Materials and Sustainable Development in a post-Trump, post-Brexit UK

Sustainable Development Group
13 Dec 2016

Both Brexit and Trump have been and will continue to be the subject of much analysis over the coming months on what this means to our political system. The votes revealed a growing desire for greater self-determination; for greater focus on national industry, as opposed to rampant  globalisation; and a distrust and dissatisfaction of the current political governance system, to which many ‘experts’ were seen to serve. Environment and sustainability professionals must learn from the outcome of these recent votes, and evaluate our approach going forward.

Address the role industry plays in UK communities

Sustainability is a global challenge, as highlighted by the UN Sustainable Development Goals which set out 17 ‘Global Goals’ which will be need to achieved in the next 20 years against a background of increasing population and higher levels of resource consumption. These Goals aim to create a better, fairer and more sustainable world and are intended to be inclusive, but each will require a significant shift in policy, attitudes, behaviour as well as technology development. IOM3 should do more to emphasise the benefits that industry, innovation, and research and development can bring towards achieving these Goals as well as benefiting our local and national communities. This contribution should be recognised and supported by government and academia, and will be important for the materials sector to able to grow sustainably and be of benefit to the longer term prosperity of everyone in the UK.

Get the message right

In order to do this we must move past the doom and gloom messaging. This has not worked at a government level, industry level, or to particularly engage the general public with sustainability and climate change. If the challenge ahead is made to feel too great, too big, too impossible, people simply tend to disengage from it and focus on the short-term. Sustainable development is about long-term planning, but the end goal can be reached through incremental target setting and a strong understanding of business impact on the environment and society.

This is of course a considerable challenge, and more must be done to ensure a trajectory that meets our legislated carbon budgets but does not cripple energy intensive industries.

Sustainable UK infrastructure – now more important than ever

Sustainable infrastructure is absolutely pivotal to meeting climate and sustainability targets. It avoids locking us into carbon intensive systems, or the early scrapping of infrastructure deemed unsuitable.

Despite little from the government so far on post-Brexit environmental strategy and Donald Trump’s ‘interesting’ interpretation of climate change science, we will not keep to our climate commitments without considerable focus and investment in low-carbon infrastructure and sustainable, resilient cities. The investment needed is massive, and for this we must have clear, consistent but adaptable policies in place to facilitate it.

IOM3 plays an important role in pushing this agenda forward, facilitating the conversation on the part the materials sector plays in being pro-growth but also pro-society and pro-environment. We must engage and invigorate UK innovation, and show how the industry can rise to the challenges ahead.


Author Dr Sophie Parsons, Sustainable Energy Research Team (SERT), University of Bath (a member of the Sustainable Development Group Board at IOM3)