Spotlight Series: Q&A with Navneet Bassan, Pensions, Risk & Compliance Manager

We caught up with Navneet, qualified solicitor currently working at Ernst & Young in the Pensions, Risk and Compliance team about the rise in importance of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance).

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I am Asian British born in the UK. I am a qualified solicitor.

Can you tell me about your career so far? What was the catalyst for you to take on ESG Pensions at EY?

I worked in a few City law firms in the early days, worked at PwC and also Thomson Reuters, I’ve been working at one of the Big 4 accountancy firms (EY) for the last five years. I no longer work in the capacity of a solicitor, since having children, I took a side step and now work in the Pensions HR Team at EY.

The UK has an investment market of roughly £8 trillion with UK pensions assets c.£3 trillion, so as a very rough estimate pensions assets are a third of investable assets. Given this proportion, switching pension investment to back the sustainability agenda is a strong lever to deliver real change and a mechanism to fund green growth. In line with the EY global commitment to tackling the climate change crisis, EY made recent changes to the investment strategy of its UK staff pension plan and as part of this introduced the EY Sustainable Fund. At present 10% of the default investment strategy is invested in the EY Sustainable Fund, a “green” fund that supports sustainable causes. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, this is only the beginning and EY is doing much more to ensure it invests its pension contributions into companies that are focused on reducing environmental impact and delivering sustainability. Watch this space!

What does your overall role at EY involve and how are you finding working on Sustainability compared to your other work?

I am the Risk & Compliance Manager for the EY in-house pensions team, so my day-to-day role involves ensuring EY remains compliant with all legal and regulatory requirements in relation to its pension arrangements within UK&I. However, I’ve recently become involved in a new cross-firm sustainability initiative created to focus on “getting our house in order” which is an aspect of EY’s Global Sustainability Strategy. So whilst EY is not only tackling sustainability in relation to services provided to external clients, it is also doing so with its own internal operations.

From a personal experience I did actually start to notice many small changes happening in our office pre-covid… Disposable cups within all EY offices were replaced with reusable cups, they ceased producing branded EY carrier bags and even dish sponges were removed from communal kitchen areas to reduce plastic microfibres in wastewater. It’s such an exciting area to be involved in at present and is a definite change from my usual day role!

Being South Asian, did you face any pressure from family, friends or society at large to choose the career path you did? Would you have done anything differently if given the opportunity again?

I didn’t feel direct pressure from my family, but I think it was the norm when I was growing up to either go for medicine, accountancy or law – so I just went for the last one given I loved English and History at School! If I had an opportunity to choose another career when growing up it would probably be around nutrition and diet but that wasn’t a well-publicised career path back in the day!

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

The biggest change I’ve made was a few years ago in changing from a petrol vehicle to a fully electric one. It’s been the best decision made in terms of being more “green” and definitely cost efficient, the only challenge has been in planning the charging points for longer journeys!

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I don’t believe there is any form of stigma, I think it is more of a lack of understanding and knowledge of the climate crisis. For me, it really hit home when I attended a work-related conference where Lewis Pugh presented and spoke about his experiences of climate change, especially when he first swam in the waters of Antarctica compared to more recent times. He’s a very inspiring speaker and really hit the message home.

I believe more education and publicity is needed in this area and suggestions on what changes people can implement to make a difference.

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly. How can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

Everyone can take “baby steps” to make changes in their day to day lives. It doesn’t have to be costly, even just ensuring rubbish is sorted and recycled where possible or using reusable shopping bags even helps. In recent times vegan lifestyles and products have come more to the forefront, which has helped with promoting foods that have less impact on the environment, so I believe being carbon conscious is more accessible than previously. Even making a few changes can help the cause.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Really start making a difference now by becoming more sustainable in your day-to-day lives. When I was growing up, this wasn’t a “thing”, but now it has been brought to the forefront through the likes of many individuals and climate “influencers” trending on social media platforms (i.e. the Greta Thunberg effect). Going back to pensions, which is typically an area where apathy is a challenge particularly amongst the younger generations, recent research has shown that

Millennials are most likely to believe that a measurable ESG impact can make a difference and for their investments to reflect climate change concerns. Hopefully this will mean the younger generation are more likely to engage with their pension if they can see if has a positive impact on climate change.

Coming from a background in law and working in a major financial company, would you say a career in the environmental sector would be just as financially and economically viable and stable?

Yes I believe in this day and age, a career in the environmental sector can be just as rewarding financially as well as from a job satisfaction perspective. Many companies are jumping on the “sustainability wagon” and if you do a quick google search for jobs in the sustainability field you will see many listed. I believe the only challenge may be a lack of awareness of what is involved in these types of roles.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

Yes of course – when on holiday in Mauritius a few years ago, I found it quite alarming when we came across so much dead coral on the beaches. We also went on a glass-bottom boat excursion, where we could see first-hand all the dead coral. When you compare this to living and healthy coral which you view when watching David Attenborough programmes, the difference is shockingly stark. While there was still some fish there, it was abundantly clear to see how much climate change had impacted a large proportion of the coral reef surrounding this beautiful island.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Climate change has been brought to the forefront in recent times, taking one example of the Australian bushfires, which I believe impacted many when you could see the devastation caused. The next step now is to take action and remember that as an individual you can make an impact by starting to make changes yourself and also educating others. The best way to do this is to “speak the language” of each generation e.g. the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (Gen Y) and the Centennials (Gen Z). Generally most people switch off when I start talking about my line of work(!), however,

I have noticed that if you can find the right hooks to discuss sustainability within the context of pensions, I have been able to engage both my parents’ generation as well as my nieces and nephews. 

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Farah Ahmad, Sustainable Design Architect

We spoke with Sustainable Design Architect, Farah about her job and what inspired her into sustainable innovation.

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

Ethnic: Pakistani American born and raised in New York City

Academic:

  • Bachelor of Architecture from The Spitzer School of Architecture
  • Certificate in Sustainable Design, Construction, and Development from NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate

Professional Background:

  • LEED AP BD+C (LEED Accredited Professional in Building Design and Construction)
  • RA (Registered Architect)
  • City Government Worker in Architecture and Sustainability in the built environment

What does your current job in sustainable architecture entail?

I am a Sustainable Design Architect. Essentially, I review projects for compliance with green building standards and assist in the development of technical standards based on building code, local laws and green third party certifications that exist.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

Competing in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon as a student gave me my first look inside the evolving technology of energy and water efficiency and my interest has only evolved as our design standards become more stringent and high building performance has become the forefront of design.

I loved the approach of interdisciplinary collaboration that design and construction entail – the number of specialty consultants/sub-consultants at any one project and working together to create a solution from the project onset is incredibly dynamic.

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about this career choice from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

Quite the contrary! My father encouraged it because he is an Engineer who worked frequently with Architects- I came to appreciate the technical and creative side of this profession. Although, I will say that there are very few South Asians in Architecture. I do believe that diverse STEM fields aren’t as widely recognised in our culture, which is a shame because Architecture needs as many diverse points of view as it can get!

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I’m the green police around family and friends sometimes- water conservation, turning off lights, minimising my heat/cooling usage, etc. are all basics that I preach regularly. I also believe in raising awareness and use my social media platforms and website to talk about building sustainability trends that everyone can practice in their own homes!

You can’t have liability without awareness.

