As part of our consultation on policy ideas for the 2012 London elections, Melanie Smallman of SERA – the Labour Environment Campaign sets out the environmental challenge and how green ideas can be part of a winning Labour offer.

In these harsh economic times, ethical issues – like our impact on the environment or on developing countries – might seem low on our list of priorities. But in the run-up to the London elections, it’s vital that we keep hold of these issues and put forward a manifesto that takes our responsibility to the planet and other people seriously.

Because although these issues might seem to be more important to those in the leafy suburbs than in our Labour heartlands, that’s a wrong perception.  With a diverse city like London, many of the poorest residents are closest to those experiencing the impact of climate change or exploitative employment practices first hand.  In the course of our work at SERA, we have met many first or second generation immigrant households, who came to London to make better lives but are still going without in order to send money back home to help their relatives make better lives too.  These households, many of whom already live on breadline incomes, understand how important it is for us in London to be ethical citizens of the world.

And if we want to see a Labour Mayor in City Hall, we need to win in the leafy suburbs too.  Against a backdrop of a Tory-led government that believes in standing back while the economy freefalls and heartless Conservative councils determined to cut services to the bone, a strong ethical showing from Labour could be the contrast needed to push Boris’s voters our way.

But most importantly of all, we have all seen and are still paying for the consequences of greed and high risk-taking in our city – the results of an extremely unethical London.  Besides the costs of bailing out the banks, City salaries and bonuses are driving lifestyles and levels of consumption beyond the wildest dreams of most ordinary Londoners and creating an inequality in our city (and country) that will have significant negative consequences on our society for generations to come.  It doesn’t have to be like this though – as the Equality Trust and academics such as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have argued, more democratic economic forms, such as co-operatives, tend to promote narrower spreads of income between highest and lowest paid employees. And the enormous purchasing power of city workers could be helping solve some of these problems by driving new markets – helping push forward the development of low carbon, ethical and sustainable goods and services and setting trends and aspirations that the rest of London and the UK could be following.

For the sake of London’s economy, it’s also vital that we help the City to clean up its act environmentally too.  In a survey earlier this year, once the energy and transport sectors had been taken out of the equation, the two most carbon intensive businesses in the UK were both in the financial services industry.  At the same time there’s increasing evidence that with fluctuating oil prices, low-carbon businesses are being seen as lower risks for investors and are being able to access capital much more readily.  This is only set to become more important with oil prices predicted to rise even further.  Without addressing the environmental impact of the financial services industry and encouraging more home-grown, values based and low-carbon enterprises, the economic heartbeat of London is being put at risk – and it’s in the interest of every Londoner to fix that.

You can contribute your ideas to our consultation for London’s manifesto here. Melanie Smallman is National Secretary of SERA – the Labour Environment Campaign