Chris Read: Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think

Will the new 'green agenda' serve to rebuff some firms’ 'return to the office' mantras as Freedom Day dawns? Chris Read explores the issues...

Prince Buster was a Jamaican Ska singer-songwriter. If you like Madness or the Specials, you’ll know where their influences came from.

In any event, as the summer staycation rain fell last weekend, I popped into my local independent record store and spent an hour or so flipping through the records. I came across a Prince Buster album with a great album cover and just had to buy it.

It was a bit like old times. The shop owner was playing some old punk records talking to a punter about a Clash gig at the Portsmouth Guildhall in 1978. By contrast, earlier in the week, the prime minister spoke to the nation. He confirmed that July the 19th is the day we move out of lockdown and we shed the restrictions we have all become so familiar with. We move from a government-imposed set of controls and balances, to those chosen by and imposed by the individual.

We have a choice, to mask up or to run free, to keep one’s distance or to go shoulder to shoulder. A social contract has been offered by the state. The door has been temptingly pushed ajar. I am fascinated to see how society reacts to this new offer. Will we maintain our distance, expect face coverings on public transport and judge others?

Clean slate

Furthermore, I eagerly wait to see how the staff at my company will react to this new beginning, this clean slate, this tabula rasa. Working from home will no longer be the default working practice. Will lounge pants and t-shirts give way to shirts and slacks? I watch with interest as companies of all sorts and sizes start to flex their muscles and lay down new ‘return to the office’ mantras. Are we seriously going to return to the daily morning commute into our towns and cities?

I am reminded that societally we need to consider our individual contributions to a carbon-neutral future. I for one will be much more liberal in guidance for my staff. I am looking forward to seeing the government trigger a green industrial revolution.

Last November, the government released The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. The prime minister talked of cooking breakfast on hydrogen and driving electric cars with batteries made in the Midlands.

The Ten Point Plan inspires offshore wind energy, low carbon hydrogen technology, advanced nuclear power, zero-emission vehicles, green public transport, cycling and walking. It encourages jet zero, green ships, greener building, carbon capture, protecting our natural environment and, last but not least, green finance and innovation. The government is to issue Sovereign Green Bonds or Green Gilts this summer with the Chancellor calling for a new chapter in financial services, citing a prominent role for green finance.

The UK of course is not the first country to issue Sovereign Green, Social and Sustainability (SGSS) bonds. The US, China and a host of European countries have already launched theirs. Ghana came to market late last year with Italy earlier this year. More countries are lining up to launch their own SGSS bonds. What an opportunity to drive the Green Industrial Revolution globally.

Later this year, Glasgow will host the Conference of the Parties (COP26) UN Climate Change Conference. Leaders from around the world have been invited. Despite all the politics that separates them the environment is a subject that unites. Whilst there are still some leaders who place economies above environments, their tenure is surely to be short-lived. The Amazon will soon be a safer place, for not only those in Brazil but for all. Whilst there will be some laggards, most leaders will want to drive and be seen to drive a green transformation.

As the doors of the pandemic close and the memories of the restrictions fade, we are reminded that the existential battle we are faced with is that of the environment and climate change. So, no time to waste and in the words of Prince Buster in his song ‘Enjoy yourself’:

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as you wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself,
It’s later than you think.

Chris Read is group CEO at Dunstan Thomas