Third Generation Environmentalism: A mini manifesto

Third Generation Environmentalism: A mini manifesto

Back in the early days of E3G, we produced a short introductory manifesto to describe who we were and what we were trying to do.

Much of the institutional information that document contained has now been superseded as E3G itself has evolved and grown.

But our analysis of the reasons why a new approach was required has stood the test of time rather better.

Here below is a snapshot of our early thinking from 2004.

Third Generation Environmentalism: Only Connect

John Ashton, Tom Burke, Nick Mabey

The first generation of environmentalism focussed on the conservation of species and habitats. The second generation widened that focus to include pollution and natural resources.

Campaigning from outside the established institutions, the environment movement in the 20th Century brilliantly succeeded in building consciousness of the harm human beings are doing to their planet and thus to themselves. It has been less successful in changing the choices and behaviours that cause that harm.

Third generation environmentalism builds on this success. The third generation of environmentalists are not outsiders. They are to be found at all levels in bureaucracies, corporations, universities, trades unions, professional associations, voluntary organisations and elsewhere throughout the world.

They are for solutions rather than against problems. They know that no one nation, organisation or person can deliver lasting environmental change. They will work with anyone, anywhere, who has something better to offer the environment.

E3G is an environmental organisation for the 21st Century. Its mission is to turn arguments into achievements by working with the hundreds of thousands of third generation environmentalists to be found within the existing matrices of power and influence.

E3G does not have a new environmental agenda. It has a different approach to the current agenda.

Moving the Agenda

Stabilising the climate, halting the collapse of ecosystems, building sustainable communities, meeting our long term needs for water, energy, food, health, fibre and minerals responsibly are core challenges of the 21st Century. Failure will undermine civilisation itself.

National, economic and personal security are all undermined by a degraded environment. Political instability, poverty and ill health all increase as environmental quality declines.

Humanity is not fundamentally short of the resources, technology and capital to deliver security and prosperity to all of the eight billion people that will soon share our planet. We know now how to do this without irreparably degrading the environment which supports all our livelihoods.

But our inability to put resources, technologies and capital together in ways that are sustainable is ever more apparent. Wherever you look, unsolved problems mount while the means to solve them lie unused.

Making it Work

The roots of today’s environmental problems lie deep in our current institutions and political processes. They are faults with the system as a whole. By their very nature, environmental problems cannot be dealt with from silos – from one government department, industry sector or advocacy position alone.

Changing institutional and political structures is a long term goal. In the meantime, we must make our existing system work better.

The E3G vision is that we can do much more with the structures and institutions we already have. We must enable third generation environmentalists to work better together across the institutional and political boundaries that obstruct change.

We believe that the information and communication technologies we now possess create new and under-used opportunities to mobilise effective responses to environmental challenges.

Our task is to accelerate the transition to sustainable development. Our role is to design new solutions to sustainable development problems fully engaging the realms of technology and economics, politics and culture.

We are guided by:

  • the need to link the possible to the practical by connecting reachable goals to next steps;
  • the need to build coalitions of support concurrently with policy proposals;
  • the need to create new tools and methods for problem solving;
  • the need to harness and align existing personal, professional and policy commitments;
  • the need to trace solutions through departmental and disciplinary boundaries.


E3G is a work in progress. It began as an idea – that it was time for a third generation of environmental action.

For the past eighteen months we have worked together and with others to turn that idea into a robust concept. We are now engaged in a further eighteen months of proving the concept – testing its application in the real world through a variety of projects.

We have developed a new model for an environmental organisation. At first, environmentalists believed that if enough good quality information and media profile could be generated on environmental issues progress would eventually occur.

Now we all know better. The scale and urgency of the environmental problems facing humanity are such that this is not enough. More is needed. Knowledge and public awareness must be actively drilled deeper into our decision making processes.

The first two generations of environmentalists clearly identified the problems and defined the goals we must reach – a stable climate, greatly increased resource efficiency, sustainable management of biological resources, reduced exposure to dangerous chemicals and radioactivity.

The third generation’s priority is to engage that knowledge and awareness more effectively so that those goals are reached. E3G will forge a stronger connection between what must be done and how things get done.

E3G adds value through our experience of the way institutions work and our networks of relationships with aware insiders everywhere. This is why our activities are structured differently from those of other environmental bodies.

It is not our job to research and campaign on the environment, duplicating the work of others. Rather, we take goals that are widely discussed, but rarely reached, and add the focus and political momentum necessary to turn aspiration into accomplishment.


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