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The award-winners that inspire action on climate change

Updated Saturday, 1st May 2010

Simon Brammer discusses his work with the Ashden Awards, including working with winners to develop their business, inform government policy, and encourage others to learn from their success

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Simon Brammer

My name’s Simon Brammer and I work for Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy and I have the privileged job of taking all of the expertise and the learning from our UK winners and channelling that into something bigger, so helping to inform policy making processes, helping those organisations to scale up and helping others to learn from their success.

Interviewer

How did you get involved with the Ashden Awards?

Simon Brammer

Well, my previous career was in cycling actually so a sustainable transport, so I had a real passion for particularly removing cars from streets in London and encouraging more cycling, so I guess this is a transitional step into something different.  So this is about energy rather than cycling, but it all ties into my passion really to create much more liveable cities.  And by that I mean cities which aren’t dominated by cars, aren’t choked by pollution, that are places where people can grow and learn and really enjoy the place in which they live in.

Interviewer

What first sparked your interests in environmental issues?

Simon Brammer

I think I’ve always been interested in environmental issues.  I think partly it’s about social justice.  I have really strong views about social justice and generally in terms of environmental justice it is the most poor and the most disadvantaged who suffer most, so there’s a really important role that environmentalism has to play in helping those people who have the quietest and most swamped voices to speak up and to be able to enjoy the same kind of privileges that we do.

Interviewer

And also to avoid the impacts which will more severely reach them as -

Simon Brammer

Absolutely.  The issues of climate change I think are huge and climate change will and is affecting us all at the moment, but again it is the poorest communities, if you look at our international work, it is the communities who have no access to energy at the moment who suffer most.  And actually what these kind of projects and programmes do, whether in the UK or internationally, they allow us to tackle climate change which is the global issue but they also allow us to alleviate poverty and create better quality lives.  It’s a double win, so I guess that’s why I feel so passionate about the kind of work that I do.

Interviewer

It’s satisfying your desire for social justice reform as well as environmental reform.

Simon Brammer

It is, absolutely.

Interviewer

So, tell me, when you…. it’s clearly a very exciting time to be working, as our presence here at the Ashden Awards proves, and we’ve had an amazing day meeting everybody and getting their stories and so forth, and personally I can’t help but be really inspired by talking to everyone.

Simon Brammer

Great.

Interviewer

But I’d like to ask you, when you look forward at the next few years, say the next five or ten years, what do you see emerging as the major issues that need to be dealt with?

Simon Brammer

I think that there’s a real issue, there’s been a lot of inaction on climate change and the consequences of climate change are becoming clearer and clearer.  At the moment in time there’s been an enormous oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico and the ramifications of that are just beginning to come home I think in terms of the devastation it’s created environmentally but also the devastation it’s created for human lives and livelihoods.  I think looking forward there are some great big challenges which are about helping people not only to consume less energy and to generate energy in more energy efficient ways, but to help people understand that their behaviours need to change, and I think that’s probably the biggest challenge that we have going forward. 

What’s so inspiring about the kind of work that our winners do is that they are helping people to change their behaviours in ways which are not difficult to achieve.  So, you see communities talking about knowing their neighbours, being connected to their family more, spending more time in the places that they love, so you can achieve these big shifts that are required and they do bring very clear benefits.  The challenge is helping government to think about how they can deliver that and provide the framework for that to happen and those are big challenges, they’re challenges not only about where the funding is going to come from to help these projects and programmes be delivered, but also about how government is going to engage with communities, with businesses, with social enterprises to allow this kind of radical change to take place and it is quite radical change that we need to see.

Interviewer

So, what role do you see the Ashden Awards playing in that conversation?

Simon Brammer

Well, the kind of role that we play, so today at this event we’ve launched a new research report called Powering our Neighbourhoods which is focusing around what our award winners have achieved in the UK and we very much hope that those lessons are going to be listened to by government.  We already know that it is possible to do this.  Our award winners are out there doing it already but in a difficult environment.  What we hope to do is to facilitate the thinking that government needs to do to allow others to do these things much more easily.  So, I’m very optimistic about the future.  We have some way to go but our award winners have already demonstrated we can do it.  It’s about how we support everybody else to follow in their footsteps.

Interviewer

I have to say you beat me to the punch on my last question for you, which is whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, but perhaps you could tell us a little bit more about your optimism and why you feel so strongly about that; what you see as the main reasons for optimism when you look ahead to the next few years?

Simon Brammer

I think optimism because there are so many communities out there who despite not being encouraged so far are responding to this challenge of climate change.  So, whether you’re looking at developed countries like the US or the UK where there hasn’t been huge amounts of political support for action on climate change, communities are organising themselves already to take action, so whether that’s low carbon communities or transition town movements or businesses in fact, who want to get involved in this kind of work.  In the developing world there are all sorts of organisations who actually see the implications for improving lives and tackling climate change at the same time.  Now, I think if you can combine those two things I feel very optimistic about the future.

I guess if I was pessimistic, I would say that there’s a role that big corporation needs to play in delivering solutions to climate change.  I’d say there was an issue in terms of our consumptive nature particularly in the Western world and those are big challenges for us to tackle.  But I think if we can show people that tackling climate change actually creates much better quality lives, better relationships and nicer places to live in then that’s the battle half won, so I guess that’s where my optimism really comes from.

Interviewer

Well, that’s fantastic.  I’m going to ask you just one more question on the back of that.

Simon Brammer

Sure.

Interviewer

Do you still cycle?

Simon Brammer

I do, every day.

Interviewer

Do you still race?

Simon Brammer

No, I never race, so for me cycling is purely about utility, and I’ll tell you why.  So, today in London is a really particularly hot day.  For most people when they arrived here this morning they were complaining about how hot and stuffy and crowded it was on the tubes.  Well, I came by bicycle, I had my own seat and my own air conditioning and I got here in plenty of time.

Interviewer

Well, that’s fantastic!  Thank you so much.

Simon Brammer

You’re very welcome.

6’52”

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