety of organisations pioneering climate action. Whether it’s fashion, finance or farming, if you’ve got a great story and need our help to tell it, get in touch with the Greenhouse team on 0117 214 1250 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.