I also lead a sustainable office group where I work, where we share sustainable office practices with our colleagues to drive down material (paper and plastic), food, water and energy waste.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I’m not sure if the climate crisis is a culturally-related issue, but I do have family and friends in the South Asian community who are totally unaware and unwilling to change their habits! We take our resources for granted here in the U.S. I think we need to create more social media groups and social clubs that evolve around this theme.

Congregations, events and celebrations are a huge part of our culture, so maybe we simply need to change the format of how we share our information and make it more interactive and engaging. 

What have been your greatest successes and learnings?

My greatest success has been obtaining my professional license three years ago! It gives my voice more credibility in all of my publication ventures – I frequently write about sustainability in the built environment.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Why is it important for them and their future?

Environmental Sustainability will trickle into every profession and provides such a sense of purpose to your work – it makes me feel very fulfilled since a lot of the information I pick up from my professional work can be applied to my daily life. 

Connect with Farah:

www.farahnazahmad.com

www.twitter.com/farah_arch

www.instagram.com/renewablefarah 

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Climate Change Activist, Ridhima Pandey

We caught up with 13-year old Climate Activist & TEDx Speaker, Ridhima, featured in BBC’s 100 most empowering and influencing women’s list 2020 and member of youth advisory council for COP26

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

The 2013 Kedarnath flash flood made me take action. In 2013 when I was 5 years old, a very devastating flash flood occurred in my home state Uttarakhand. Many houses and agricultural land were destroyed. Thousands of people died and many children lost their parents. I saw all this destruction on television and in the newspaper. My dad also went there to rescue animals. 

After asking my parents about how the flash flood occurred, thundering, cloudburst and flash floods became one of my biggest fears. I used to get nightmares that I died in a flash flood or I lost my parents due to a cloudburst so I was scared of rain – I was traumatized and terrified. That flash flood had a very bad impact on me mentally and after speaking to my parents about the reason behind this flash flood, I came to know about climate change. 

I was confused about how our human emissions change the temperature of such a big planet like Earth. I learnt that not only flash floods but many natural disasters are occurring because of it and as the global temperature is rising, natural disasters are getting more frequent and much more destructive. This made me take action for myself and for the coming generations. 

How do you balance activism and your studies?

It was a little difficult in the beginning as I used to travel a lot due to my activism and awareness program and had school at the same time so I had to take a lot of time off, my work used to be incomplete, my notebooks were empty, I didn’t understand any thing and as I didn’t do my work, my teachers consequently didn’t grade me. 

I used to study the whole night before my exams in order to learn everything. It was pretty hectic but with time I got used to it and now I manage my study pretty well compared to when I just started in my activism. 

Born in Haridwar and being South Asian, did you face any backlash about this choice of activism from family, friends or society at large? Particularly as you’re still in education – how did you overcome it?

I never faced any backlash from my family or my parents but did face trolls and unpleasant comments from society. People used to say that it’s a good thing that you are doing, but instead you should study and focus on your career. Some used to say that it’s useless and what you are doing is for fame and money. Many people used to comment on social media that we are anti-nationalist, we don’t want our country to develop, our parents are using us or someone else is using us for money and what not. 

I used to get a little angry and frustrated in the beginning, but

my mom used to tell me not to see how many people are discouraging you, instead see how many people want you to continue; how many people you inspire.

Now I don’t really care what other people say about me – it doesn’t bother me anymore!

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I try to live a sustainable life – I save electricity, water and food. I do plantations, I try to reuse and recycle my things and most importantly I’ve reduced my consumption of fast food and things that come in single use plastic and instead I used biodegradable, eco-friendly products. I carry my own cloth bag when I go shopping. I try to reduce my carbon footprint as much as I can.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how do you go about solving the issues?

Yes I do feel that people in South Asia do not take climate change seriously. Most of them don’t even know what climate change is and if they do know, they don’t know what to do about it.

I feel like everyone thinks that it doesn’t affect them or if it does then government money can resolve it. 

Most people in the front line are being affected by climate change the most, but they don’t really know what to do and they also aren’t aware that all these things are happening because of climate change. I try to educate my community and especially children about climate change: how it’s affecting them, why the global temperature is increasing, how bad it can be, what their rights are, how they can protect themselves and what steps they can take to reduce their carbon footprint or to contribute to this fight. I also run different campaigns on different issues in India such as on air pollution and saving the Ganga river.

What have been your greatest successes and learnings so far?

I guess everything that I have done to bring change is a success to me. But being a TEDx speaker, being on the COP26 youth advisory board and being mentioned in BBC’S 100 most influential and empowering women’s list are the best successes I have ever had.

I have learnt a lot throughout my journey so far, but a key learning is to never give up on your dreams and never think that you are alone.

You work constantly with younger people, facilitating workshops across the world – what key advice do you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Why is it important for them and their future?

When I create and run workshops, I try to be as open and interactive as possible, because I feel until and unless the kids are having fun they won’t learn and understand me. I try to give them real life examples rather than telling them some data as they can find that information anywhere, but they can’t find out about the reality on the ground, unless someone who has seen it tells them about it or they see it themselves. 

I try to make them realise the importance of the environment in our life and why it is important for them to work for environmental conservation. I try to make them understand that our future depends on the decisions that are taken today by policy makers and since money and development are the main focus areas for most policy makers; we have to make sure that they also consider the environment as a priority, because only then our future will become a priority too. 

You mentioned how some young people ‘jump onto the hype’ of being environmental activists. In your opinion, is this wrong or just the first step towards greater action?

It’s not wrong but it’s not justifiable because a lot of the youth here think that being an activist is a fun thing. They never realise the importance and responsibility that comes with being an activist; instead they think that being an activist will make them famous(!)

If you are an activist then you have to work and act like one!

Why is community, grass-root level activism and action so important?

I feel it’s very important because the indigenous communities, the local communities and the communities on the front line are the one most attracted to the cause. Since they are most affected, it’s very important for us to show everyone how their excessive luxuries, greed and emissions are affecting those people. 

Showing everyone what is happening at a grass root level is also very important, as most of the time we see our government reports and they say that they have done a lot, but in reality things are much worse and until and unless we show everyone what is actually happening, no one will know about it. 

Connect with Ridhima on Instagram

Find out more about Ridhima here and here

Spotlight Series: Q&A with CEO & Founder of ChargeInc, Akshay Mukesh

We caught up with Akshay about his tech developments in all things Electric Vehicle charging in India, Middle East and North Africa

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I was born to a North-Indian family residing in South India so one could say that I was brought up in a very cosmopolitan-kind of environment. Essentially, I am a self-taught entrepreneur with minimal formal education and a handful of practical experience. 

I started working when I was 16 and I have diverse experiences in industries like publishing, realty, IT and a digital agency upholding senior executive positions. I love to dig into customer problems and solve them with modern tech and out-of-box solutions. I create, scale and optimise portfolios that matter.

What is Charge Inc and how did it come about?

When I founded ChargeInc back in 2018, the company was headed towards setting up smart charging infrastructure across India and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. In the process of developing the charger (EVSE), we realised that over 5000 companies with a similar product were going to deploy different solutions by 2026 making it difficult for the end user to charge the electric vehicle (EV) with different hardware/service providers. A user, at one time would not subscribe to more than 2 service providers, dividing the charging infrastructure and making adoption of EVs more difficult.

