Vince the ecowarrior

We talk to Dale Vince, the man who founded Ecotricity, and who has topped this year's Edge Upstarts

Dale Vince, voted most inspirational business leader in this year's Edge Upstarts Awards poll, believes establishing renewable, eco-friendly forms of electricity is key to slowing climate change and preserving the planet.

In 1996, Vince established Ecotricity, which uses wind turbines to provide electrical power to now over 30,000 subscribers throughout the UK.

Vince's says his inspiration for launching Ecotricity came when he was a boy, and it grew when he lived a self-sustainable lifestyle while travelling throughout the UK.

During his travels, he began to make small wind turbines to power appliances like light bulbs. Years later, he incorporated his experiences into a business plan for Ecotricity, which now has five wind parks around the UK and competes with the “big six” electric providers in the UK. The company has become a leading example of social enterprise.

But, what is social enterprise?

Vince said he didn't have an exact definition for the term but considered it to encompass any enterprise that was dedicated to improving the welfare of both the environment and people who exist within it. Interest in social enterprise, which basically refers to any business that is working for lasting environmental and social change, has been growing in the past few years, especially as the world seems to drift further into environmental crisis.

Social enterprises are not established as short-time fixes for long-term problems. Instead, they try to change the outcome of environmental issues, like climate change, that are inevitable unless immediate steps are taken to stop them.

Unlike some social enterprises, which stay alive only through monetary grants, Ecotricity is an endeavour that generates profit by selling its services. “Relying on grants,” says Vince, “is difficult because, once the money runs out, it's hard to stay alive.”

For every £1 customers pay to Ecotricity, £1 is invested back into achieving the company's main goal: to provide sustainable, renewable energy through means that don't harm the environment. “We spend the most on each customer every year,” says Vince, “More than £400.”

Also, he explains, “each unit of green power produced stops a unit of brown electricity from being produced.” With billions of units electricity being consumed everyday in the UK, every green one counts.

“There is no other company I've heard of like Ecotricity,” says Vince. Indeed, it is unique and has been very successful in establishing itself as an attractive option for purchasing electricity. “Anyone in the UK can subscribe,” Vince explains, “We try to build turbines nearby, but they don't need to be.”

If it's so easy to choose a green electric option, why isn't everyone doing it?

Some people are still wary about how reliable the turbine-generated electricity is and whether they are going to be paying more than with current non-renewable energy providers.

“Some ask, 'what if the wind stops or the turbines break?'” says Vince. It's questions like these that are answered by Ecotricity's impressive 'human component.'

Vince explains, “When you call Ecotricity, you get a live person, not just a recording.” He wants the company to seem approachable rather than removed from its customers. That also sets Ecotricity apart from other (fossil-fuel burning) electricity providers.

“I would like to create a park around each turbine. We plant a tree for each new customer,” says Vince. “So far, trees have been planted for our first 20,000 customers.” People can wander the fields and enjoy the growing Ecotricity Forest around the turbine at Lynch Knoll in Gloucestershire.

As for being the overwhelming winner in this year's Edge Upstarts poll for 'most inspirational business leader,' Vince says, “All I can say is I'm flattered.”

Turning UK energy from brown to green is no mean task. But he’s already inspired 30,000 people to do so, and says he's not going to stop until its wind, not fossil fuels, that are electrifying the UK.

Hana Bieliauskas is a junior at Ohio University majoring in magazine journalism. She is currently studying in London.
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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times