Millbank Primary School

Growing Together To Be Our Best

Question Time with Peter Davies

We were delighted that Peter Davies who is the Commissioner for Sustainable Development in Wales took time on Tuesday 4th May to come and see the work of some of Green Gang and answer some of their questions.

The Sustainable Development Commission is the Government's independent adviser on sustainable development, reporting to the Prime Minister, and Wales and the First Minister. Through advocacy, advice and appraisal, the commission helps put sustainable development at the heart of Government policy. Mr Davies has been in Post since 2006he started work as a teacher before being appointed Southern Area Director of the CBI Education Foundation. He was subsequently appointed by the DTI to set up the National Teacher Placement Service. It was here that he received an OBE in recognition of his work.

One of the common descriptions of Sustainable Development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Non sustainable development does seem silly, but that is just what we have all been doing as a world for far too long.

These are the questions we asked:-


What is the job of a Sustainable Development Commissioner?


I work Part time as a Commissioner and I advise the Welsh Assembly Government about how to make lives better and more sustainable in the future.



How did you get the job as a Commissioner? Was it a big interview?


I saw the job advertised in the Western Mail, and applied for it. There was a very long wait before I heard anything.  Yes it was a big interview in Cardiff with lots of people from the WAG and from London too.
I got a letter from No 10 Downing Street saying I had the job.



How closely do you work with the other Commissioners and the Welsh Assembly?


I work  with the other commissioners especially Keith as I am really keen to  involve young people in what we do and get their ideas.



Our MP told us all about the changes that might be made at the 2009 UN Climate change conference in Copenhagen to combat CLIMATE CHANGE. Do you think it was a missed opportunity? Were you there?


No I was not there, there were enough people there. In fact one of the lessons  to be learnt was that maybe there were too many people there to be able to get a consensus. Climate Change is a pretty serious issue. The threat of flooding for low laying areas and droughts in already arid areas will have a big impact on some countries. We in Wales are ready to do our bit but we need all countries to work together. I am sure that we will get everyone to work together-it is too important an issue not to.



Do you have Fairtrade products (Fairtrade tea coffee and biscuits) in your office? Do you have ‘energy enforcers’ to make sure that lights are put out?


Yes we do. Stephen Brooks  the Head Of SDC Wales office joined us from OXFAM and so was very well informed on the need to support the FAIRTRADE idea.  Wales was the first country to become a Fairtrade Nation.
Yes we make sure that all our lights, computers are turned off when not in use. We also need to make sure that people continue the effort  at home where 50% of the savings can be made. Of course it means that people can save money too.



We learnt a bit about Food Miles last year, how can local farmers compete in a global economy?


It is hard for farmers but here in Cardiff at Riverside you have one of the best farmers markets in the UK, where local farmers can offer their wonderful produce direct to the consumer. Supermarkets are getting better trying to offer a local option in their stores and raise awareness of Food Miles. We want to  encourage more schools hospital and institutions to keep buy more local produce.



Our school is named after a mill that was powered by the river Ely to grind corn; you can still see the towers of windmills in the area too. People like the idea of green energy until someone suggests building a wind farm or a tidal powered barrage near them. Should people’s attitude change or should producers be more inventive in their designs?


Wales is well positioned to be a major supplier of green energy, from wind farms onshore and offshore and tidal power but you are right people do worry about the idea of having a turbine near them. Yet when we have met objectors to wind fans standing underneath the turbine they cannot hear them turning above so its important we get more people to visit and see the reality rather than the fear of green power. People generally are frightened of change.



What were you like as a schoolboy, what was your favourite subject, sport, woodwork, and maths? Were you ever sent to the head teacher for being naughty?


I went to a small primary school in West Wales (which is now a really good eco-school) I enjoyed sport , cricket rugby and football but I suppose Geography was my favourite subject because I had a very good teacher who inspired me. I did my degree in Geography and worked as a teacher.
No I was never sent to the head but was told off by the teacher a few times.



Were you ever bullied at school, or did you see bullying as a teacher, what do you think can be done?


No CaptionI suppose I was but I never thought of it as bullying at the time. When I was your age I was a little portly and some of the older boys would call me ‘fatty’ and push me around. But I am not sure that they boys thought of themselves as bullies either. I think it is important that you tell someone there need to be clear rules in a school about what can and cannot be done.



Do you grow your own fruit or veg?


We have just put up a green house so we can grow more ourselves. Our house is near the sea and very windy so tall crops tend to get blown over.



Have you worked with the Children & Young People’s Commissioner to help engage young people in the work of the Sustainable Development Commission?


