Our Ethical Agenda Podcast series aims to raise general awareness of social enterprise, sustainability and the people behind the movement – the social entrepreneurs, the campaigners, the big thinkers. We discover what makes them tick, what motivates them, what obstacles they have faced and how they collaborate to mainstream their thinking. Our podcast conversations will feature new and inspiring approaches to leadership in social justice, sustainability and climate action.
Safia Minney meets Catherine Howarth
Episode 19: Catherine Howarth
Catherine Howarth, CEO of Share Action starts the interview by explaining how Share Action evolved from a campaign to investigate the ethics of pension fund investments in the university system. Share Action campaigns globally for the right to know where pension funds put your money and works to implement an ESG (Environmental Social and Governance) revolution in finance that will radically decarbonise our economy. She hopes actions such as ranking pension funds in terms of ESG and campaigns such as Make My Money Matter will open up the “black box” of pension investments, which she argues it is a space where “peoples voices and values should be much better heard”Share Action is small but galvanises shareholder power to directly persuade companies to make important ESG commitments such as living wage and using renewable energy suppliers.A combination of research and public engagement techniques enables the organisation to influence investors and raise the profile of ESG in the market.Share Action conducts deep dive research on the financial risks presented by poor sustainability performance in different sectors, giving investors the knowledge they need to hold companies accountable. “Armed with the right questions, they can really hold companies feet to the fire”.Catherine describes how Share Action have been involved in combatting climate change for a long time and the link this has with banking. “Unless the banking sector changes it’s approach to lending, we can’t win.” She explains that Barclays is the worst bank in the Europe for lending to high carbon industries. Share Action filed a shareholder resolution that challenged Barclays to phase out financing companies without a plan to change to low carbon operations. The support they had from investors and the media attention was encouraging. “It’s allowed us to see there is real sign of change and hope in the investment sector. Those big powerful investors could have dismissed this and they haven’t, so that’s very encouraging”Another successful climate action has been with Tesco. Attending the AGM, Share Action asked and then persuaded the supermarket to move their electricity supply to renewable and subsequently the company joined the RE100 coalition of companies committed to renewable energy. Catherine explains that it was partly a simple case of pointing out the business benefits. “The power of nudging can make things happen faster and doing the right thing can be good business sense lot of the time.”Safia asks about the obligation to check supply chains for human rights violations. Share Action have drafted a responsible investment bill requiring pension funds to undertake proper scrutiny. Catherine says we shouldn’t let large investors off the hook. “If you’re happy to take the profits you have to have a level of responsibility for oversight of what might be appalling crimes, environmentally or socially”On a positive note there are huge amounts of money available in pension funds that can have a good influence – “it’s our money, reimagine it as a powerful and positive agent of change.”Safia asks about Catherine’s hopes for COP 26 in Glasgow. Catherine wants to see governments step up and commit to serious policy action; banks, insurance pension and asset management companies should transform and de carbonise. They should be challenged to make commitments and urge governments to agree an ambiti...
Safia Minney meets Dominique Palmer
Safia talks to Dominique Palmer of the UK Student Climate Network about intergenerational justice, the importance of the Green New Deal and how the movement has engaged over 500,000 young people in the fight for climate justice.
Safia Minney meets Guy Singh-Watson
Episode 17: Guy Singh-Watson
Guy Singh-Watson is Founder of Riverford, the hugely successful organic vegetable producer and vegetable box delivery company. The discussion begins with the importance of farming in our society and Guy’s personal discovers of a “deep connection” to nature and desire to be “part of nature, rather than outside or above it.”
They discuss George Monbiot’s recent documentary “Apocalypse Cow”. Guy explains that he is resistant to the idea of laboratory food, saying that culturally it “fills me with horror” although intellectually it would release land for re-wilding and return to biodiversity. He suggests the way forward is a mix of embracing the ways of nature, improving soil fertility and including livestock farming with “ideally no factory farmed animals and little feeding of soya to animals… a luxury as a planet we cannot afford.”
Guy points out that many farmers are trying to do the right thing and don’t want to be marked out as the bad guys. He says that the climate catastrophe is not the result of agriculture but the fossil fuel industry and our insatiable demand for energy. To be demonising farmers is grossly unfair.Guy gives his ideas for creating a sustainable diet.
* Reducing waste in the food chain. Waste in fields has little environmental impact, but radically cutting waste from our kitchens.
* Eating less animal protein. We eat 1600gms meat a week in UK, We should reduce this to 600gms and encourage a vegan diet of unprocessed food.
* Stopping growing produce in heated glasshouses.
* Stopping air-freighting products.
* Eating seasonal, local fruit and veg.
* Questioning the nonsense of our economic model built on instant gratification.
