Feedback on the Greater Manchester Green Summit 2022

Feedback on the Greater Manchester Green Summit 2022

Here is our feedback on the above event as submitted to the Combined Authority:

“What haven’t we tried yet?” workshop

 This was a superb event brilliantly chaired and well planned. The 10-person panel were limited to one slide and about 3 – 4 minutes, which meant they were very much to the point, presenting some highly innovative ideas and fascinating insights. This then left 15-20 minutes for audience members to do the same, an opportunity we seized eagerly, which was equally fascinating. If only the rest of the summit had lived up to the example of this workshop.

Summit in general

We would have to characterise this in general as a missed opportunity. Specifically, and in no particular order, we would make the following comments:

  1. When you have hundreds of people in a lecture theatre for several hours on a warm October day you do not have the heating cranked up to the levels that it was on Monday. We are, after all, supposed to be cutting energy usage, and the temperature could have done with being a few degrees lower. Otherwise, you get into the bizarre situation, which we think happened in the workshop, where the heating system and the air conditioning are fighting against each other, using even more energy unnecessarily.
  2.  This is the one gripe we have with the venue, so if they can be instructed to turn the heating down next year that would be good. You can even make a point of this in the event publicity and ask attendees to dress appropriately. Two of our number ended up stashing two levels of outer clothing each in the cloakroom, and many other people did the same.
  3. The stage events were far too scripted with no opportunity to ask questions of the panel members, many of whom would have had very interesting things to say given this opportunity. Audience questions are vital at this kind of event – otherwise how else do you identify that you are telling people what they want to know?
  4. Good a chair as Andy Burnham undoubtedly is, and much as his heart is clearly in the right place on green issues, some of the panel sessions and indeed his keynote speech came across as rather self-congratulatory. Whilst it is good to identify and praise real achievements, the real focus should be on what still needs to be done and how we are going to do it, particularly given what can most kindly be described as central government indifference, at times bordering on hostility, on the city regions trying to deal with sustainability.
  5. We took issue with some of Andy Burnham’s ratings of performance to date – the one which created most discussion in the limited opportunities available (see 6. below) was his claim that transport deserved a “green” rating. Before this can be claimed with any plausibility we have to see, as a minimum:
  • A radial Metrolink line joining up the outer termini, and preferably another one around the midpoint between those termini and the city centre.
  • The Metrolink extended to the remaining boroughs where it does not operate (Stockport, Wigan and Bolton).
  • Hydrogen-fuelled buses on the roads as opposed to under discussion.
  • Radical measures to get people out of their cars and onto public transport, both by improving the latter and discouraging the former.
  • Either the introduction of the Clean Air Zone or alternatives that do not involve an increasingly pre-occupied and navel-gazing central government.
  • More dedicated cycling and walking routes, with clear differentiation of which is which – we partly understand why cyclists resort to the pavement, but this is illegal precisely because it is so dangerous for both cyclists and pedestrians. At minimum there needs to be an education campaign for cyclists, and if that fails then the law needs to be enforced to get the message across.
  • Cycling routes that are fit for purpose – the new segregated pathways for cycles and pedestrians are so complicated that we fear they will be underused. The old-style designation of cycle lanes by white lines on wider carriageways is filled with peril when the lines disappear at the dangerous point where the carriageway narrows.
  • For situations where driving is necessary, council buildings should all be fitted with electric vehicle chargers.

6. We have a major problem with the whole structure of the event. We think the balance between central stage events and breakout events like the workshop needs to be completely reversed, with the latter dominating and the former restricted to a few keynote speeches with opportunity for questions. If this needs more breakout rooms than the Lowry can offer, then hold the event somewhere which can meet this requirement. Much lip service was paid to the importance of collaboration, but the structure of the event did not in any way encourage this in a practical sense. Themed break-out sessions would facilitate this much more effectively – the sentiment is absolutely correct, but the event needs to be structured to make it the key objective rather than an apparent afterthought.

7. We know that the event is reliant upon sponsors who are prepared to part with significant sums of money to support it, and that it is therefore almost inevitable that the event will end up being sponsored by large organisations, but the fact remains that some of these organisations, whilst they might aspire to be part of the solution, are also very much part of the problem. So, both from the viewpoint of credibility and from the viewpoint of identification with speakers and panel members for smaller entities, the quid pro quo of populating the panels with representatives of these large organisations is sub-optimal in terms of structure. If they are really serious about sustainability, they would not demand this facility, and would be happy to sponsor the event on its own merits. And if they were not prepared to do this, we suggest that tells you all you need to know about that organisation and its propensity for greenwashing.

8. It was pointed out in the workshop that 99% of businesses In the UK employ 50 or fewer people. You would never have guessed that from the identity of the panel members in the central sessions. Given that this has to be the key target audience for the event, and that at some point soon we have to move beyond preaching to the converted and preach to the agnostics and atheists, it needs to be structured in a much more small-business friendly manner, and we believe that the suggestions above would be a significant move in the right direction.

9. Having attended similarly themed events in the various boroughs we can tell you that these are in general much better in terms of structure, programme and engagement of attendees, so we suggest the organisers need to take some input from those who run these events on such issues.

10. To summarise the above, most sustainability events that we have attended (and we attend a lot) have a very positive atmosphere generated by enthusiastic environmentalists who are utterly committed to what they are doing. We thought the structure of this event sucked a lot out of the life out of that commitment and enthusiasm, and a lot of people we spoke to were disappointed with it on some or all of the grounds detailed above. That enthusiasm and commitment is the number one resource that Greater Manchester has in its drive for Net Zero, so please don’t waste it by structuring such a frustrating event which minimises the opportunity to share those qualities and fails to facilitate the very collaboration that panel member after panel member paid lip service to.

11. As a city region 2e have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk, otherwise we are just greenwashing, and this flagship event has to be structured so that people can share their enthusiasm and commitment, make valuable new business contacts which will facilitate true collaboration, and enjoy interactive sessions where they can ask questions of and challenge panel members and politicians alike. Because of the enthusiasm and commitment of the participants, it is not actually that difficult to stage a truly satisfying, engaging and effective sustainability summit, so it is not too much to ask that the organisers do so in future.

12. It is disappointing that after 5 such summits the organisers are still so far away from getting the structure even approximately right, but they have another chance next year, and in view of the importance of the issue, we should be prepared to give them that chance, but if we want these summits to have the desired effect, they need to be radically restructured in terms of format, focus and delivery. The workshop was a prime example of what can be done if these things are done right, and a 2023 summit that was much more akin to the workshop and much less akin to this year’s event would be hugely well received by an audience that desperately wants this ambitious programme to be a huge success.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss these thoughts with the organisers, as we would really like to help them to put on really engaging, stimulating and inspiring summits in future, but that will require a major change of emphasis from this year’s event.

By |October 20th, 2022|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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