Green Economics Institute (GEI) Conference 2012

The 7th annual Green Economics Institute Conference took place in Oxford last week and I went along having been roped into presenting a paper by my cousin, and Cass Business School PhD candidate, Ben Armstrong-Haworth. Green Economics is one of the fastest growing global movements for change which has been taken up by many governments and NGOs. Although the term environmental economics has been used in academic writings since the seventies, green economics as a more holistic principle is far more recent and really owes its existence to Miriam Kennet and the GEI.

Now I would certainly never have considered myself an economist; I’m barely a geographer, but I do love a bit of ‘green’ debate and I do believe there is a better way of doing things if we are to thrive in the future. Far from feeling out of my depth, as I feared I would, the conference was stimulating, positive and progressive. More than 60 international speakers from a wealth of backgrounds including academic and non-academic careers, presented over three days.

Green economics is pushing mainstream economics to become more interdisciplinary, reclaiming economics from the purely quantitative mood of measurement that it is traditionally known for. It builds on insights from environmental and ecological economics, feminist theory, welfare economics, development economics, post-structuralism and post-Keynesian ideas to produce a more holistic way of looking at development and prosperity. Presentations and workshops included ‘Textiles and Sweatshops, Taming the Corporations’, ‘Global and Ethical Investment Advice’, ‘Greening the Rhetoric of Economics’ and ‘Renewable Energy Policies’. They even had the deputy director of the ESRC speaking about funding opportunities, proof that major research organisations are prepared to support research with a sustainable agenda.

Compared to some sustainability based conferences I have been to, the focus was more on pragmatic solutions rather than abstract philosophical calls for change. I presented my work on second-hand retail as ‘Second-hand Cultures: Trade, Economy and Environment’ and had a great response from the audience. I ended up with an hour to fill, and fill it we did with helpful comment and discussion. I’m lucky in that sense that my research is something everyone can relate to and regularly attracts anecdotes – “my sister has a second-hand shop”, “I make my own clothes”. We are all consumers after all.

I would fully recommend attending the conference next year if you are interested in any element of sustainability and economics. The one thing it lacked were young people, which is a shame seeing as we’re the ones who really need to jump on board and take these ideas forward.

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Social Labelling Conference

Last week I went to an ethical fashion conference held at Northumbria University. It was focused on social labelling which is very relevent to my MPhil thesis question, ‘How to communicate the environmental and social impacts of producing a cotton t-shirt to the consumer at point of sale’. There were representatives there from FAIRTRADE, People Tree, Workers Rights Consortium and many more, but what was really interesting was to find PhD students studying such similiar topics to me! It becomes easy to think that I’m the only one doing research in my field, but that is of course not true, especially as it is such a current issue. Having said that, we were all approaching it in different ways.

I picked up on a lot of new information and will have to spend time going back through my literature review to add these details. What really struck me is the amount of work going on to help the conditions for workers globally, and the number of barriers that they face. I also realised that if I want to start my own label in the future, there is a lot of support out there to help me find an ethical way of manufacturing products. I’ll update the blog as I go through my notes and the conference papers.

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