Laura Sharples said that she launched this petition campaign because “the economy is really about stories, but the mainstream narratives at the moment work to disempower us by disconnecting us from our communities and nature.
“The economy has been designed – and it can and must be redesigned.”
Caroline Lucas urged people to support the petition, saying: “The window of opportunity is open. That’s the exciting thing – we have a real chance for a fundamental economic reset.”
Katherine Trebeck affirmed this, saying: “This petition is so incredibly important. If we can get it to 10,000, or 100,000 signatures, it demonstrates to Government that there’s demand there, that this is what people want and they can be on the right side of history.”
The petition states:
“We urgently need the Government to prioritise the health and wellbeing of people and planet, by pursuing a Wellbeing Economy approach. To deliver a sustainable and equitable recovery, the Treasury should target social and environmental goals, rather than fixating on short-term profit and growth.More details
A narrow focus on GDP growth has led us to environmental, health and financial crises. The UK is the 6th largest economy in the world, yet roughly a third of our children live in poverty. Two thirds of the public want the Treasury to put wellbeing above growth. Scotland and Wales are already part of the Wellbeing Economy Governments alliance. As host of the COP26 climate summit, the UK Government should build and champion a Wellbeing Economy – at home and globally.”
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The former Chief Economist of New Zealand has written a book examining the processes by which wellbeing-focused public policy objectives can be established, prioritised, funded, implemented, managed, and evaluated.
Professor Girol Karacaoglu is Head of the School of Government at Victoria University of Wellington and was previously New Zealand’s Chief Economist. Before then, he was the Chief Executive of PSIS (then Co-operative Bank of New Zealand) for nine years. His new book asks:
HOW WOULD WE DESIGN, IMPLEMENT AND EVALUATE PUBLIC POLICY IF IT WERE BASED ON OUR LOVE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS?
For the philosopher Water Kaufman, ‘I love you’ means:
I want you to live the life that you want to live. I will be as happy as you if you do; and as unhappy as you if you don’t.
Professor Karacaoglu said that ‘wellbeing is about the ability of individuals and communities to live the lives they value – now and in the future. This is their human right. It would be extremely unjust to prevent the enjoyment of lives centred on chosen values. Preventing such injustice across generations should be the focus of a public policy that has intergenerational wellbeing as its objective.’
‘Half of the net revenue from sales of this book will be donated to The Nest Collective, which gives baby and children’s essentials to families in need’, he said.
Tuwhiri publisher Ramsey Margolis said that ‘while humanity may well come to grips with the current pandemic in the foreseeable future, ballooning inequalities and injustice threaten to shred the fabric of our societies, and the climate emergency menaces all life forms on the planet.
‘In the face of these enduring humanity-induced catastrophes, we owe a special duty of care to future generations to overcome them, and to leave our successors with a safer, fairer world in which they may thrive. We need to express our care for coming generations in many ways, from changing own personal lifestyles, to choosing political representatives who advance cogent, long-sighted policies in aid of a better world.”
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Importantly, advertising normalises overconsumption on a planet that has already been depleted and impoverished by uncapped resource extraction, waste and climate change in the aim of profits. Advertising creates desires that are disconnected from human need and true wellbeing. Ads rarely reflect functional uses of a product and usually focus on changing perceptions around what it means to be successful, beautiful, accepted and happy. Yet, we now more than ever need to reflect on what energy and consumption contributes directly to our human needs and a good life, and what does not.
While it is widely accepted that advertising has a huge effect on how we use resources, it is very challenging to quantify those impacts. Here we estimate the electricity use of outdoors ads infrastructure in the UK. Understanding those impacts is an important step to lowering the energy demand of our communities and living well within planetary boundaries.
The energy use behind outdoors advertising in the UK
Advertising in its various forms uses energy to spread a message. Whether it is a TV or a radio ad, a billboard or an online pop-up, ads need energy to run on various devices. We find that a single digital billboard may use as much energy as 37 UK homes. In addition, there is the energy used in the manufacturing and distribution of ad infrastructure and printed materials. There is also the energy needed to supply and use the products and services that ads encourage. In an energy world still largely reliant on fossil fuels, advertising comes at a high carbon cost.
