At this month’s Transition Liverpool meeting, we discussed the real value of things…
We’ve wanted to meet Professor Erik Bichard for some time now. Erik’s entire career has been devoted to the field of sustainable change. He has been Executive Director of the UK National Centre for Business & Sustainability, Chief Executive of Sustainability Northwest and is currently on sabbatical from his post as Professor of Regeneration and Sustainable Development at the University of Salford.
Erik is a regular contributor to printed media, radio and television and has published academic papers, book chapters and two books including ‘Positively Responsible’ and ‘The Coming of Age of the Green Community’. Suffice to say, he knows his onions and has been very supportive of our own efforts to promote sustainability in the city.
Erik is a Founding Director of the company Real Worth, whose focus is to put a value on objects and ideals that, more often than not, get overlooked. By using an approach called Sustainable Return on Investment (SuROI), Real Worth are able to show companies, developers and authorities another way of looking at the price of things.
With a particular interest in sustainable development and the creation and promotion of social and environmental value in the built environment, Real Worth aim to increase equality and reduce environmental decay through ‘Thinking, valuing, measuring and accounting differently‘, and by ‘Putting a price on social and environmental change‘.
Even for Transition Liverpool, a group of people who are actively campaigning for permaculture and sustainability, Erik’s process was a challenge that required some swift mental readjustment. It is easy to decide that a jumbo jet is worth more than a bicycle, but is a jumbo jet worth more than a tree? Is it worth more than good health, or praise? What fiscal value would you put on a hug?
While the main part of our minds rebelled against this seemingly shallow reduction of the important things in life to mere pound signs, we also developed an understanding of the necessity of this way of thinking, and the way in which Real Worth are working to promote the long game. In order to fight for sustainability and a viable future, we must speak in a language that those who are more concerned with profit are able to understand.
The market value of a tree, in terms of the raw material that you can take from it, may be £500-1000. Any persuasive argument to a developer or local authority to save that tree from being cut down, must take that value into account and if possible present a counter-value. What, therefore, is the non-market value? Erik was able to show us that through the use of statistics and a large research base, we could argue that this tree is worth several thousand pounds per year, in terms of good mental health, to each person who lives near it and sees it on a daily basis. Furthermore, the tree provides protection from flooding, an aesthetic improvement to the area which will impact property prices, and myriad other benefits that are financially measurable. Suddenly, making the argument against cutting it down becomes easier.
This is a very simplistic version of the thought process and work being done by Real Worth, but the principle strikes a chord with us. This method can be used both by developers and Local Authorities to aim for sustainable returns; developments that improve our environment and our world in the long term, rather than allowing unscrupulous or unthinking organisations throwing up poorly-planned developments and tearing down the things that we value, for the sake of a quick buck. They are able to show that it makes more financial sense to build with these values at the forefront of our thought processes.
We were very glad to have the opportunity to meet with Professor Bichard, and look forward to collaborations in the future. Have a look at his work over at the Real Worth website.