To curb this menace, we decided to focus on building a software platform that could manage and power hardware from any manufacturer or service provider. In simple terms, We would do what ‘Windows’ did for the computer industry and what ‘Android’ did for the cell phone industry. 

What are your main values and aims as an organisation?

We have one clear focus. A unified charging infrastructure irrespective of the type of vehicle, the service provider, the manufacturer of hardware or the geographical location of the charging station. The sooner we are able to achieve this, the faster we can see people choosing EVs over internal combustion engines. And, in this process, we as an organization, are imbibing the values of globality, collaborations, integrity and utmost commitment towards customers

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

The movie ‘2012’ caught my attention in 2010. Though the movie was overly dramatized, it depicted the imminent disaster that is in looming unless we reacted in time. This was just, as I realize now, paving my path forward.

Being an automotive enthusiast, I started to notice advancements in the industry. The kind of buzz Tesla and Lucid Motors were making at the time made me more interested in the EV industry. I transitioned to the IT sector in 2016 where as part of my job, I was fortunate to meet with prominent government figures from across the world and pitch for projects defining the future of the public transport system. 

Their valued opinions and feedback on national problems they face owing to transportation were intriguing for me. I was also witnessing how a few lines of code were able to reduce the efforts and drudgery of millions of people. This was the tipping point. It was here that I knew something bigger could be done.

I started researching what the EV industry was missing and every person I spoke to pointed towards 2 things. First being the range anxiety and second being the lack of charging infrastructure

The vehicle manufacturers were working on developing better battery technologies to fix the problem of range and a lot more charger manufacturers were working on setting up the infrastructure. But with such a diverse approach to the charging infrastructure a much bigger problem was awaiting to be addressed. Unlike refuelling a gasoline powered vehicle, an EV would require the user to reserve a charging point, before they get to a charging station or any business premises supporting it; but the user would be limited by the subscription from a service provider they opt in for. We were now clear on what we wanted to pursue, using our expertise to make a difference. 

I believe I am in the right place at the right time with the right kind of people. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about this career decision from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

I would consider myself blessed to be surrounded by people who have always supported me in my endeavours. It surprises me sometimes yet gives a feeling of gratitude to have such an arrangement around. Almost everyone I reach out to for help, guidance or connections, they do the best they can. 

I make conscious efforts to ensure I pass on what I receive in a similar fashion.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

With the kind of work I do, I land up travelling a lot. I currently drive to most destinations because of the pandemic which adds to the carbon footprint. Within the organisation, we often talk about ways to offset the carbon footprint we incur. We are tirelessly working towards deploying our solution at the earliest as it would enable faster adoption of EVs which in turn will offset quite a bit of carbon coming from vehicles on the road.

While this is a part of our primary objective of the organisation, as a personal commitment towards sustainability, I turned vegan back in 2019 and started to ride to most destinations within the city on a bicycle. We also try to limit Air/Long Road travel, use less paper, re-use most resources and reduce electronic waste by donating what is not in use or use electronics for a longer duration than intended. Soon we’ll work on policies where we will incentivise colleagues who eat locally (as that reduces the need to import products from distant locations), share rides to work and replace their ICE vehicles with EVs. While most of these are plans for the future, we intend to take them up gradually to ensure there is less resistance and we are able to sustain proposed changes in our lifestyle. 

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

It is a harsh reality but most people today wish to switch to an EV for the financial incentives and not the environmental benefits. Environmental reasons and climate change often get side-lined.

I often hear a conversation about “Climate change being real” when people realise that summers are getting hotter or winters are colder or when we experience natural calamities. We need to ask ourselves, what are we doing to prevent this? 

Something as basic as waste segregation is not widely adopted in most places in India. It’s surprising to see that most developed nations in the MENA region also do not enforce segregation of waste in households. It’s of prime importance that we understand this and self-regulate our lifestyle or the Government will have to step in, incentivise or enforce people to change to be more sustainable in their lifestyle. 

Just running ads or campaigns for awareness are not going to be enough. Stricter regulations have to be put in place and environmentalists have to be taken more seriously before it’s too late. 

What have been your greatest successes and learnings?

I personally don’t think I have experienced success as yet. My contributions have been minimal and I would consider them negligible. The vision is to make an impact which reflects in the life of millions for a long period of time. Whilst I am not someone who runs a company which is valued at over a Billion USD, it is difficult to convince people and make them align with the vision. 

There is also a subtle difference between being persistent and being clingy. As an entrepreneur, it’s necessary to know the difference and to know who to have around you for the journey. Unless the person travelling with you matches your vision, they will only end up being a hindrance. 

There are 3 main things I have learnt on this journey and remind myself of these.

You are going to hear a lot of “NO”. You will meet a lot of people who will disregard your idea, do not let them de-motivate you. Self-motivation is one of the most expensive resources and it’s scarce. Use it wisely so you don’t run out of it.

Assuming you do find a person, they may not always be able to align to your vision, learn to let go of people and focus on those who do. If you do not have a person who aligns with your vision, don’t stop searching for them. If you are on the lookout for such a person for a long time, it’s probably the vision that needs to be adjusted. 

It is important to be persistent, but one must know where to stop. Sticking to something that may never work is putting yourself at massive risk. It is okay to fail at something and apply the learnings from that onto the next one. Knowing where and when to pull the plug is an art not many can master. 

What are the biggest challenges being faced in the EV industry? Has any one country got it ‘right’ so far?

The EV industry is MASSIVE. The challenges that lie ahead are bigger than one person, one company or one country. The problems will continue to remain as long as there is range anxiety, lack of charging infrastructure and long periods of time taken to charge the EV batteries.

Norway and China are leading the EV adoption race and other countries need to learn from the, but even in these countries, the charging infrastructure is defined by the companies that manufacture the vehicle. 

Imagine if brands like Mercedes or Volkswagen had to step in to sell fuel because no one else will do so. The vehicle manufacturers are currently charging service providers because they are forced to do so. They have invested massive amounts of money in developing these vehicles and it is in everyone’s best interest to get them on the road as soon as possible. 

If experts from the charging domain step in to fill in the gap, vehicle manufacturers can focus on the battery technology and develop better vehicles rather than focusing on providing charging services.

It needs to be a joint effort between domain experts from the charging infrastructure and vehicle manufacturers to enable faster adoption of EVs.

What career advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Why is it important for them and their future? 

My advice to the younger generation would be to look around and analyse the situation for themselves. Refer to historical data and look at how things have changed over the years and try finding the reasons for those changes. 

They will soon come to realise that it’s us who are responsible for these changes and unless we do something right away to fix these issues, shortly there would be no room left for us to be able to step in and fix them. 

These shortcomings are not too far ahead in the future. Today when you read about the technical advancements, you would often read about companies trying to colonise Mars or space travel and alternative places on Earth for the existence of the human race. 

Looking at billions of $ being poured into making it happen must ring loud alarm bells within us so we wake up to reality and realise that we are already late. We either start to fix the problem right away or fixate over it for the reason of not doing so for the rest of our lives. This choice needs to be made by our youth.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

I have had far too many ups and downs in my life. I have experienced a steep raise and fallen too quickly. These ups and downs made me value quite a few things that I took for granted. 

A few instances during the initial phase of my career made me realise how important it was to be financially secure. I started to pursue projects in the realty sector as they paid well. Every project I would take up would be of decent value and if something came across that did not pay well, I would not take it up. 

