Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
My first MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog was all about the three ethics of permaculture: earth care, people care and fair shares, and how they can positively shape what we do with our lives. Today, a national holiday in the UK due to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding, I want to tell you the story of when Tim and I went to Buckingham Palace and met the Queen and various members of the Royal Family. Bear with me, this is completely connected to permaculture ethics. Life works in mysterious ways!
In 2008 Permanent Publications, the company that Tim and I founded in 1990 to publish Permaculture Magazine, won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Sustainable Development category for our "unfettered commitment for promoting sustainable development internationally." In Britain, this is the highest honour a company can receive and is called a ‘corporate knighthood.’ To receive the award, our company had to prove that we do our utmost to run a low carbon operation, procure as ethically and as ecologically as possible, are financially stable, have never broken any laws or evaded taxes, nurture and develop our staff, look after our customers and also make a contribution to the local and wider community. In other words, we had to embody corporate social responsibility and tangibly demonstrate earth care, people care and fair shares in the business world. Just imagine for a moment if every company on this planet did this. What a different world it would be.
Part of the prize is an invitation to a champagne reception at Buckingham Palace with the Queen and Prince Phillip and members of their family. Poignantly for me, I was walking in my late father’s footsteps as he too had received a Queens Award on behalf of his company in the late 1970s.
Now permaculture is pretty alternative and can be regarded as radical by many. A few people raised their eyebrows in surprise when we won. What were we doing hanging out in such conventional, indeed hierarchical circles? Well, we believe that it is essential that permaculture, organic/ecological horticulture and agriculture, renewable energy, and indeed responsible, ethical commerce become mainstream, and hiding out in some alternative backwater is not going to make this happen. We have to get out there, talk to whoever will listen about others ways of living on this wonderful Planet and demonstrate why what we practise is commonsense… for all our futures.
The invitation arrived and we set off to London. The reception was in two of the Galleries at Buckingham Palace. Here hang some of the finest paintings in the Royal art collection. We stood next to Canalettos, Rembrants and other exquisite Old Masters. For me, it was astonishing to see them at such close range, so finely preserved that their vibrant colours made them look like they were painted yesterday. Then we were introduced to the Queen and Prince Phillip. It is a very surreal experience meeting someone who is a global icon. I was surprised at how small she is yet so undeniably vital. She smiled a lot, was not in the least bit stern, and exuded kindness. This took us both by surprise. She is quite honestly, charismatic. I hadn’t expected that. Prince Phillip also shook our hands. I wanted to ask him about his truffle inoculated oak orchards – he is at heart a farmer – but he took me by surprise by personally greeting us with, “Ah, you are the publishers!” We did, however, talk at length to Princess Anne about biomass for heating, renewable energy, and sustainable land management. A former Olympic equestrian, she is a tall and obviously fit woman. She is intelligent and practical, a woman more comfortable on the farm than in front of the world’s press. She asked us, “What do you do?” “We are the media but we are nice media!” Look of distaste. “Is that possible?” she asked. In fact she proved to have a quick wit and a marvellous sense of humour. We exchanged some swift banter about the press and politics as well having a more serious conversation about sustainability and farming.
There is no doubt that the Queen’s Award for Enterprise has been useful. It has opened doors and given us opportunities to go places and speak to people about permaculture and sustainability. In that year, as well as going to Buckingham Palace, I was invited to dine in the company of some of the UK’s top CEOs and politicians at Mansion House in the City of London and met the Lord Mayor, and also The Palace of Whitehall (the seat of our UK government). But most of all, a sector of society that would have previously written us off as alternative permaculture hippy types suddenly woke up and realised that we are utterly serious and what we do is ground-breaking and innovative. We also discovered that we have friends in unexpected places. One of our champions to win the award was the Permanent Secretary at DEFRA (the UK Government’s Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs).
… The world is changing.