Inspire others to be green
When I arranged to meet Trewin Restorick, I did not expect to be interviewing him in an extravagantly teak-panelled room in the heart of Lincoln’s Inn, the home of some of London’s most highly paid lawyers. But this, it turns out, is where Global Action Plan UK – the organisation Trewin founded and directs – rents its offices from the Furnishing Trade Benevolent Association. The lavish hardwood surroundings are especially incongruous given that, GAP exists to tackle environmental destruction. It works by educating individuals and spurring them into action.
Trewin seems equally surprised to be here, not because of the teak panels but because he is self-effacing enough that he can’t quite believe I am interested in what he has to say. But this is a man who’s got thousands of school children, office workers and ordinary citizens to reduce their environmental impact over the past fifteen years. I think it’s worth finding something out about anyone who can achieve that.
GAP works to provide people with the information they need to become civically engaged. They run a variety of structure programmes: “Ecoteams” bring together groups of households to work out what they can do to reduce their domestic environmental impact; “Environmental Champions” help people to set targets and improve workplace environmental performance; and “Action at School” focuses on bringing environmental education into the curriculum.
“We advise the Ghandi philosophy of every long journey starts with a small step,” Trewin says. “Look at your lifestyle and make whatever changes are feasible and practical for you to make. When you start to meet obstacles like lack of public transport or lack of decent labelling, then start voicing those frustrations in a political context.”
Trewin discovered his passion early on. Student activism led him into a first job on recycling schemes in Devon – “I met some really inspiring people who were running practical initiatives and giving local employment” – and he used that experience to get a job at Friends of the Earth. But he found himself and his employer growing apart. “Back then, Friends of the Earth was very much about looking at solutions as well as campaigning – the velvet glove around the iron fist. But they’ve taken the velvet glove away now, they’re very much a campaigning organisation, and that’s not where I come from at all”
In 1993 Trewin decided to leave the security of Friends of the Earth so that he could spend his time motivating people to take personal action on the environment. He accepted the job, for “virtually no money”, of setting up Global Action Plan in the UK following its successful foundation in the US three years earlier. Since 1993 nearly 200 schools, about 100 businesses and 2500 households have been involved in GAP UK’s projects. “We try not to be ‘thou shalt’-ish, because that doesn’t really work.” Instead, they teach people about the issues so that they can work out themselves how to set targets and achieve them.
By its nature, individual action yields incremental results, and Trewin admits to getting frustrated by the slow pace of progress: “I know we achieve change but it’s changes on the margin.” Is campaigning for legislative change not the way forward after all, then? “You have to remember that legislation isn’t enough if you don’t also have education. If you brought in legislation which made everybody’s home fantastically energy efficient, but you don’t educate people, they might still go out and buy a great big SUV. I think we need an engaged and articulate electorate, so that their level of education about the issues can keep pace with legislative change.”
Trewin clearly doesn’t believe in quick fixes. But the frustrations he encounters when contemplating the long journey ahead are outweighed by the immense personal satisfaction of inspiring people to make small steps. “Seeing an organisation grow, and working with a group of really nice people in a very positive and friendly atmosphere is incredibly rewarding. As is meeting people who’ve done something and feel really good about it, and who realise that environmentalism is not that cranky and strange after all.”
When I got home, I searched the internet for the Ghandi quote Trewin had used and discovered he was actually quoting the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Beneath it happened to be another piece of wisdom from Lao Tzu, which seemed to me to sum up Trewin’s approach perfectly: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”