Shortly after I was left with no work and with depleting finances it would become increasingly difficult to live below means after experiencing a lavish lifestyle. The reality of life hits you hard when you are down and the first thing that goes out the window is faith. 

I consider myself extremely blessed to be surrounded by people who truly care for me and stand by me in every situation. Some helped me reinstate my faith while others helped me find work and some helped in stabilising the situation so I could focus on work.  

It’s often said that only a few get a second chance. I can, with gratitude say that I have received quite a few ‘second chances’ and this keeps me grounded.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

I may sound like a hypocrite when I say this as my previous answer reveals how I reacted, but I now believe faith is the driving force behind everything. Be it faith in The Almighty or the faith in yourself to do something. 

Be rest assured neither the good nor the bad is going to last for too long. Life will be a roller coaster, it will flip you upside down over and over again. I can scream but it’s my choice whether this is because I am scared or because it excites me.

Company Website: www.chargeinc.in

Akshay’s Linkedin Profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/amukesh/

ChargeInc on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/chargeincindia

ChargeInc on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charge.inc/

Spotlight Series: Q&A with PhD Climate Change Researcher, Zarina Ahmad

We spoke to Zarina about her climate-equality based community projects, creating pathways for diverse groups in Scotland to have an active voice in sustainable solutions

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background? 

I was born and brought up in Newcastle and moved to Scotland when I was 16. ​Both my parents were born in India and after the partition were displaced to Pakistan. I hold a BSc in Psychology from the University of Glasgow and worked briefly with the Education Department. However, for the last 10 years or more I have been working with diverse communities to help tackle climate change.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?  

As a child I was always one with nature, a child that spoke to plants. I believed that trees had souls (still do), never ate meat however, growing up I wasn’t aware that my passion for the environment would lead to a career in this field.

Approximately 15 years ago I was at crossroads in my life and knew that I wanted a career change, one that would allow me to follow one of my passions; either care for the environment or Psychology and human behaviour. I had to weigh up my options in terms of retraining, looking at costs involved and the time it would take to get into a job. After some consideration, taking into account all the factors, the environment sector won and that’s how I ended up following a career in this sector.

Can you tell me about your recent role at CEMVO? What sparked the choice in career change? 

There was an incident at a Hustings where a candidate from a political party made a racist remark to me, the comment he made was “your kind don’t grow do they?”. This remark made me reflect on how white the environmental sector was.

At this time, I thought naively we lived in a society which was zero tolerant towards racism, we had moved away from a racist society and we were accepted and integrated into the wider society. Hence led me to working with a race equality organisation addressing both environmental justice and race justice.

My role developed into 4 main areas:
a) I support BME community groups to develop climate change projects, help access the climate challenge fund and ensure projects are implemented and delivered well.
b) I sit on a number of stakeholder and working groups which help influence policy change and decision making.
c) I help to diversify the environmental sector and environmental NGOs through collaborative work and representation.
d) I set up and run the Ethnic Minority Environmental Network across Scotland which provides peer to peer support, upskilling and training and opportunities for collaboration to individuals and organisations who are interested in environmental work.

Zarina speaking at community event. She's wearing a beige long cardigan and standing holding a mic.

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to take a niche/ unfamiliar path, particularly midway through your career? Has it been challenging?  

The biggest backlash I’ve received, and this goes back to my childhood, was my choice of following a vegetarian/vegan diet which didn’t sit right within a Muslim family. Regarding a career path I think the biggest issue was that it was not a recognised or valued career. It took my mum years before she was able to explain to her friends what I actually did. Even some of my friends still struggle to conceptualise my job as it doesn’t fit in with a traditional or known career path. 

Also being an environmentalist in the third sector isn’t a well-paid job, at least it’s clear that I do this job for passion and not money. Some people find this difficult to understand, as growing up we are taught that success is measured on a monetary level. 

I think taking a step out of this competitiveness has its challenges as I can’t afford the same lifestyle as others but at the same time, I’m aware that I don’t want that lifestyle as it has environmental consequences. 

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date? 

My biggest success and learnings are both linked as I have been fortunate to have been in a position to create space for many people across the country from various diverse backgrounds (age, ethnicity, gender, disability, sex, education and socioeconomic backgrounds) to have meaningful and relevant (to them) conversations on climate change. 

From these conversations I have learned so much about the global impacts of climate change, traditional, religious and cultural sustainable practices, which have been passed down many generations. I’ve also learned about community resilience and adaptation to climate impacts and how there is still a lot to be learned from grassroot movements.

Never underestimate someone’s knowledge and ability to influence change. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable? 

There are a few things that I try to do. I only buy items that I need, I’m not a fan of shopping, and I try to mend and repair as much as I can. I’m a vegetarian and have been for all my life with only limited dairy in my diet, therefore I do try to source produce locally and cook from scratch. I try to source items that have less plastic packaging and look for non-plastic alternatives. There are more things that I would love to do but access and affordability are huge barriers. 

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? 

I don’t think there is a lack of understanding. In fact I think there is more understanding of what a climate crisis can actually look like within a South Asian context.

I think the issue is more to do with the narratives, discourse and jargon used by policy makers and campaigners which can come across unfamiliar, high level or irrelevant to South Asian communities. 

What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues? 

Some of the blockers are the climate language and jargon which is used, especially terms like carbon emissions and carbon footprint. This is too abstract a concept unless you are a climate scientist, or your work involves measuring carbon impacts. 

The other big blocker is embarrassment of and undervaluing of traditional sustainable behaviours, which have been passed down in South Asian communities. For example, reusing plastic ice cream or butter containers to store leftover food, growing your own herbs and vegetables in your front garden, no waste attitude – reusing and recycling wherever possible; however, these practices once in the west were looked down up i.e. perceived as behaviour of people who were unable to afford a better lifestyle. Unfortunately, a better lifestyle equated to overconsumption and a disposable society.  

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone? 

If we consider small steps to sustainable lifestyles then this is accessible to all, however some of the bigger steps such as installing solar panels, driving an electric vehicle or even buying organic may exclude a lot of us, simply on the basis of affordability. The easy steps we can take are just trying to be conscious of what we buy, what we use and need and what we eat. Try and reduce our waste by buying less, recycling and reusing more. Sharing with others instead of competing with others. 

You touched on feeling a lack of representation and your work since has been about amplifying voices and engaging more diverse communities. Can you tell me more about this and why it’s particularly important for there to be greater representation in the sector? 

When I started out there was very little to no representation from any person of colour within the environmental sector.

A whole portion of society was being excluded from any discourse on climate change, mitigation, adaptation measures and looking at sustainable behaviours and lifestyle.

If we live in a democratic society, surely all people should be included and opportunities for all voices to be heard should be created. 

Firstly, it is important to recognise that one approach for certain communities will not be fit for another community. Secondly acknowledge that there is diversity within diversity; having one person from a BME background to represent the views of all the ethnically diverse communities of the country, is simply not good enough nor is it appropriate or fair. 

Then there is the issue of climate justice – those that are being most impacted by climate change are the ones least contributing, but also have the least power to influence change.

