Selling the sizzle of sustainable travel

The Sustainability West Midlands (SWM) annual conference was held on the 21st November at Aston University in Birmingham and Sian Fox and Chloe Williams attended to learn more about ‘steering a steady course for sustainability in uncertain times’. SWM is a not-for-profit company that works with a network of members across private, public and voluntary sectors to drive forward sustainability initiatives in the West Midlands.

The conference opened with an engaging and thought provoking presentation from co-founder of Futerra, Ed Gillespie. If you haven’t heard of Futerra, they are a change agency (a combination of consultancy and creative agency, in their words!) who work with people who believe they can turn the sustainability imperative into the greatest entrepreneurial opportunity for a generation. They encourage their clients, who include Nike, Mondelez and the Fairtrade Foundation, to build brands that are symbols of positive change and make purposeful progress. They’re a very interesting organisation with a unique outlook and we recommend you check out their website.

Ed spoke about the need for those promoting sustainability to sell the alternatives, in a way that can excite people, as why should we expect them change to their behaviour otherwise?  Futerra call this ‘selling the sizzle’, literally selling the thoughts and feelings of eating a sausage sandwich (the sizzle) – it’s that excitement that makes you feel hungry and makes you want to buy it. He compared this to recent events in politics: Brexit and Trump’s election in the USA were due to the opponents not successfully selling the “sizzle”. People are not interested in hearing more of the same and want to buy into an alternative whatever that may be. So how does this all relate to our industry? It got us thinking about how we ‘sell’ sustainable travel, and how we design and shape the places we live. Do we have a vision we want to use to inspire others?  

The event continued with the first West Midlands Mayor candidate hustings (with the inaugural election to be held on 4 May 2017). Three out of the four candidates running for Mayor were in the same room for the first time in the election campaign.  Andy Street (Conservative), Beverley Nielsen (Lib Dems) and James Burn (Green Party) all engaged in a Q&A session on sustainability and told us what they saw as their main priorities.

The candidates spoke about transport being a key priority for them and the region, with the need to reduce congestion and harmful emissions within the West Midlands. All aim to tackle these issues in quite different ways from charging zones and clean air zones for certain vehicles to more platinum bus routes to make travelling by bus more appealing. All agreed on the need for making transport quicker and cleaner and believe transport to be one of the key areas they can influence as Mayor, as this is currently the main area in which they have a decision-making role.

With recent budget statements and announcements, it looks like additional devolution deals will be agreed to give mayoral combined authorities in England new borrowing powers to reflect their new responsibilities.  An exciting time for the West Midlands as we move towards this new way of working, and great opportunities for sustainable transport too.

The Green Party claimed an early victory; in a vote that took place amongst conference attendees after each candidate had updated us on their vision for the future, James Burn received 48% of the vote.

In January, SYSTRA is planning to become a member of SWM which will give us the opportunity to work more closely with businesses and the voluntary sector to help them develop and achieve their visions for sustainable travel and transport.

To view the presentations from the day, please visit the Sustainability West Midlands website

For more information please speak with Sian Fox This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or Chloe Williams This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.