“The enemy of sustainability is choice”, says Guy. “We’ve been sold the message that you can have whatever you want whenever you want and retailers need to have the courage to stand up and say no. Consumers should eat seasonally," He believes that “out of a restrictive choice is born creativity and that applies in the kitchen as well.”
Guy believes that contact with nature engenders a greater appreciation and desire to protect it and change our thinking. He says we should also encourage people onto farms to understand food production today. If people realised it wasn’t like 'Old MacDonald' they would be more discerning about what they buy. In addition, clearer information and tougher trading standards would help to differentiate the genuine from the false claims about food quality. This should be illegal. Some parts of the food industry mislabel products as ‘organic’ and we should challenge them more often, asking ”Who certified it? Where is the label?”
Riverford communicate directly with their customers and talk about issues their farmers face in the way most farmers can’t. Guy says they are unique in that they have the privilege of being able to be honest. They also have great relationships with their suppliers supported by long term contracts. He points out that most producers are “obliged to play by the rules of a broken system” as they have only short term contracts which is the antithesis of sustainability.
Riverford have 70- 80,
Safia Minney meets Natalie Fee
Episode 16: Natalie Fee
Natalie Fee is an award-winning author, environmental campaigner and founder of City to Sea - a Bristol-based non profit working to stop global plastic pollution at source.Beginning the podcast by introducing her new book ‘How to Save the World for Free’ - Natalie explains the power of individual action when it comes to healing the planet and how we can all play a part in most aspects of our lives.Describing her journey as a campaigner, Natalie tells us how seeing the trailer for the film ‘Albatross’, by the artist Chris Jordan opened her eyes to the reality of plastic pollution. The plight of the Laysan Albatross with single-use plastics lodged in their bellies, dying, moved her to the point where she could no longer sit back and do nothing.This led to the creation of a crowdfunded music video and onto campaigns in her home town of Bristol to highlight the problems of plastic in the UK’s rivers and seas.To begin with, Natalie guided City to Sea with the Switch the Stick campaign, a successful cotton bud campaign run in 2016/17 which called on all UK retailers to switch from plastic to paper stem buds, stopping over 400 tonnes a year of single-use plastic at source. City to Sea has since launched several groundbreaking campaigns achieving global recognition, including Refill - tackling single-use plastic bottles, Plastic-free periods, Don’t believe the wipe and Plastic-free travel.Natalie goes on to describe writing as her “first love” and the idea for her book; “ I wanted it to be about campaigning, to take people on the journey from plastic pollution to the other things that are going wrong in the world that we need to be aware of”.She talks about the single-use plastics directive and the importance of implementing it, how recycling is important, but reusing more so. Natalie points out that 40% of litter is plastic bottles and a deposit scheme would cut this figure substantially. It would also lead to behaviour change. She adds that we need to put value on plastic and discourage bottles being made from fossil fuel. She explains that the Terracycle scheme is good as a temporary solution, but the onus is still on the consumer and introducing extended producer responsibility through the environment bill would be a better long term solution.Natalie and Safia talk about activism. Consumers have to “keep up the pressure on supermarkets to unpackage a lot of our fruit and vegetables”. They need to lobby councillors about deposit schemes and individually reduce the amount of plastic they use.Since 1965, over 8 billion tonnes of single-use plastic produced has gone into rivers and soils. Natalie explains the solution to this is stopping it at source, especially in developing countries. “90% of the world's plastic flows out of 10 rivers around the world, mainly in Asia”. Natalie describes how working with and supporting NGOs and charities which help manage waste better is important as well as cutting our own plastic waste, 93% of which we export.Natalie explains how we get plastic out of the ocean. Using technology costs billions to clean up a fraction of plastic. She points out only 1% of ocean plastic is on the surface, 95% is on the ocean floor and 4% is on the beaches. After reducing use, the next step is to empower community beach cleans to clear up the plastics blown by wind and gathered by tide. Microplastics in the water present a huge challenge,
Safia Minney meets John Steel
Episode 15: John Steel
Safia talks to John Steel, CEO of Cafédirect, about the iconic & pioneering Fairtrade coffee brand that put Fairtrade into our supermarkets in the 1990s.John explains how starting his career with Rowntree, a company established on Quaker traditions, grounded him in the guiding principle that business should be about improving society and not just about making money. Rowntree was acquired by Nestle in 1988. “We need to find a way of getting the world to change more rapidly and have generosity of spirit that human beings should have,” says John.Cafédirect began in 1991 as a response to the 1989 global collapse in coffee prices and was the first brand to go into the supermarkets, promoted jointly by Oxfam, Traidcraft, Equal Exchange and Twin Trading.It also launched the Fairtrade mark, from which hundreds of products and product categories have followed. It has grown to £14 million turnover, growing 10% in 2019, led by its’ popular Machu Picchu roast filter coffee and a premium range launched with Waitrose. The company works