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Greening Liberal Democrat Conferences Keith Melton from GLD Challenge magazine 2019-20

March 18, 2020 12:03 AM
By Keith Melton

facebookThe observant internal election "nerds" amongst you will perhaps recall that, although I did not quite manage to make it onto the Federal Conference Committee in the 2019 Party elections, I was actually "Last Man Standing" in the single transferable vote as the counts progressed!

I am happy to report that the FCC have reached out to me (prompted, kindly, by Duncan Brack, I gather) because they have decided to set up a subgroup to look at the issues that need to be addressed to make the Federal Conferences more environmentally responsible. The sub-group is chaired by the FCC Vice Chair Cara Williams and in a January email exchange we agreed that I should write a short piece inviting ideas from GLD members about changes that should be considered to progress the greening process. The original piece appeared on our website…

Let me start by indicating the thoughts I already sent to the subgroup. It looks, from the Directory, as though some of these have already been put in place for Spring conference in York, but some of them will require a longer lead-in time.

Those of you who have been to the GLD annual conferences over the last couple of years will know that we have already made progress in this regard (but it should be added that our conferences have only been one-day affairs, so have been a little easier to tackle, perhaps). Secondly, I should say this is an initiative of the FCC, so please approach the issue positively rather than in "complaining" mode. The door is already ajar, we just have to push at it rather than take an axe to the hinges!

OK, so my original email to Cara following the invitation contained the following…

"Nottingham University [..were..] particularly helpful in making our conferences environmentally low impact. … since they were just one-day conferences, with much smaller numbers than the LD spring and autumn conferences - we were able to insist on pretty stringent conditions on catering and so on. But it turns out that our specifications actually caused the catering department to change their practices for all the conferences and events they service! Change can be infectious.

We specified "no single use plastic", so at the breaks and lunchtimes there were no tables laden with individual plastic bottles of water, which is one of the things that irritates me so much at LD conferences. The generation of plastic waste at a LD conference must be well into several tons and there seems to be very little, if any, arrangement for plastic recycling. The waste of raw material, extracted from the ground as well as the embedded energy cost is unjustifiable in a political meeting of any kind, let alone the central political meetings of an environmentally conscious party."

When I have raised this question before, the typical answer is that the "contractor" (loosely defined) has either been unwilling to consider this issue or, perhaps, that there would be a huge cost of change if we insisted on such conditions. My view is the old Liberal Ecology Group view (and one which I always thought was fundamental to Lib Dem party policy since 1988) and that is that "the polluter must pay". On this issue, there is no question but that WE are the polluters and must take responsibility for our pollution, so there can be no excuse. One way or another, this level of pollution MUST stop, if only to avoid accusations of hypocrisy.

To be effective, this aspect must also be followed through with all the hotels where we expect fringe meetings to be held. I know this to be possible, too, by the way, as we arranged a whole day of fringe meetings in Brighton at the Grand Hotel in September 2018 and, at no extra cost, we were able to specify no single use plastic.

Another requirement we made in Nottingham was that the catering should be vegetarian (in 2018) and we went further in 2019 to insist on a vegan day - even meat eaters (amongst which I count myself) can survive for one or more days on a non-meat regime. All delegates were complimentary about the Nottingham catering and we did not have any complaints about the vegan food. The only small complaint was that we had not insisted on non-dairy milk for the teas and coffee breaks (so, in fact, we were not 100% vegan. This is something I need to address for this year`s GLD conference!

I can see that this may be more difficult an issue to address for a three or five day conference, but it should not be too difficult to insist on a much better balance by reducing the dependence upon meat meals or snacks offered in the main conference venue. As for outside catering venues available for delegates to meet and talk I would have thought we could press the Local Council to make more information available - not least on the basis that their tourist services should have such information to hand for all visitors, alongside a good knowledge of special dietary availability, gluten free and so on.

The FCC already mentioned probably the biggest environmental impact of our conferences and that is the travel to and from the conference venues. There are strong arguments in favour of actual real-life meetings, but we do also need to be aware of the environmental costs. They also referred to car-sharing and a much-improved availability for people to effect car-sharing options with nearby members, as well as discounted rates for rail and bus travel where that may be arranged. This will all contribute to minimising such costs.

We should also look at virtual conferencing which would help with activist versus democratic arguments as well. We tried streaming the GLD conferences but, on each occasion, we faced some technological difficulties. Hopefully we can get it right this year, so that members who cannot get to the conference can still benefit by being there virtually. Technology can be brilliant, but it can also be a pain. It is, however, something we should be pursuing actively for environmental reasons.

I also mentioned that we should make it easy for conference delegates to offset the environmental footprints they create by being at conference. This may be something the Green Liberal Democrats can help with on a more formal basis the GLD group will take a look at this.

In her reply to my email, Cara, indicated there is a good App for care sharing arrangements which should be widely advertised through the Conference process, called, appropriately enough, Liftshare, at www.liftshare.com.

If YOU have any ideas that could improve the greening of our conferences, please send them to me at keith.melton@greenlibdems.org.uk and I will pass them on to the subgroup.

Challenge 2019-20 Front Cover - Green Liberal Democrats' Magazine (Wikimedia and George Miles)

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From GLD Challenge Magazine 2019-20