A royal start to a sustainable future

Having personally founded 18 charities, The Prince of Wales’ new focus for positive change is you. Start is his new initiative to help us all begin to take simple steps for sustainable living

HRH The Prince of Wales is a man on a mission. Having personally founded 18 charities, he presides over the largest multi-cause charitable group in the UK, which raises over £100m annually and includes The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, The Prince’s Countryside Fund and The Prince’s Trust, which has just announced £2.5m of investment in the places hardest hit by the riots across English cities in August 2011.

Prince Charles’ new focus for positive change is you. Start is his new initiative designed to help all of us begin to take simple steps for sustainable living, and to show what a more energy efficient, cleaner and healthier future could look like.

The concept has been developed and is now lead by Joey Tabone, a stalwart of the Prince’s Charities team. “Start is fun, enjoyable and a little quirky,” he says. “We want to involve the public in positive activities which make a difference while conveying an easy sustainable-living message.”

“Let’s inspire people with positive messages about what they can start doing, not what they have to stop doing.” HRH The Prince of Wales

Joey’s team wants to help people engage in their everyday actions in a new way, with both their hearts and minds. They believe that through our everyday choices and how we approach what we do, we all can make a difference. So far so good, but how is Start actually going to change the behaviour of the public?

At its hub is an interactive website which, while still in its infancy, is becoming a useful and dynamic resource for green living advice and actions. But several such sites already exist, so what’s different? Start’s power may lie in its ability to go where other sustainability initiatives cannot: to appeal beyond environmentalists, to a sometimes sceptical and cynical general public.

Start believes it can do this because it has: a world famous patron; an innovative and accessible events schedule; a motivated and switched on team; and a committed group of corporate partners who are prepared to put their extensive marketing capabilities to work for the cause.

Celebrities are also being brought on board, with actress Barbara Windsor for example, endorsing the benefits of holidaying in the UK (thereby avoiding air travel). “Britain is such a beautiful place to holiday in, I’m going to promise to start encouraging people to ‘carry on camping,’” she says.

In its first year, Start held a 12-day festival for 30,000 people along the Mall in London and took Prince Charles on a national rail tour (the train ran on chip-fat) with a swathe of accompanying regional events.

Now half way through its second year, there have also been open days at the Prince’s official residence, Clarence House. 12,000 visitors were attracted to the diverse talks, displays and practical demonstrations of sustainable living, such as forest garden installations, which inspired people to re-imagine their gardens as biodiversity hot spots.

Meanwhile, a pop up restaurant at Lancaster House in London’s West End raised awareness of sustainability issues around food sourcing, waste and the re-use of materials.

A Start road show toured the UK’s leading agricultural shows this summer, and included a mobile Get Started Garden to inspire children and adults with ideas that people all over the country are doing at home, from growing their own salads to composting and planting trees.

Start has got off to a furious pace, but Lauren Stern who works at the heart of the program, says the best is yet to come. “There are a lot of hopes, big dreams, passionate people and organisations invested in Start – all because they believe it can be the catalyst for the change needed to reduce our voracious appetite for natural resources,” she explains.

“Our approach is all about collaboration – finding new ways to bring together business, social enterprises, NGOs and consumers – the social change we want simply won’t happen otherwise.”

Part of the reason that Start can be so ambitious is that it enjoys the kind of corporate partnerships other green initiatives can only dream of. Virgin Money, B&Q, M&S and other leading UK brands have clubbed together to make sure Start has the biggest possible impact.

Does the involvement of these corporations weaken Start’s message? Joey doesn’t think so. “We believe that partnering with powerful brands, we can draw on their marketing strength to deliver important changes to how we go about our lives; what we do and how we do it,” he says. “Start has exciting plans over the next year to communicate its positive message of simple steps for sustainability to a massive audience via its sponsor’s marketing.”

This year, the initiative’s key themes are: growing, eating and transport; and new themes will be added as the program develops. For readers who want to celebrate eco-friendly living, there are many opportunities ahead, such as a Start Cycling ride in Burnley on Thursday 15 September.

Speaking of his sustainability mission at the first anniversary of the Prince’s Countryside Fund in August, Prince Charles said: “If I didn’t do it, who would?” In these challenging times for society and the environment, his Start initiative is helping us to ask ourselves the same question: “if we don’t do it, who will?” And as their slogan puts it, ‘one simple step can make a difference.’