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Leading Voices in Global Sustainability

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Ana L. Tavares Leary

Climate Solutions Advocate

10 Questions to Change The World

April 2022

How do you think climate change and the global sustainability agenda will
impact your industry over the next 3-5 years?

Companies across all sectors need to rethink their portfolios and incorporate sustainability strategies into the core of their operations, or else face being disrupted by companies that are thinking longer term about the purpose of their business and their sector’s climate risks. The UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a strong starting point for rethinking purposes. Firms that aim higher to produce climate solutions at scale will leave meaningful legacies and be part of a paradigm shift toward a more sustainable system.

 

The 2022 IPCC report underscores the fact that rapid action is needed to reach the Paris goals of keeping global temperature from surpassing 1.5°C above pre-industrial averages by 2025. Climate change is no longer a tangential, distant issue. Firms need to make systemic changes to their businesses to reach true net zero (by doing more than purchasing carbon offsets). Globally, stakeholders are increasingly climate literate. Companies that do little to fight climate change, or worse, exacerbate the crisis may face mounting scrutiny, activist engagement, or divestment. 

 

There are countless, long-term benefits of implementing sustainability into the core of business, and now is the time to act. Strategically, corporate sustainability can help stimulate innovation, drive growth, strengthen public image, decrease environmental impact, increase social responsibility, and develop responsible sourcing and resilient supply chains. Implementing a corporate sustainability strategy involves certain short-term investments; however, the benefits far outweigh costs.

What is one ‘sustainability hack’ you’d recommend to an organisation wanting
to transform into a more sustainable operation?

Start with your organisation’s mission, vision and values, which can provide guidance in determining which low-hanging fruit to target first.

 

Some examples can be developing ethical sourcing standards, surveying employees about their top sustainability concerns, or creating a board committee to develop recommendations with senior management on climate action and sustainability priorities.

There are countless long-term benefits of implementing sustainability into the core of business, and now is the time to act.

Why have you embraced sustainability in your professional career?

My professional purpose is to contribute to solving one of humanity's greatest challenges: climate change. My goal is to create impact utilizing my expertise in sustainability, business, and policy to help accelerate the shift to a low-carbon economy.

What are some of the wins you have achieved in your career to date?

I look forward to continuing to collaborate with likeminded professionals and thought leaders to create community, influence change, and create a better future.

During my graduate studies, I was the principal investigator of a study, where I performed a series of government and private sector consultations on energy and climate policy needs. Bringing climate solutions to municipal leaders of the Greater Toronto Area was a significant achievement in my academic career.  

 

My master’s thesis fieldwork involved moving to São Paulo, Brazil, where I worked for the Ecoar Institute for Citizenship and researched the impact of social-environmental projects in recycling cooperatives in favelas. Working with recycling cooperatives and waste pickers in the city of São Paulo and supporting their journey to becoming both environmental stewards and professional businesses was a meaningful win.

 

During the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, I worked with ICLEI as a consultant to run a conference of more than 1,200 global strategists, academics, businesses and NGOs. After spending years working on local actions to combat climate change, I was proud to present these projects to an international audience.

What do you want to have achieved before you retire?

Organizing locally with residents to restore our urban tree canopy and create a more climate resilient town has been a source of deep meaning. In local communities where individuals organize, environmental and political change is possible. Each of us has the capacity to lead initiatives and projects that can significantly impact the trajectory of local policy, elections, and municipal planning. 

 

I look forward to continuing to collaborate with like-minded professionals and thought leaders to create community, influence change, and build a better future.

What advice would you give for organisations looking to start or advance on their sustainability journey?

For those changing or starting new careers, I recommend understanding what motivates you—your drivers, your values, your work style. In any career change, it’s important to understand yourself first to know what you should pursue next. Developing a professional purpose was my first step.

Who do you go to for inspiration in this space?

Fighting climate change will take an all of society, all of business, and all of government approach.

Recently, I have joined a global community of climate tech practitioners who are incredibly inspiring. Every Saturday morning, we meet to network, discuss challenges, celebrate victories, and connect resources to needs. This growing network of collaborative professionals helped me pivot and refocus my career.

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- Ana Leary at an academic conference during the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development -

How do you offset your own footprint?

I limit my purchase of new products and have significantly reduced my household waste. For years, I have focused on buying vintage clothing, furniture and art. There is beauty in items that have a story, and they also tend to have a higher quality of manufacturing. In addition, I try to remind myself of the landfills I have visited, where everything from single-use plastic, fast fashion and food is cast away. As much as possible, I buy used, donate, and upcycle items.

What is your one ‘guilty / non-eco’ pleasure? (that you can’t live without)

In a word: travel.

If you had to choose one person, organisation or community to lead the world in sustainability, who would it be and why?

Rising global temperatures will impact vulnerable populations—especially in developing countries—first and hardest. Equitable climate solutions, therefore, must include the perspectives of practitioners, scholars, community leaders, and entrepreneurs from both the developed and developing world and from historically marginalized communities. Otherwise, climate solutions will neither be inclusive nor deliver the impact that is needed. 

 

Fighting climate change will take an all of society, all of business, and all of government approach.

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Are you our next Leading Voice?

If you have a story to tell, we want to tell it…

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"If working apart we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet, surely working together we are powerful enough to save it. In my lifetime I have witnessed a terrible decline. In yours you could - and should - see a wonderful recovery.”

 

-​ Sir David Attenborough