It’s six years ago that I developed a green consumer magazine for the UK market, called Greener Living. Its launch, at least for me, was a fateful day in January 2007. My belief was that the mainstream media’s presentation of green issues was unhelpful considering that ‘becoming greener’ was a prerequisite to combatting, or at least ameliorating, the growing effects of climate change, the greatest threat now facing mankind.
The press and media seemed capable of presenting only two messages: firstly, that to become ‘sustainable’, we would pretty much have to abandon all our modern home comforts for some unlit mudhut equivalent and live off celery soup for the rest of our miserable lives; or, secondly, that we were all going to hell in a handcart, with the planet set to burn before our eyes.
This and the fact that green products and services were becoming ever more attractive meant that I thought I had found a gap in the market – and that, once established, we would be serving a market that could only grow over the long term. My aim was then, and still is, to engage the mainstream on the issues, which means talking with people about the challenges and benefits of greening their lives. After all, there is simply no point in preaching to the converted.
Indeed, given the leap of faith required by anyone wishing to invest in greener lifestyles, and particularly given the general level of public cynicism and very high cost of doing so for ordinary people, there’s no point preaching at all. Those on the eco warrior side of the argument, many of whom pooh poohed consumer concerns about the green agenda, would vent their frustration at the lack of progress by simply stepping up the lectures and becoming more shrill, when what was actually needed was a genuine, two-way dialogue.
For all its shortcomings, I am proud of GreenerLiving. It was available free via supermarkets up and down the UK and, to all intents and purposes, looked like a ‘normal’ consumer magazine, with little taint of the propaganda pamphlets preferred by environmental campaign groups at the time.
We sought to present the arguments, the options and choices in an intelligent and accessible style – and with humour, to acknowledge head on our target readership’s natural skepticism for the subject. And it seemed to be a formula that worked as our national distributors confirmed that GreenerLiving was their best performing title in terms of take-up. As a free magazine, however, we were completely dependent on advertising revenue, which made us particularly vulnerable when the downturn hit in 2008. And so it was that, when the deepest advertising recession in 40 years arrived, our market position, such as it was, simply vanished.
Richard Branson once remarked that you only really find out what it is to be an entrepreneur when you’re facing bankruptcy and the bailiffs are knocking at the door. Well, I know how that feels though, fortunately, I avoided financial ruin. Just. But despite the hardship that this caused my family and I, it was a valuable experience in many ways.
I also still feel the basic concept is sound, although the brand and method of delivery will have to be different: if the recession did anything positive, it drove a flight from hard copy newspapers and magazines to digital outlets, and wrested control of coverage from the concentrated group of media and print publishers, many of which had fixed and strident positions on this and other topics. This has contributed to a more varied and sophisticated debate about climate change than we could have ever expected if we still relied on the likes of the Daily Express and Fox for our news.
For those of you who are in the remotest bit interested, I’ve posted a lot of the original GreenerLiving content on this blog, and I’ve also attached the five editions as PDFs. You’ll notice that the issues and options we present are little different to what’s on offer now.
Meanwhile, ‘green’ as a concept has probably lost some of its attraction, partly because the agenda has broadened somewhat to include wider issues of ‘sustainability’ and ‘corporate social responsibility’. Now, sustainability isn’t simply used in connection with environmental issues, but also refers to the economic and, increasingly, emotional.
Five years of low or no economic growth has shown us that the work ethic, accepted for so long as the means to progress, does not necessarily deliver all the rewards we seek, and so it is natural that questions around the nature of work and what we’re doing on this planet, as well as more profound issues around the search for happiness, have come increasingly into view.
Frankly, it’s about time as, taken together, these are truly the most pressing challenges we face.