No CaptionYes I have good links with the Mr Keith Towler, I have had two meetings in two weeks to see how we can get young people even more involved in our work. I think Wales can be very proud  of the number of  ‘Eco Committees’ and ‘Green Gangs’ like you that want to do more and better things each year.
Have a look at the Climate Change Champions, these are young people who champion actions to solve climate change .



Do you think that next year young people might be encouraged to take part in Wales Sustainability Week? (This year it is 17th – 23rd May 2010)


I am impressed that you know that there is a Wales Sustainability Week. Next year I think that there will be more schools, clubs and groups involving more people young and old will be taking part.



Many parents will not let their children walk or cycle to school as they feel it is too dangerous because of all the traffic so they drive them. How can we get more people to walk or cycle?


Yes I can understand people’s concerns. Walking buses are a good idea or even when they share a car in a traveling taxi. Schools can work with their LEA to get a good travel plan in place. It would be really good if we can get everyone to reduce their use of cars, most car usage is small trips that could be avoided. It also means that we would all be fitter and more aware of our communities.



In our recent litter pick most of the litter could and should have been recycled? How can we make manufacturers, people, and government work together to prevent waste?


It is important that we all start making our environment clear of litter. As a society we still buy and waste far too much and there is too much packaging in shops. Near me is a coast care group that collect loads of plastic litter every week from the beach. There are lots of the lids and tops from plastic bottles in particular!
We need to make sure that everyone knows what needs to be done. Of course we are slowly getting better and you will know that manufacturers are responsible for their waste with the WEEE directive for things like batteries and electrical goods.



Community cleanups are a punishment for offenders, how can we get more people to get involved and take pride in their local communities? Do you think litter is a problem or symptom?


We volunteer to pick up litter and I would encourage others to do so too. Keep Wales Tidy do a great job or supporting people maybe we need to do more to encourage people and maybe recognise their work with awards
I think Litter is just a symptom of our “throw away” society and that is what we need to address. Our grandparents were masters of recycling and reusing, they  used to make and mend all the time. We have got in the habit of throwing most products away and just not caring, as a society we too often see it as someone else’s problem to tidy up.



When we did a survey 85% of the people mistakenly thought the ‘green dot’ logo on a Walkers crisp packet meant it could be recycled, do you think it would be better if all packaging contained recycling information rather than just an anti- litter logo?


Yes, I think we need clearer and better labeling. Most people do not know what can and cannot be recycled. Companies are often keen to appear more environmentally friendly than they are in practice. Walkers have done a lot of work reducing their carbon emissions and use the carbon logo but many people simply do not know what it means.



Do you think the ‘green dot’ should be employed in the UK or all of Europe to make manufacturers accept responsibility for their waste packaging? What else could be done?


I think it should be standard across Europe as we import from and export to the EU, so there should be a consistent message. Most of Europe is better at recycling than the UK.
I think education is very important telling people what the symbols mean. Also as consumers yourselves you can write to the manufacturers and tell them  what you want them to do.



Some people send their crisp packets to the Philippines to be upcycled into handbags, do you thing crisp packets should be recycled here in the UK? Is this helping underdeveloped countries or exporting waste?


Sometimes these things are a lot more complicated than they first seem, trade is good and it might be the best and most efficient place to recycle products is overseas but we should not simply be exporting rubbish in a non sustainable way.



Most of the litter we collected is drinks cans and bottles; would a deposit bottle scheme work? How did the reverse vending machine trials work out?


When I was a young boy I used to collect pop bottles to make up my pocket money. Plastic is very cheap, you could suggest a tax on single use bottles to pay for recycling. Monmouth Comprehensive had a Reserve vending machine in which the pupils earned credits by recycling which they could redeem for special prizes, the school got money too.



We have been in contact with David de Rothschild onboard the Plastiki about the problems of marine pollution from plastic. Do you think the work of any individual can have an effect?


Yes definitely, we can all make a real difference. The internet and media means that it is far easier today to bring a problem to the attention of the whole world.
It is also important that we all lead by example. Wales is a small country in a big world but we can have an affect. Wales is consulting on charging for plastic bags all the money raised will go on environmental  projects to directly help the country.



What advice or suggestions do you want to give us or young people in general?


I would tell them all that ‘You have the most important job, it is your future and your children’s future that will be decided by today’s actions or lack of. If we do not do something about Global warming and environmentalism then the opportunities that you will have are not going to be as good as they should be.
Your voice is very important it is important that you all work together write to manufactures and shops and your AM’s and MP’s. You can make a difference.


We thanked Peter for his time and suggestions about the groups future work.