Release the possum: Can growth really be green?

Panelists discuss green growth during the Forests Asia summit.

Panelists discuss green growth during the Forests Asia summit.

When environmental organization Markets for Change released a picture of a wee possum in a liquidizer on Facebook, it went viral. It “portrays the danger to Australia’s precious wildlife posed by new woodchipping plans for industrial logging to feed bioenergy production”, according to the not-for-profit’s website.

Markets for Change investigates and exposes companies and products driving environmental destruction, urging retailers to adopt more environmentally and socially responsible supply chains, with the intended knock-on effect of creating more responsible markets.

The organization’s CEO, Peg Putt, talking at the Forests Asia Summit, joined the debate by suggesting that the very idea of “green growth” is “an oxymoron, my favorite word”. She has a point: if green living is usually associated with recycling, buying second-hand clothes, preserving and conserving, how can it be linked to growth, which is about ramping up production, consumption and demand?

Putt argues that supply is only one side of the story: for growth to be green, you have to “decouple” it from escalating demand — and tackle the root causes of demand itself. One way to do that is to “create a presumption in the opposite direction”. According to Putt, that means giving incentives to local communities to preserve the environment instead of destroying it: keeping trees in the ground, rather than receiving money to chop them up and take them away.

Local rural communities need real, tangible benefits and incentives to keep natural resources intact. The concept of REDD+ is such an initiative — part of broader ‘green growth’ and low emissions development initiatives, adding value to local ecosystem services.

But there is also a need to address the underlying causes of demand — to tackle the demand drive. People need to be able to move out of poverty, but there is a large amount of people indulging in wildly inappropriate over-consumption. Where does the buck stop?

Is it enough to blame those responsible for supply, and where do we — as consumers — have to take responsibility for ensuring green growth? Perhaps consumers are part of the solution. In a changing world, where social media and other mediums are making consumers more aware of where their products come from, many customers increasingly feel they want to do something themselves to tackle inequality.

Consumer behavior and awareness has knock-on effects — which goes all the way back to suppliers. Brand names need to be maintained; companies have reputations to keep. Much of the solution to a green future, and ensuring green growth, is in creating awareness, says Putt.

Perhaps investment bankers need more information about where they are really putting their money? Awareness needs to be created at every level, so that the environmental consequences of a particular investment or purchase are always made clear. “If you can get that happening at scale, you get a result,” Putt said.

Her point contributes to a larger debate at Forests Asia about what Green Growth means for Southeast Asia, and the solutions and challenges ahead.

Georgina Smith, a communications specialist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), is based in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Leave a Reply