It was like the arrival of the mission in life I did not realise I was looking for! Especially at the ripe old age of 45!
In 1989, standing on a dilapidated, pot holed bridge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I looked down on a city that had been decimated by the departure of the steel industry. The place looked a dump! It reminded me of my home city of Birmingham in the UK where the auto industry had left. In both cities, changing industrial circumstances left vast swathes of land lying derelict.
Derelict land attracts squalor, depredation and social problems.
By some chance I cannot remember, I had a copy of the Sunday Times which I stopped on the bridge to look at. The newspaper opened at a double page spread about the appalling tragedy of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan, once the world’s fourth largest inland sea, now more or less a toxic sump of chemicals and waste.
It was there I thought “what on earth are we doing to ourselves?” I came to the conclusion we could not rely on politicians to improve matters. To me, the business community – those who actually do things, make things happen – were essential to any movement to improve things. But research showed business saw environmental issues as no more than a threat – legislation; restrictions; costs.
Back in the UK in 1991 we staged the Business Challenge Conference at the NEC to highlight the positive, business advantages side to the story. Amongst the guest speakers was David Trippier, Minister of the Environment. He ended his speech by announcing that “David Middleton today launches the Midlands Environmental Business Company” – which was the first I had heard of it!
I became CEO of the Midlands Environmental Business Company and held the role for 23 years. Parallel to the last 13 years, I was also CEO of the UK branch of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. For a short period in the 90s I was also Secretary General of The Urban Renewable Foundation.