Climate justice is also a racial justice issue similar to what we have unfortunately seen over the recent months with the pandemic. If we want systemic and structural changes, we need to see and have different diverse voices around the table. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Firstly, you need to understand how we are connected to nature and the environment in order to understand where our produce, clothing and other consumable items come from. Look at nature-based solutions not just techno fixes going forward. Secondly, become active citizens, realise that you have power and are able to influence change by using your voice and actions, become more politically involved, don’t shy away from being involved in campaigning and activism. Lastly don’t be passive consumers become conscious consumers and try not to be influenced by fast trends or buy into the disposable culture. 

You’ve had much exposure to government processes in place, working on policies and engaging with grass-root organisations. Based on your experience, what do you believe the most important and effective methods are to have the largest climate impact? 

For me being interconnected in terms of dialogue and action is important i.e. policy makers, communities, industries and academics should all be working side by side, sharing knowledge and experience.

We should work less in silos and work more collaboratively to find solutions that fit the needs of society. 

Communities should be adequately resourced if they are expected to take local action. Adding to this, I also think it is important to act locally but think globally, we are connected to other parts of the world and what we do here does have an impact somewhere, our carbon emissions contribute to global warming – the UK is not in a bubble. 

Your example of actively using ‘positive environmental change’ rather than ‘behaviour change’ is really striking. Why do you believe our choice of language is important? 

The language we use is important as this is our main means for communicating and bringing people together however, it can also lead to pushing people away. Simply put, language can be inclusive or exclusive.

In the UK and indeed in the West, the narrative on climate change and sustainable behaviours very much focusses on “behaviour change”. From my experience of working with communities this terminology isn’t helpful because people become very defensive when they hear behaviour change. 

With the narrative of change as the premise, you are telling someone that how they previously lived and behaved was wrong and now they are going to be told how to live and behave better. The agency over their choices is not taken into consideration. Therefore, simply using a term such as “positive action” is more likely to result in people embracing change and steps to a better world for all. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you? 

Early in my career I was working with a Muslim woman’s group and engaging them with activities to build their understanding of climate change. One day I was taking this group out on a trip to see a demo house with a number of energy efficiency measures adapted into its construction. 

One of the elderly ladies (probably in her 70’s) thanked me. I thought it was for taking them out for the day on a trip, but she said it was for raising awareness about climate change. Her son is a frontline journalist who was posted out in Pakistan and covered stories about the floods caused by the ice melting on the Himalayas, which in turn caused huge devastation.

Many lives and homes were lost as a result of the vast amount of water and ice sheets hitting villages. She told me there were weeks, even months when she would not hear from her son and would worry that one day she would get the sad news of him passing away. She knew this was because of climate change and wanted others to be more aware and realise through our actions we can change these outcomes.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

I also think it is important to be connected to nature, be aware of our ecosystem, and understand the role we play within this system. Unfortunately, colonisation and capitalism have removed us further and further away from our connection to the land.  Only when we fully appreciate this, will we stop exploiting resources and relearn how to live as one with the planet.

Zarina on a boat, touching the ripples of the lake. In the background mountain ranges can be seen. She's wearing a tan coloured jacket

Find out more about Zarina and connect with her on Instagram and LinkedIn

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Dr Poshendra Satyal PhD, AFHEA, MPhil, BSc (Hons) Ag

Read our deep dive into Dr Poshendra’s academic journey, with key interests in environmental development, agriculture and conservation in the Global South

What is your ethnic and academic background?

I identify as a Nepalese and South Asian living in the UK (for the last nineteen years). I was born and raised in the foothills of Nepal Himalayas (near Mount Makalu, the fifth highest peak in the world). Our family later moved to Kathmandu (the capital of Nepal) where I completed my secondary schooling and A-level education. I also did my BSc there before going to Haryana in India to study for my 4-year BSc (Honours) Agriculture degree (1994-1996). After finishing my degree I went back to Nepal, taught for a year in a private agricultural college and got involved with a couple of environmental NGOs working in the issues of sustainability and natural resource management. 

I came to study for my MPhil in Environment and Development at the University of Cambridge in 2001. Since then, I have been based in the UK. I continued for my PhD in Environmental Policy at the Open University (2005-2009) and then worked at various universities, institutes and organisations, broadly on different areas of environmental development (including climate change, forest governance, conservation and natural resources management). 

I now work as Global Forest Policy Coordinator with the Policy Team of the BirdLife International (an environmental NGO), based in Cambridge. Prior to that, I worked for five years as a senior researcher at the University of East Anglia (UEA)’s School of International Development (2014-2019). I also serve as a Trustee of the Mount Everest Foundation (Royal Geographical Society), an affiliate fellow with the UEA’s Global Environmental Justice Group and a visiting senior fellow of South Asia Institute of Advanced Studies (Nepal). I have also worked as a research fellow at the Warwick University’s Department of Politics and International Studies (2018-2019) and Crichton Carbon Centre and ClimateXChange – Scotland’s Centre of Expertise on Climate Change (2012-2014). 

In the past, I worked as a researcher, lecturer and consultant with a number of institutions and organisations in the UK (The Open University, UNEP – World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Fern, and Forests Monitor) and Nepal (Himalayan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Forum for Sustainable Development Nepal, and Institute for Sustainable Agriculture Nepal). I was also an affiliate fellow of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (2014-2018), University of Glasgow’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies (2012-2014) and Open Space – Centre for Geographical and Environmental Research of the Open University (2009-2012).

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

Having spent much of my early childhood in a tiny remote village of Hedangna in Sankhuwasabha, a district of Eastern Nepal, I had witnessed the local villagers’ very close relationship with nature. The place was very rich in biodiversity, forests and other natural resources (the area later became the Makalu Barun National Park).

While the local indigenous Rai communities had a very simple lifestyle, most of the villagers had very basic standards of living, with no electricity, no proper medical facilities and other services (which we take for granted in the West). I also witnessed (and experienced myself to some extent), poverty, underdevelopment and spatial inequity arising from the remoteness.

This made me hyper-aware of the circumstances that make people vulnerable, due to a range of social and environmental issues (e.g. socio-political marginalisation, climate change and natural hazards). This sparked my interest to explore the dynamics of social, environmental and climatic issues that can impact local livelihoods. More particularly, my concern about injustices in the context of natural resources. This was the beginning of my interest to study and research these issues in greater depth.

Having studied and worked previously in the field of agriculture and natural resource management in India and Nepal, my interests, concerns and desire to understand the underlying causes of injustices in the natural resources context; based on what I had witnessed in the field, had a bearing on the choice of my research in environment and development. 

In fact, I began to realise and question the limitations of my own technical knowledge in agriculture that I had gained through my BSc (Honours) Agriculture degree in India when I returned to Nepal. I started to question whether natural resources and farm management involve not only technical and scientific issues, but also a number of other socio-economic and political issues.

I had concluded that, in order to solve problems in agriculture, forest management and natural resource governance, issues of justice should come to the fore.

This led me to apply for the MPhil in Environment and Development degree at the University of Cambridge, which would equip me with social sciences approach to environmental analysis in my chosen career. 

Can you tell me about your research over the years in conservation and what has interested you the most? 

With a background in natural and social sciences, I have a long-standing interest in interdisciplinary and policy relevant research in environment and development issues, particularly conservation, forest governance, and climate change in the context of developing nations. 

My interest in engaging with the theoretical debate on social and environmental justice and in exploring the empirical understanding of environment and development problems is related to my academic, personal and professional background.

