Build Back Better

Blog by Jazz Chandler

What we do next could change everything

“We have a chance to reset the clock and build back better than before” asserts the elegantly named campaign, Build Back Better. With a name so globally appealing, it’s seen traditionally adversarial organisations suddenly using the same language- who’d have thought the Government’s latest policy document would take its name from a steering group co hosted by Greenpeace? With a slogan so universally appealing, yet universally vague, Bristol Energy Network facilitated a meeting to explore what Build Back Better means to the Bristol community energy sector.

One of the most poignant themes to come out of the discussion was reflection; to ‘build back’ we need to know where we were, and within that we need to know what was even right in the first place. To many, Building Back Better means that we build ways to ensure that we don’t slip backwards; it means building resilience, not just resilience to economic shock or to climate change, but to the gains that had been made on equality; It also means looking starkly at the gains that weren’t made on equality and ensuring that this time, everyone benefits together. To Build Back Better obviously means to change, but whose change? ‘Development’ naturally feels positive, yet behind it’s vague assertion of progress, it hides the power of decision making. Who sets the agenda of ‘better’? Pointing out this ambiguity, participants highlighted that ‘Build Back Better’ potentially hides voices rather than amplifying them.

The reflection on considerations of power continued into demands of the future. Inclusion and justice became overarching themes of a lot of conversation, with accessibility taking centre stage and branching off to multiple outputs. Equitable development is key, with considerations taken from a financial perspective illustrated by hopes set at tackling financial and fuel poverty, yet the discussion also looked past traditional conceptions of poverty to include digital poverty, thus bringing the conversation back to participation and agenda-setting, ensuring that everyone has a voice at the table. Beyond looking at energy as a remedy to lift ‘other’ people out of poverty, traditionally through community services financed by power generation projects, the  discussion touched upon how to remove the financial barriers to become an active player and beneficiary in the world of community energy- a problem that has been dabbled with but yet to be solved.

As a theme, an enabling environment considered inclusion at a variety of scales, stretching from the individual to an organisational level, with discussion focusing on ensuring that the right policies are in place to allow energy groups to bring about localised change with international impacts. It was thought that questions should be asked about what is holding us back and what can we influence that would in turn give us more leverage. It seemed that the capacity of energy groups to act is in a constant balancing act between harnessing the strength of larger external organisations whilst trying not to give up their localised democratic power. This last consideration seemed to touch upon how we can enable Councils to make the right decisions, particularly when they want to but don’t know how, and how can we support the balance of power and capacity between a national and local scale of actors.

Unsurprisingly for a collective of renewable energy advocates,  the overarching theme to come out of the meeting was futureproofing, but more interestingly it concerned futureproofing inclusion. The discussion saw justice as an essential frame to ensure anything under the guise of ‘better’ is indeed better. It looked at equality as a means and an end, it saw capacity building of organisations as a potential to maximise efforts, and it saw behaviour change around energy as supportive of a bright future.