Thursday, August 27, 2009

* Environment * Ethical living The Observer Ethical Awards 2009: Natural selection

Welcome to the launch of the Observer Ethical Awards 2009, in association with Ecover. Ethical issues have been variously pitched as cool, transformed, rebranded and even normal (praise indeed given their former tie-dye/wind-chime hugging roots). This is all absolutely valid, but for our fourth awards, I'd like to pitch the ethical outlook as being simply vital.

Inevitably, given the current fiscal climate (politely described as "challenging"), some leaders and big businesses will try to weasel out of environmental and social justice commitment or scale back previously "ambitious" plans to become low carbon. If you like, this is the opposite of greenwashing but just as pernicious.

The best defence against such weaseling, when commitment to a better planet is more important than ever, is mass engagement and enthusiasm for new and better ideas, campaigners and their projects. And the Observer Ethical Awards are all about enthusiasm. Each year this is reflected in the fact that you vote in your thousands for the people and ideas you think make a real difference.

The judging panel is made up of the UK's top environmental and sustainability experts and some extremely well-known faces. Even when our judges are primarily famous for something else - say, acting in Hollywood blockbusters or writing the Booker prize winner - they are well versed in and passionate about a range of ethical issues from fairtrade and organic farming to low-carbon technologies. This is necessary because, going on previous years, victories are hard won and debate is fierce.

This is part of the reason why past award winners continue to set a new ethical agenda across the country, and even across the world. In June at the Awards party in central London, Annie Lennox presented the award for Conservation Project of the Year to a group of retired islanders who had set up the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (Coast). By September this same group had persuaded the Scottish government to create Scotland's first-ever No-Take Zone in Lamlash Bay on the Isle of Arran - decisive action that positively changes the outlook for future generations of fish and islanders. Vital action, you might say.

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