In most UK cities, it is common to see outdoor advertising on digital billboards, bus stops and shopping centres with images of anything from fast food to automobiles. UK cities are becoming especially saturated, with more than 100,000 outdoors advertising infrastructures across the country. That includes digital and paper billboards, bus stops, phone boxes and others. Based on this estimate, we calculate that in 2020 outdoors advertising used between 84 and 451 GWh of electricity in the UK. For an average household size of 2.3 persons per household, the amount of electricity that outdoors advertising uses directly is equivalent to the home electricity use of 68,000-362,000 UK residents. For an average emission factor of 0.309 kgCO2-equivalents per kWh, this amounts to between 26 and 139 thousand tonnes of CO2-equivalents.
The following table gives an estimation for other major British cities.More about the data, assumptions and method can be found here.
Number of infrastructures
Home electricity use (equivalent in number of UK residents)
24 – 84
19,000 – 67,000
4.1 – 20
3,300 – 16,000
3.2 – 14
2,600 – 12,000
1.6 – 8.0
1,300 – 6,500
1.5 – 6.7
1,200 – 5,400
1.2 – 5.7
990 – 4,600
0.7 – 3.7
576 – 2,900
This only includes the electricity for the lighting and changing of images, not that embodied in the materials and infrastructure or the consumption that advertising creates. Furthermore, calculations are based on numbers from a database, which excludes a lot of the outdoors advertising in the cities. For example, in Leeds, we find that about half of the infrastructure is missing. Therefore, we can expect that all energy figures are grossly understated, and that the true energy costs are several times higher. Even so, the calculated amount of energy that goes into running all of the ads in the UK is enormous and highlights advertising as an important area for reducing energy demand and carbon emissions.
Where do we go from here?
The good news is that there is a lot that communities can do to reclaim public spaces with the aim of happier lives and stronger communities. We highlight several core principles that will be helpful in managing environmental impacts from advertising and increasing public engagement with our shared spaces. The principles are entirely feasible provided that there is political and social will.
We need to democratise the urban landscape
The general public cannot turn off or easily escape outdoors advertising even if it so wishes. Yet, cities increasingly rely on advertising funds for the provision of basic urban infrastructure such as bus shelters, street signs and public internet access. These arrangements, while may seem beneficial, come with a myriad of hidden social and environmental costs that society pays for. Advertising displays are increasingly monopolising our public spaces at the expense of reduced non-commercial access and diversity for the locals. Some areas, particularly less wealthy ones, may suffer more from this public space monopoly, further entrenching social inequalities in the cities.
Strategies for democratising public space could include restricting the space for corporate advertising and allowing for a proportion of non-commercial access to outdoor media or commercial community notices and public artworks. Local authorities may also tax the revenue raised through advertising, which could be used to provide public access. City planning should also explicitly consider how the capacity of different publics to access the outdoor media landscape and space changes.
We need to get rid of the most harmful advertising
Not all products that are advertised are equal. Advertising of some products – such as cigarettes and fast food – is already restricted in some areas to ensure the safety of children and adults who are exposed to the messages. Banning advertising of carbon and energy intensive products and activities such as fossil fuels, SUVs and frequent flights can have a great effect on the social norms, practices and consumption patterns surrounding these activities. For example, Amsterdam wants to become the first city in the world to ban fossil fuel advertising.
We need to consider the social and environmental impacts of advertising from a system perspective. How is the normalisation and encouragement of problematic practices through advertising considered? Currently planning officers may reject outdoors corporate advertising based on road safety and amenities concerns, but they do not make climate and energy considerations. They also do not necessarily consider the impacts on social equality, communities and well-being. The lawfulness of advertising should be scrutinised against these wider social and environmental concerns.
Greenwashing and spreading of miscommunication through advertising should also be a major concern as it may hamper local actions for climate neutrality and community well-being. Encouraging a public debate and transparency in advertising will support city planners and regulators in their judgements.
We need to reduce the scale of advertising altogether
Advertising provision in the cities is self-interested and for-profit and at best only partly considers the broader social and environmental issues in the city. Prioritising the provision of information in advertising and establishing stricter criteria to allow advertising in public spaces is key to reduce growth dependence and make cities more livable and resilient. Moving away from advertising is necessary to build resilience as it will allow a shift away from damaging activities and will support the development of alternative, solidarity society and use of public space.
