The TH Interview: Pooran Desai and Sue Riddlestone of Bioregional Development Group

Sue Riddlestone & Pooran Desai are the founders of BioRegional Development Group. Already featured many times on TreeHugger, Bioregional Development Group is an entrepreneurial, independent environmental organization that develops products and services based around the concept of One Planet living – living within our fair share of the Earth’s resources. Projects so far have included the ground-breaking BedZED eco-housing estate in London, localized closed-loop paper recycling systems, and establishing a network of regional producers to supply local charcoal to B&Q;, a major hardware retailer. Bioregional are currently working on establishing large-scale One Planet Living communities of more than 5000 residents each in Europe, USA, China, South Africa and Australia. In this brief interview they share their thoughts on selling sustainability to the mainstream and on the future of bioregional development. For more information on Bioregional, BedZED and the One Planet Living concept, see Pooran & Sue’s inspiring and highly recommended book: Bioregional Solutions for Living on One Planet.

TreeHugger: Bioregional has been involved in a bewildering range of activities: charcoal production, lavender farming, hemp clothing, housing, and even helping "green" the forthcoming London Olympics. What is the uniting theme?

Pooran Desai & Sue Riddlestone: The uniting theme is simply the concept of using local renewable materials and waste resources to meet more of our needs. This underpins the concept of bioregional development.TH: I have had the chance to see Pooran speak a couple of times. You often talk of the importance of "telling stories" as part of creating a greener future. Could you explain a little about what this means?

PD & SR: People are motivated as much, if not more, by their own perception of themselves and their lives as they are by any statistics. So if we can persuade people to adopt a story of their life as one in harmony with nature, then this will be more powerful than simply giving people more information about environmental degradation.

TH: While the BedZED project is undoubtedly a trailblazing eco-development, Treehugger has reported that there have been some major teething problems. Would you like to comment on these? Are these on the way to be ironed out?

PD & SR: There have been a number of problems, most notably with the wood-fired combined heat and power plant. This is emerging technology and we recognized this as a high risk part of the project. On new schemes we are using more tried and tested technologies, such as wood heating.

TH: Where do you see the Bioregional Development Group in 10 years time?

PD & SR: We are establishing Bioregional offices in a number of countries. So far, in addition to London, we have offices in Australia, China and North America. We want to see the concept of Bioregional Development become part of mainstream society.

TH: Is government, both local and national, doing enough to support a sustainable future? What are the most important changes governments can make to support truly sustainable development?

PD & SR: It is too easy to blame governments – generally, we elect them! As individuals and as a society we need the courage and the political will to make the paradigm shift to sustainability. We could all adopt the 10 One Planet Living principles Bioregional have developed with WWF.

TH: What's the single most important thing you think each person on this planet can do to make it a more sustainable, cooler, TreeHugger-friendly place to be?

PD & SR: Probably to give up flying. One return flight from the UK to Australia might release as much CO2 as is emitted by heating and powering a home for six years.

TH: In meeting your goal of delivering real-life practical solutions, what sorts of trade-offs or compromises have you had to make?

PD & SR: None, in our view. We do take a market focused approach and work where we can with mainstream companies.

Sue Riddlestone & Pooran Desai are the founders of BioRegional Development Group.

[Interview conducted by: Sami Grover]