In that sense, my work has a biographical connection. The underpinning research interest on various environmental and development challenges faced by the developing world, is primarily rooted in my background as a Nepalese and South Asian. While this was a starting point for my interest, there are also further reasons for choosing a research topic in social and environmental justice. 

My interest in exploring North-South differences in tackling the twin challenges of environment and development, progressed more prominently during my MPhil degree in Cambridge, exposing me to a broad range of ideas and concerns regarding the debate on environment and sustainable development.

As a new researcher and practitioner from the “developing world,” but studying in the West, I was constantly confronted with new ideas, including those on justice, in my participation in academic discussions; which further pushed me to engage in research that could explore the real tensions and differences in priorities between the developing world and the developed world, in terms of social and environmental dimensions involved in sustainable development and sustainability. 

Reflecting upon these issues led me to conclude that a productive research avenue would be to use an environmental justice framework. My PhD project thus worked on and developed theories of social and environmental justice, drawing from in-depth field research on community forestry and natural resources management in the Terai of Nepal; looking into issues of social equity and forest ecology in the context of environmental and socio-political change in the region. 

Building on my PhD, I have further used the environmental justice framework in policy research and analysis in the context of climate change adaptation, forest governance and water security, with various organisations in the UK.

The most recent role that I have in BirdLife involves supporting our Policy Team and advising project partners on forest policy issues. Forests have received renewed attention in recent years (particularly in the debates around Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and climate change policies) due to their potential for a ‘triple win’ in terms of addressing biodiversity loss, mitigating and adapting to climate change and providing other local and global ecosystem services. 

Ending deforestation, advancing forest conservation and restoration and sustainable management, of all types of forests and trees are vital for the purpose. Hence I see that there is an important role for advocacy and policy work on forest, biodiversity and climate change issues, at global and national levels to help develop and operationalise effective environmental policies across different scales of governance. 

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

There have certainly been various milestones, but I do not consider that I have achieved any big successes as of yet. Also, it depends how we define and measure ‘success’. I believe that we need to continue doing our Karma with persistence, trust in ourselves, and success will appear in different guises and degrees. In my case, the progress has been gradual as I have built and continue to build on some of my achievements. 

To begin with, I consider two of my early achievements (before coming to the UK) as the ones that still guide my passion for learning and hardworking: (1) in 1991 I stood among the top three positions during the national School Leaving Certificate exam (GCSE equivalent) among more than 150,000 students taking up the exam in Nepal; (2) I was also a gold-medalist scoring highest marks among more than 400 students in the BSc (Honours) Agriculture programme in India. 

In retrospect, my turning point was when I was selected for my MPhil degree in Cambridge, which I consider a significant milestone that opened subsequent opportunities and shaped my future. Coming from a remote Nepali village, I felt quite lucky to be selected for Cambridge Overseas Trust Scholarships for my postgraduate study in Cambridge, among many competent candidates from around the world. My MPhil degree laid a foundation for my interest in further studying the environment and its development.

My selection for a fully funded PhD studentship was another milestone in my life. My PhD and post-doctoral research at various institutions further provided cumulative and progressive impacts, towards my personal and professional development. For example, building on my original doctoral research on social and environmental justice, I developed a climate justice framework for policy research and analysis in Scotland, which was very well received by the Scottish Government. 

I also consider my wide-ranging academic and professional experience, working on various projects and in different organisations useful experience. Through these works, I now have a good record of publications and my published items have ranged from peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, to policy reports, briefing papers and general articles. 

I have also widely presented in various forums and meetings involving a variety of audiences (e.g. international conferences, workshops, interaction programmes, and policy engagements).

I see my unique position as a South Asian researcher based in the UK as a strength. I’m placed in a prime position with exceptional potential for North-South collaboration and trust. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash for choosing to work in environmental research from family, friends or society at large? You originally wanted to study medicine – what changed?

When I did quite well in my GCSE exam in Nepal, the expectation from my parents, family and wider network of relatives in Nepal was that I choose some high-demand career such as medicine and engineering for my further study. 

Everywhere you go, people would ask you what you want to become in life. Most children in Nepal are still taught that “they will become a doctor or engineer and serve the society”. With such societal ‘pressures’, I also naturally aspired to become a medical doctor. However, there were only a few medical colleges in the country at that time and the competition was very high.

I did not manage to get a place and was feeling very low, thinking that my dream was shattered. It was only after that, I began to consider other subject areas for further studies, and I decided to go for an agriculture degree with a scholarship from the Indian government. 

Even then, many of my friends and family would sometimes tell me that I could have done better choosing medicine or engineering. In their minds, medicine and engineering subjects would land you a secure job and high salary, while those preferring agriculture, forestry or environmental studies would not have comparable future prospects. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

While wider policies and plans are needed across different sectors and scales of environmental governance, these would not be successful if we do not feel responsible to operationalise, practice and monitor, in whatever way we can. In that sense, every individual has the responsibility to change their behaviours and actions and adopt a sustainable lifestyle, while also engaging in some form of citizen activism. 

The reason for this is because every day we make choices in our lives that can affect the environment, the climate and biodiversity. From what we buy and what we eat to how we travel to work, there are a lot of things we can do to reduce our carbon footprint and environmental impact. 

On a personal level, I have been conscious of all aspects of my daily life (e.g. how my shopping behaviour can impact the environment, going plastic free, switching off the lights when not in use, reducing unnecessary water use etc.). While this may seem a very small effort, individual actions are important to collectively address the enormity of the challenge we are facing.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

South Asia as a region is vulnerable to climate change. While rising sea levels and flooding threaten the coastal states of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Maldives, landlocked Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Nepal face rising temperatures, drought, and glacial melting. 

The climate crisis can further exacerbate environmental degradation, natural disasters, extreme weather events, food and water insecurity and economic disruption. As high temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns and climatic variability and change have already started to impact people’s daily lives and livelihoods in the region, I think South Asian communities living in the region (and also South Asians living in the UK, to some extent) are aware of the climate crisis. 

However, when it comes to individual actions to mitigate climate change and environmental issues, there certainly seem some cultural barriers. For example, while simple measures like using public transportation more often, reducing energy consumption, becoming more eco-friendly can help reduce our environmental impact and make this planet a clean and safe place, our society seems to have a tendency to ‘respect and value’ those who drive fancy cars, wear ‘big brands’, own big houses and earn and spend more. 

I also think that there is very low uptake of a ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ culture among us, as many of us feel hesitant to go to a charity shop and buy second-hand clothes. This is generally true for both South Asians living in urban or peri-urban areas in the region, as well as British Asians living in the UK. Having said that, I think it will be unfair to point a finger and put a blame just on South Asian communities, because the behaviour is common across all of us.

We all as human beings are responsible for this crisis and we need to work collectively to address the challenge. 

While our South Asian culture is generally considered to be based on the ethos of sharing and caring for each other and a common respect for the Mother Nature (e.g. there are references to this philosophy in most of the major religions in the region, including Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism), our modern lifestyle has made us more greedy and needy, as we are attracted to materialistic culture and consumerism. 

South Asian culture is also considered to take a more collectivist and holistic approach on social relationships and, supposedly, by extension on environmental issues. However, we have now become more selfish and individualistic and such dichotomy of culture does not seem to be valid anymore, both for urban and peri-urban South Asians and British Asians.