with approximately 600,000 small-scale coffee farmers. John says “the environment is now so positive for businesses like Cafédirect where the consumer is increasingly saying ‘I want to choose to use my money to make a difference’.”In the future, John explains that he would like to raise awareness of how business can be done better, to influence other companies to buy in the right way and “work closely with farm communities to make a profound difference on the environment and their livelihoods, as the future of food and drink depends on that.”He recalls visiting a small, struggling co-operative near the ruins of MachuPicchu and seeing how the Fairtrade business model can make a real difference. Cafédirect were able to support the community with a loan, enabling them to not only survive, but flourish and establish a reliable income stream and go on to win an export award for quality coffee.He explains that Cafédirect work through more than 40 co-operatives , varying from small groups of 300 families to many thousands. The company doesn’t want farmers to be dependent on Cafédirect so their business is a small percentage of the farmer’s total income. John wishes that more coffee companies would buy coffee from the farmers on Fairtrade terms.The Fairtrade model ensures farmers get a minimum price guarantee and the co-operative adds a premium to improve communities. John points out the importance of this guarantee in a volatile market - coffee prices can go down to as low as 88c per kg , much lower than the $1.35 farmers need to subsist. “A consistent reasonable price is a basic requirement in a moral society.”John believes that there is still room for consumers to understand the real connection between the coffee farmers and their role as ‘stewards of nature’. He says “Cafédirect is a pioneering business and change needs to occur with greater scale and impact. Businesses managed properly can mobilise consumers just as David Attenborough mobilised consumers against plastic waste. The business model Cafédirect uses is successful. When you talk to a student about the different business models you can adopt, trading on fair trade terms, buying organically, working directly with small holder farmers and working with them to help them think about how to manage the environment, every single person in the room will go away thinking ‘why should I buy anything else...
Safia Minney meets Julia Barrett
Episode 14: Julia Barrett
From the Spirella Building in Letchworth Garden City, Safia talks about sustainable construction with Julia Barrett, Chief Sustainability Officer of Willmott Dixon. Julia was Business Green Leaders’ Sustainability Executive of the Year (2018) and Women in Construction’s Green Leader in 2017.
“The built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions” and as such the construction industry plays an important role in going carbon zero. Julia explains how Willmott Dixon rises to the challenge of creating buildings to reduce emissions and maximise efficiency which helps people using them reduce their energy usage, save money and improve their quality of life. They discuss how green construction can reduce social inequality.
Safia learns about Passivhaus, the “state of the art” sustainable building standard. It ensures you build highly-insulated buildings with the “right materials to very high quality standards of workmanship and to high standards of design which means you use minimal energy and you are able to maintain a stable living environment. Some examples of that have been spectacular.”Willmott Dixon is a member of the Supply Chain Sustainability School which provides training for contractors to ensure a high standard of workmanship across all sectors.
Safia and Julia discuss the Climate Emergency and Julia recognises that Willmott Dixon and society as a whole are being challenged to do more. “Let’s be bolder, let’s be faster, let’s be more ambitious. The XR strikes showed support from public and hosting COP 26 will lead to commitments. Not doing it is not an option.”
Willmott Dixon had a 2020 strategy to reduce waste, increase efficiency, and transform the lives of young people. These goals have been met and Julia discusses their new targets, including climate positive operations and net zero carbon buildings.
Julia says Willmott Dixon is “Using the climate challenge as a lens through which to drive innovation”. She continues, “what we need to do is push the envelope and make it non-optional.” She explains how Willmott Dixon introduces sustainability to customers.
Willmott Dixon has won many awards, including the Queen’s award for Enterprise: Sustainable Development (2019 and 2014), Social Mobility (2018) and Construction News’ 2019 Environmental Contractor of the Year.
Julia outlines her ambitions for the future. These include creating a built environment that adds value, enhances lives, and creates a better world for future generations. She wants to show this can be done and “demonstrate the art of the possible”.
Julia believes that as a family business Willmott Dixon has an advantage. It’s a benefit, as the company is not beholden to shareholders with different values. She points out that leadership and culture determine the pace of change, not technology. We are “change agents who turn the ‘what’ into the ‘how’”.
Safia and Julia discuss the global opportunities for sustainable construction, the inequality of carbon consumption across cultures and the implications of global heating. Julia finishes on a positive note pointing out the glimmer of hope represented by oil multinationals realising they need to add renewables into their portfolios. She concludes, “they need to do a hell of a lot more” but “a journey of 1000 miles always starts with the first few steps”.
Safia Minney has excellent guests!
subscribed - have thoroughly enjoyed the podcast so far, really inspiring guests and can’t wait to hear more...
The podcast is really interesting and very inspiring. Food for thoughts.