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Leading Voices in Global Sustainability

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Harriet Lamb

CEO, Ashden

10 Questions to Change The World

February 2022

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

We're all toast if we have not catapulted progress forward in the next 5 years. We have all the solutions we need to keep "1.5 Alive" - we know what to do but we have to put the money, the people, the skills behind these solutions. We need to train and retrain people in the green skills for tomorrow's jobs; support decentralised renewable energy that can bring sustainable power to people in the hardest to reach villages of Africa and Asia; back regenerative agriculture with smallholder farmers and enable all businesses transform their models including to the circular economy. It's quite a To Do list. But it is within reach - if we would just pull out all the stops.

What have you observed as being the biggest issues for organisations ability
to transform into a more sustainable operation?

Give your team the chance to train in some aspect of how to green their job. Maybe they want to learn about carbon footprinting, or how to retrofit their home or even the office. Give them the time to learn those green skills of the future!

It's quite a To Do list. But it is within reach - if we would just pull out all the stops. 

Why have you embraced sustainability in your professional career?

As a child, I lived three years in India so I knew about the terrible poverty and injustice in a wealthy world and that solutions abound which tackle social and environmental issues together. I was inspired by Indian leaders following Gandhi's teachings - that the world has enough for everyone's needs but not their greed; and to live the world you want to see. So I always wanted a career that contributes in some way to a more sustainable world.

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

I was inspired by Indian leaders following Gandhi's teachings - that the world has enough for everyone's needs but not their greed; and to live the world you want to see.

My biggest win was to take Fairtrade bananas from a mad idea that everyone said would never work, to becoming an iconic Fairtrade product on every supermarket shelf across Europe so benefitting thousands of smallholders and workers. The environmental standards are really high for Fairtrade bananas so we've helped producers not use the worst agrochemicals and instead to grow more in tune with nature. 

And all the consumer-campaigners have just loved dressing up in banana-suits and prancing around their High Streets to drive awareness! When I was leading Fairtrade UK, we grew Fairtrade sales from £30m in 2001 to £1.32bn in 2011, and from 80 products to  4,500 – so delivering more benefits to more producers – and boosted awareness of the FAIRTRADE Mark from 23% to 90%. We had a blast!

What do you want to have achieved before you retire?

To have enabled all the UK's 32,000 schools to reach zero carbon by 2030 - www.letsgozero.org is a coalition campaign we are running and if we could achieve that wildly ambitious goal, I would retire a happier woman.

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

Go for it!  Don’t be shy, stay ruthlessly ambitious for the climate - and enjoy to the full the wonderful movement of people driving forward the just and green agenda.

Who do you go to for inspiration in this space?

Don’t be shy, stay ruthlessly ambitious for the climate

The Ashden Award winners are my climate heroines. People such as Iman Hadi who, supported by UNDP, runs a solar energy cooperative in Yemen, just 20 kms from the frontline. These women are making an income selling solar energy to their neighbours, giving them cheaper and cleaner power for their homes and their businesses. Iman was declared one of the BBC's 100 Most Influential Women of 2021 - and the UNDP project is growing from 3 villages to 165 in Yemen this year and is being adopted across UNDP more widely - so it's not just me whom she is inspiring!

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- Indigenous seed collection network, winner of Ashden -

How do you offset your own footprint?

At Ashden we offset by making a donation to the Xingu Seed Network in Brazil who are collecting seeds and planting trees in the Amazon. They were an Ashden Award winner and we wanted our offset to support their inspirational work on the frontlines of the climate and ecological crisis.

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

The eco-bible would say that we shouldn’t have pets but I love my naughty little working cocker spaniel so much and he brings me closer to nature. I love watching him smell and hear things that are way out of our league!

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

The Welcoming, based in Edinburgh, are helping refugees and other 'new Scots' settle into their new community by taking a lead on climate action. They are helping families tackle fuel poverty while also growing fresh vegetables on a shared allotment. For me, they are full of energy and are addressing so many issues - the interconnected crises of inequality, conflict, refugees and climate - through one simple and practical community initiative. Let them rule the world! I think they'd do a better job than many of our current leaders...

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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