You mentioned your experiences in Africa and how you were misunderstood for working in a different profession. Why do you think South Asians are underrepresented in the environmental sector? Has it been challenging for you over the years?

I’ve had an interesting mix of experiences in the sector. My work experience has been both intellectually challenging and enthralling. In a good way, this experience has also changed my way of life and thinking as it has taught me to think critically and out-of-the box, at times. 

Of course, there have been a lot of challenges too. As an immigrant exposed to new culture, getting used to the new way of life in the UK was one of my initial challenges. I also found initially that there was a lot of competition in the job market and I had to get myself prepared to compete amongst the best in the subject area. 

Once in the sector, I realised that there are only a few South Asians with whom you could relate to or look up to for a ‘role model’.

The reasons for under-representation of South Asians in the environmental sector may be, as I highlighted earlier, due to the cultural preference over high-demand and well-paid STEM subjects (such as medicine and engineering) and more importantly, due to lack of diversity in the sector in the UK. 

Many of the organisations and institutes have not yet embraced diversity and inclusivity in policy and practice, hindering access and participation of BAME (Black, Asian and and Minority Ethnic) communities. 

In my personal case, there has also been a funny side to it. As part of international development research projects, I had to travel to new places, often in remote areas and countries. At times, I have been misunderstood for coming to set up a business or work as a medical doctor (in Uganda and Kenya, as many Indians go there for the purpose) or as a field support or research assistant to our research team (which mostly consisted of UK British White colleagues and local country partners). 

In some cases, I have been interrogated extra in immigration (e.g. Mexico – a country where many South Asians are trafficked for illegally entering into the USA) or sometimes being let go easily: in Liberia, when an immigration officer checked my passport and I said I am a ‘Nepalese’ but he heard ‘Lebanese’ (as Lebanese and Indians go there to set up businesses, the officer was quite relaxed on further checking). 

Similarly, I was once on a 16-hour road trip to a research site in Southern Ethiopia from Addis Ababa and we had to stop at a few places for meals. As the area was quite remote, local people were not accustomed to seeing ‘brown’ people traveling to their area for research or tourism. A waiter in a small motel came to me and said: “I think I have seen you before…probably in Bollywood movies” – I took that as a compliment!

Leaving aside the funny part, the upshot of my experience is that the area of international development and environmental sector is still massively underrepresented for South Asians and BAME communities in general. 

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

I agree – there are some barriers to practice sustainable living at an individual level. For example, public transport is not timely and sometimes it can be costly too (e.g. train travel is sometimes costlier than driving or even flying in the UK). Similarly, organic products are more expensive than other products on the shelf. Theoretically, sustainable farming, shortening supply chain, cutting down water and energy consumption, reducing packaging etc, should also lower the cost in the long run. 

In order to change attitudes and behaviours into positive actions, we need some incentives and penalties (e.g. financial contribution to switch to renewable energy). Also, we need increased awareness and a socio-cultural shift towards sustainability, which will make consumers conscious about the climate emergency and damaged ecosystems; so they understand and are willing to pay a little bit more to help the planet (e.g. carbon tax added to our airfares). We also need to recognize, embrace, and reward sustainable values and actions of environmentally conscious consumers in ways that increase the uptake of sustainable consumption more widely.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?

For younger generations, I would like to encourage them to reflect on the urgency of saving the planet and embrace sustainability, making it more ‘mainstream.’ Sustainability, in essence, is about “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. In that sense, it is an intergenerational issue.

The younger generations have both the responsibility and power to change the world for the better so that we can bequeath the planet to our future generations safely, respecting their right to a healthy planet. More specifically, I would like the younger generations to see sustainability as a justice issue in our relationship to the nature: intragenerational justice (poverty alleviation and social justice); intergenerational justice (justice to future generations); and inter-species justice (justice to non-human nature, including other species and biodiversity). 

As younger generations also have the power to change the status quo and make the world a better place to live, I encourage them to actively engage in some form of environmental activism. We have already seen a number of youth role models in recent years (e.g. Greta Thunberg from Sweden, Vanessa Nakate from Uganda, Licypriya Kangujam from Manipur, India) and their activism has started to bring some positive results in terms of increasing awareness on the issues and bringing some policy change. 

Networking and partnership with like-minded individuals and organisations would help maximise the impact of advocacy, hence I would like to advise everyone to work together in this collective goal. With a right mix of inspiration, aspiration and networking, I am sure we can make some real impact. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

I guess my roots and early childhood experience have impacted me deeply to continue working on areas of justice and sustainability.

As I elaborated earlier, my growing up in a small remote village of Nepal, witnessing local communities’ proximity, dependence and respect for nature, their sufferings and simple lifestyle had an empowering impression on me. 

Additionally, as I see similar circumstances that a majority of people in the developing world experience (pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in Ethiopia and Kenya, indigenous Batwa peoples in Uganda, ethnic minorities in Vietnam, community forest users in Nepal), I am even more determined to continue working to understand and bring to the fore their specific needs, concerns and priorities; so that their roles and rights are recognised and respected in global and national policies. 

There have also been some unique insights and experiences gained through specific incidents. For example, in my trip to Southern Ethiopia, I saw how long and harrowing a journey (sometimes up to 6 hours) that agro-pastoralist girls have to make to fetch one to two gallons of water for their household. This made me more conscious of my own use of water for daily use. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I do not have more to add but would like to thank you for providing this platform and opportunity to share my experience to fellow South Asians. I hope this was interesting and useful. I want to engage with young South Asians in the region as well as British Asians living in the UK on efforts to raise public awareness and activism in areas of sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity conservation in the coming days. I wish you all the best for your campaign and efforts. I look forward to working together.

Connect with Dr. Poshendra and follow his work on Instagram

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Carbon Net-Zero Researcher & Consultant, Vichitra Chandra

We caught up with carbon net-zero and ESG specialist, Vichitra about her diverse cross-sector experience

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

My mum is a British Indian from a traditional Punjabi family brought up in greater Manchester, and my dad is a south Indian mix of konkani and Telugu, from Hyderabad, India. This is to say I have a mixed Indian background, with different india cultural influences growing up. I lived in India during my schooling years and moved back to the UK permanently when I was around 16. 

I pursued Physics at University upto a MSc, after which I spent half a year trying out teaching. I moved into the world of finance, specifically investments and became interested in the growing world of ESG, sustainability and impact investments. 

Since then, I have been working as an independent consultant for environmental and data-focused non profits and other companies, using my research and analytical skills to research industry’s transition to carbon net-zero in light of our national targets. 

Additionally, I work with entrepreneurs and start-ups helping their corporate development, marketing and fundraising strategies, with a particular interest in ethical, sustainable and environmental-focused businesses, such as ethical fashion, financial inclusion and environmental data.  

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

Growing up in India helped me realise from an early age the scarcity and unequal distribution of essential resources such as water, energy and food, the impact of the lack thereof. I was brought up to be mindful of consumption, minimise wastage, reduce unnecessary usage and reuse where possible. The first time I realised just how unsustainable we are was at University, when perfectly edible whole packs of food were routinely discarded with no second thought by my housemates! Why? “because the veg is wonky, because the packet said it expired yesterday, I don’t fancy that today, blah blah blah”. I was horrified. 