Get involved in the movement
AdBlock Leeds, as a part of a larger Adfree Cities network in the UK, holds corporate advertising in the city accountable for the hidden costs associated with it. Our vision is one of happier lives and stronger communities and we welcome everyone who shares it. Social movements are powerful initiators of change, so if you are concerned about the amount of advertising in your city, join or start such a group.
Together, let’s reclaim our public spaces!
This piece was updated on 5 April 2021 to make minor corrections to figures
1 School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
A major report published this week calls for the Scottish Government to introduce wellbeing budgeting to improve lives for children as part of a radical systems change in the wake of the coronavirus.
The new report, Being Bold: Building Budgets for Children’s Wellbeing, by WEAll Advocacy and Influencing lead Dr Katherine Trebeck, with Amy Baker, was commissioned by national charity Children in Scotland, early years funder Cattanach and the Carnegie UK Trust.
It makes a series of bold calls focused on redirecting finances to tackling root causes of inequality and poverty as Scotland emerges from Covid. Key recommendations include:
A post-Covid spending review, with all spend proposals assessed against evidence of impact on children’s wellbeing
Training of the civil service to ensure effective budget development and analysis, and moving to multi-year budgeting aligned with wellbeing goals
Establishing an independent agency, modeled on the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, to support activity and scrutinise effectiveness of delivery of wellbeing budgeting by the government
An overarching change to the ways of working in the Scottish Government budget process to ingrain greater transparency; cross-departmental working; and a participatory approach involving the public and the diversity of children’s voices.
The report argues that the Scottish Government’s stated aims of improving wellbeing across society and addressing the fact that one quarter of children live in relative poverty cannot be met unless we create conditions for our youngest children to be healthy and supported from the outset.
To do this, it makes the case for directing funds at root causes that diminish child wellbeing, rather than targeting symptoms ‘downstream’, which is inefficient, stifles implementation of policy and legislation, and slows ambitions for societal change.
First steps towards wellbeing budgets would involve holding a conversation with the public about budget-setting to absorb lived experience; interrogating data to ‘map’ the distribution of wellbeing in Scotland; and ensuring policy development was properly connected to evidence on what would actually change outcomes for children and addressing the root causes of what undermines their wellbeing.
The report’s lead author, Dr Katherine Trebeck, said:
“If the Scottish budget is to be a mechanism that brings about change, we need to create a context where children can flourish in Scotland. Then we need to think about a few fundamentals. The budget needs to be holistic, human, outcomes-oriented, and rights-based. It needs to be long-term, upstream, preventative and precautionary. Finally, a bold budget for children’s wellbeing needs to be participatory – children’s voices in all their diversity need to be at the heart of setting the budget agenda.”
Katherine speaks about the report in more detail in this short video:
Sophie Flemig, Chief Executive of Cattanach, said:
“This report shows why it is necessary to set out a high-level vision for wellbeing outcomes and hardwire it into government processes. Countries need to acknowledge that the economy is in service of wellbeing goals, not a goal in and of itself. Meaningful public involvement is key. Ministerial responsibility for wellbeing outcomes drives progress. And cross-departmental work is essential for success.”
Jennifer Wallace, Head of Policy at Carnegie UK Trust, said:
“This project has focused on one important lever of change – the finance system, the way that we think about money and spend in Scotland, asking: what is value for money when we’re talking about our children’s lives? We know it’s not a silver bullet, but we do think it’s important that we consider how we spend that money if we’re going to begin improving outcomes for children and putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to children’s wellbeing.”
As the election campaign approaches, and following Tuesday’s vote to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law, the report’s calls and the case for wellbeing budgeting informs Children in Scotland’s manifesto for 2021-26, backed by organisations across the children’s sector.
The report is published as Scotland takes stock of the damage the pandemic has done to individuals, families, communities, and the macroeconomy, and an increasing number of people recognise that we must not revert to pre-Covid ways of working.
Jackie Brock, Chief Executive of Children in Scotland, said:
“Now is the time for us to reset our economy and the way in which we prioritise our budgets. Katherine’s work gives us a real manifesto for how we will secure children’s rights and wellbeing. We call on you to read the report, particularly the section which identifies what the crucial next steps are. We don’t need any more research or evidence – we need to work together to put a budget for Scotland’s children into place, this year, and we look forward to working with you to make that happen.”
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