I’ve co-founded three organisations. Here’s some information about them and how I’m involved today:
E for Good
My interest in e-waste (electrical & electronic waste) started in 2006, when I was researching The New Green Consumer Guide. I discovered that in just a decade the amount we were chucking out per head in our lifetimes had increased by nearly three times.
Towards the end of 2010, I met Melinda Watson, who had recently founded the Raw Foundation. We realised we had a mutual concern about e-waste – how much of it there is, where it’s going and the impact from mining the raw materials needed to make e-products.
We set up the E-Waste Campaign, which aimed to raise awareness about e-waste and it’s impacts. These include the:
- Scarcity of many raw materials used in the electronics industry and the environmental degradation caused by their extraction.
- Toxicity of e-waste, which has become the fastest growing hazardous waste stream on the planet.
- Design for disposability, which promotes a throwaway consumer culture.
- Corruption and malpractice that is commonplace in the recycling and disposal of e-waste.
After a visit to e-waste recycling company, Environcom, I realised that there could be some significant opportunities to put our ideas into practice. We set up E For Good and in partnership with Environcom are working to:
- Reduce the amount of e-waste.
- Repair and reuse as much as possible.
- Recycle the rest.
We are working with the public, schools, charity shops, retailers, local authorities and many different business sectors. We will be encouraging a major clear-out of waste electrical products from wherever it has been stored – and we’ll be working to clean up the e-waste industry by highlighting both good and bad practice. At the same time we’re planning to promote durability and eco-design of products through an awards scheme.
Click HERE for the E For Good website.
I met Rene Haller in Nairobi early in the 1990s – we’d both received a UN Global 500 Award for outstanding environmental achievement. He then invited me to look at his project on the Kenyan coast, just North of Mombasa. I was hugely impressed – he had transformed the barren landscape, left by a cement company mining the coral, into a lush and fertile eco-system.
What I found so exciting was the way that Rene manage to link everything together. He discovered a tree that would grow on bare rock – and found that the needles from this tree was food for millipedes. Their faeces then provided the fertile soil for the more vegetation to grow.
He also created a fish farm, which fed on algae, which in turn fed on hippopotamus faeces. Waste from the fish farm went to feed the crocodiles – who also ate animal remains from the surrounding farms and forest. And the water from the crocodiles provided nutrients for bananas and rice.
Out of these ventures Rene developed micro-enterprises, employing large numbers of local people and supporting community ventures. He set up tree nurseries, farm shops, fruit & vegetable growing, water collection and tourism ventures.
I wasn’t the only person to find Rene an inspiration. In 2003, I met Louise Piper who wanted to support his work. We felt that we’d like to clone him as his approach should be replicated everywhere. Given that was impossible, we set up Haller or the Haller Foundation, as we originally called it. The idea was to keep Rene’s legacy going – and spread his ideas further afield.
Since then Haller has taken Rene’s work into the rural communities on the coast. We’ve built an education centre, run courses in sustainable agriculture, started a mobile medical clinic and set up sustainable communities – giving the people the means and knowledge to keep them going.
The programmes run by Haller include: water harvesting, land rehabilitation, farmer training, health, education, alternative energy and nano-enterprise. And most recently Haller has developed a model urban slum garden to demonstrate sustainable living in an urban context.
I continue to be a Trustee of Haller but do not play an active part in the day to day management of the organisation.
In 1986, when John Elkington and I met, I’d just got back from travels around Central and North America. John was working for an environmental organisation called Earthlife, that no longer exists – and I joined him there. Within a few months we had moved to offices in the back room of John’s house in Barnes.
The first book we worked on was called Green Pages – The Business of Saving the World – and probably its most significant impact was to be a huge learning experience for me. It turned out to be the first of eight books I co-wrote with John and the pre-cursor to The Green Consumer Guide, which was the most successful of them all.
When we set up SustainAbility in the spring of 1987 we were in the midst of writing The Green Consumer Guide – and the company became an umbrella organization for both writing books and environmental consultancy. We started advising an impressive range of blue chip companies on sustainability issues including Procter & Gamble, Dow, ICI, Novo Nordisk and British Airways.
Our objectives were ‘to make a difference, make money and have fun whilst we were doing it’. And, I think we achieved all those to some degree! Each of our books was launched with a campaign – we wanted to make people aware of the impacts they were having simply by buying products and services. And explain how to use market pressures to get businesses to improve their environmental performance.
At the beginning we thought that companies would be fearful of working with us, but it didn’t happen that way. The media attention we received, and the sales of our books, led to companies coming towards us asking what they should do to appeal to a green consumer audience.
In 1995 I moved to Somerset and sold out of SustainAbility, although I remained as an Associate for several years after that – and wrote a couple of books with John leading up to the Millennium.
SustainAbility today is still going strong. It has offices in London, Washington, New York, San Francisco and New Delhi. It describes itself as a ‘think tank and strategy consultancy working to inspire transformative business leadership on the sustainability agenda’. John Elkington remains a director but has started a new organization – Volans – which describes itself as part think-tank, part consultancy, part broker and part incubator, focusing on social innovation.