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Leading Voices in Global Sustainability

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Natalie Fée

Founder & CEO - City to Sea

10 Questions to Change The World

October 2022

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

Plastics and climate change are two sides of the same coin, they're inextricably linked. Over 99% of plastic is produced from chemicals that are derived almost entirely from fossil fuels … and as we see a decrease in oil use for energy and cars, the petrochemical industry is turning its attention to plastics instead. Plastic production currently accounts for 5-6% of global oil use - if forecasted investment and infrastructure goes ahead that figure is predicted to rise to for 20% of global oil use by 2050, doubling plastic pollution in our oceans. 


Being vocal about the interconnected nature of the climate, capitalist and regulatory crisis will be a growing element of our work and will be reflected in our campaigns.

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

There are three big tips that target the biggest carbon outgoings of most organisations and then one "hack" of what to do with them all. Firstly, switch to a renewable energy supplier. Ethical consumer recommends either Ecotricity or Good Energy as their "top picks".

 

Secondly, tackle travel-based emissions by avoiding flying for work and Incentivise active travel for employees. Lastly look to adopt a plant-based, plastic-free workplace. While you obviously can't mandate what employees eat, you can control what your workplace provides in cafes and canteens. Energy, travel and food are the three big areas of emissions that need our focus.

Being vocal about the interconnected nature of the climate, capitalist and regulatory crisis will be a growing element of our work and will be reflected in our campaigns.

The one "hack" is to tell other people what you're doing. If you inspire one other business to act you've doubled your impact with little additional effort. We're not going to tackle the ecological crisis alone, we will only succeed by working in a movement for change. For individuals, I'd suggest reading my book, How to Save the World for Free, but of course I'm biased! (Although you can check out the reviews and make your own mind up.)

Why have you embraced sustainability in your professional career?

I set City to Sea up about seven years ago now back in 2015, motivated, as many were, by the harrowing footage of the Laysan Albatross chicks dying in their nests with their bellies full of plastic. I’d found the trailer for the film ‘Midway’, by an artist called Chris Jordan, in which I witnessed the tragic plight of the most beautiful, incredible baby albatrosses … and I was totally devastated. It was something about seeing everyday items that I used - my brand of toothbrush, ink cartridges, bottle caps - literally causing the death of something so majestic - that really made me stop what I was doing and – after a lot of crying, and raging – do something about it.  

 

Initially I started on my own, with a music video (but only raised about £17 for another charity!), and soon after, gave up my day job in telly and set up City to Sea. And I honestly had no idea it’d become what it is today. But we grew to 20 amazing staff running dozens of award-winning campaigns, stopping hundreds of tonnes of plastic from ending up in our oceans – every year!  

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

I think the biggest win is seeing a team who are committed to the organisation's vision and purpose

City to Sea has won lots of awards, and some big, high-impact campaign wins too. But I think the biggest win is seeing a team who are committed to the organisation's vision and purpose - and who are all making a tangible, positive difference in the world every day. (Well, four days a week, as we're a 4-day week company!). A personal highlight for me though would probably be my honorary degree - for someone who dropped out of university, this was a fun recognition of my campaign work. 

What do you want to have achieved before you retire?

Enlightenment... oh wait, that's more likely to happen after I retire. Seriously though, I don't have a career path all laid out, I tend to follow the moment and see where I'm needed most. If I had to choose something more immediate though, I'd say I'd like to see City to Sea be truly financially sustainable, so we can focus more on our campaigns and less on fundraising. 

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

 Follow your heart and do the thing that lights you up. We may never solve the issues we're working on in this lifetime, so best to have fun and use your talents along the way! 

Who do you go to for inspiration in this space?

We're not going to tackle the ecological crisis alone, we will only succeed by working in a movement for change.

 Nature. Always. 

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How do you offset your own footprint?

I run a company that stops hundreds of tonnes of plastic at source each year, so I think I'm definitely carbon positive! In my book, How to Save the World for Free, I don't recommend off-setting as the first 'thing people can do, but instead suggest hundreds of ways people can reduce their environmental impact. 

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

We live in a broken system that makes it ridiculously hard for everyday people to go lightly on the planet. So no judgements. Lots of us are hard up and busy, so the responsibility to protect the planet should really mostly be shouldered by government, retailers and producers. Which is where campaigning organisations come in! 

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

Generally I think it's better if we don't put people on pedestals, they only fall off! Our communities have lost a lot of power over the last 20 years, and we need our communities to be more resilient - more local food, more investment in the local economy, more community cohesion. Currently our future is in the hands of the technocrats - the global elite - whereas true, inclusive sustainable solutions need to come from the ground up. Like the trees. 

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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