I noted how excessive and consumption-focused society is and our blissful ignorance (intentional or not) around it. I began realising that our day-to-day activities, consumption choices and thus how industry runs and business is carried out are entirely unsustainable and at odds with the ever increasing consequences of climate-change we continue to face.

I wanted to be a part of the “green revolution” and a generation that demands better, more supply-chain transparency and care for our planet and communities by shifting from short-term financial gains to longer-term wider considerations. 

We live in a world where making more money is considered an indication of success and prosperity, even if at the expense of nature and our environment. Inspiring work has been done to raise awareness and bring to light how unsustainably we currently live, but there is so much more to be done!

I especially believe in capital being used as a force for real change, and focus on the economic benefits of sustainability, especially disproving myths about the negative financial impacts of employing sustainable practices. I am inspired to use my background in science and finance to communicate this to a wider set of audiences and stakeholders to catalyze further decarbonisation, sustainable business practice uptake and investing for the greater good. 

Can you tell me a bit about your work and how you got into it? 

While working in investment advisory, I worked with investors and asset managers wanting to create impact through their investments. Here, I was introduced to the work of ESG, impact and sustainable investing. Through this work, I began working with IB1, researching and bringing together industry stakeholders harnessing data to make strategic and financial decisions in light of our net-zero carbon targets. 

Sectors I’ve covered include renewable energy, insurance, recycling biotechnology, space-data for climate change, and environmental start-ups. I did not follow a clear path to where I am now, but using my broad set of skills and experiences, and my passion for sustainability and impact investing, I have managed to find work and forge a career in the environmental and sustainability space. There’s a lot more to do and learn though! 

The challenge was finding like-minded organisations and individuals that you can learn from and work with, while also feeling like your work has a positive impact. I continue to look for further projects and groups to expand my work. 

Are there any top tips you can share for people wanting to invest in green tech/ funds but unsure where or how to start?

Through initiatives such as open banking and continued digitalisation of our world, investing has never been easier and more accessible to the average consumer. Many platforms offer ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing and you will see more and more such products due to their growing demand. Some platforms include Nutmeg, wealthify, Pension Bee and many have the easy option to invest in ESG portfolios. If you want to directly invest in clean technology, check out Thrive Renewables, who offer individuals and businesses easy access to investing in renewables in the UK. 

Additionally, investing apps such as Hargreaves Lansdown, Moneybox and others allow you to pick your own stocks (say, if you’ve heard of this really cool cleantech company and you want in!). If you don’t have an ISA, get one! Make sure it’s a stocks and shares ISA (you can use the above mentioned investment platforms for this) where you can either choose a managed portfolio or pick your own stocks (if you feel confident enough!) Familiarise yourself with how the bonds market works, and read up on various online resources to help you get started. And remember, google is your friend and a fantastic teacher.  

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

My biggest success to date is perhaps finding fulfilment and pride in my work since becoming self-employed, working directly within the environmental sector and with inspirational start-ups building impactful businesses.

My biggest learning to date is just how much more learning there is to do, with many people, organisations and countries making huge strides in the sustainability sector — I want to learn about and speak to them all!

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about your career choice from family, friends or society at large?

I am fortunate to have supportive family and friends around me. Sustainability and impact investment is growing in importance, perhaps mainly due to my generations’ desire to do good with their money, so the opportunities in this sector are ever increasing and better remunerated. I would say the biggest challenge is the older generation and their thinking, especially their dismissiveness and scepticism towards sustainability, and the need to make changes not just for financial returns, but environmental, social and other reasons. 

My family continues to encourage me to pursue the intersection of finance with the environment, so I am spared the backlash! That said, I have been lucky. A few years ago my sister finally decided to pursue her life-long passion by leaving her career as a surgeon to work for the Environmental Agency — an inspiration to myself, my family, her friends and colleagues. It was initially hard for my parents and other elders to understand why, but they eventually understood and supported her wholeheartedly. She still gets the odd comment from the family and acquaintances, but following her heart and becoming a key spokesperson for the environment is worth more than any uncle or aunty comments. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I think little things go a long way. I find that sustainable, responsible and conscious living can be achieved through small behavioural changes. Although buying sustainably sourced or ethical products is still not economically achievable for many, I am a strong believer in market forces.

Sustainable practices will become the norm only if there is strong demand for it, and as consumers, expect more and better of our industries. 

Taking an extra minute of your day to appropriately recycle your waste instead of throwing it all into the main bin, supporting your local high-street for locally sourced every-day items (some even have delivery services through apps!) and switching to buying products which have been sustainably sourced, are some of the smallest ways we can address unsustainable living.

Even small things such as turning off lights or using energy saving bulbs, checking if your “expired” groceries are truly expired (use your eyes and nose — millions of years of evolution has gone into refining our senses for survival!) and being conscious of the amount of single-use plastics you use. I love using apps to help guide small changes, such as JouleBug, SDGsinaction and Waterwise pledges to name a few. Be vocal about it, and wear terms meant to insult you such as “SJW”, “eco terrorist” and “environment militant” with pride! 

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

South Asian communities are driven to achieve financial success, I believe more so than others. Our idea of “success” is tied to the “developed world” and is warped by this concept of excess (e.g. quantity over quality), and we are obsessed with attaining “developed” status much the same way the West did through rapid industrialisation (and we know how unsustainable, polluting and damaging that was and continues to be…). 

The challenge is to change the mindset that we can attain success only by these means, and what that “success” looks like. We have smarter, more sustainable solutions to polluting sectors such as infrastructure, transport, buildings and materials. We can solve these problems by supporting and investing in cleaner technologies and sustainable business practices, and discontinuing supporting businesses that are not. 

You touched on feeling a great moral obligation to the future generation. For those who don’t know, why should people care about the climate emergency?

A moral obligation to the future generation is only one reason to care about the climate emergency. The effects of climate change are being felt here and now. We do not own this world, and we share it with many other living beings. It is selfish to carry on as is.

For our generation, and especially those who are privileged to have an education, I feel it is our duty with the information and resources we have at our fingertips to undo the unsustainable existence we lead. 

If decisive action is not taken now, climate change is capable of eroding the very foundations of life — access to food, water, shelter, etc. we enjoy today. We owe it to future generations to inherit a world that they can thrive in. 

Of course, there is an economic argument for the climate emergency also, with adverse weather conditions and eroding ecosystems leading to constrained supply chains and increased prices, sustainability gives longer term success through enabling financial stability and resilience in the face of climate change. If we continue to take more than is given, we are damaging our own home and livelihoods. The expression “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” comes to mind.

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

Agreed, truly sustainable living is not attainable just yet and is inaccessible to many. Although sustainable living is perceived as costly, often the sustainable solution works out cheaper in the long run but the lack of upfront costs is a challenge.

Cost is one challenge, another is access.

Some sustainable solutions require more time, resource and expertise to achieve, which may not always be available or attainable. Solutions that are efficient, accessible and cost effective need to be further developed, invested and commercialised, and we look to the government and industry to stop dragging their feet. I strongly believe in the power we have as consumers to demand more from our industries and leaders; so find sustainable and ethical alternatives and stop supporting polluting and unethical companies and industries not doing enough. 

Other smaller steps we can take include taking an extra minute to separate your land-waste and recycling, stopping single-use plastics, supporting locally sourced products and ethical businesses, buying an electric car instead of a petrol/diesel car, switching to a green tariff with your energy supplier, and pulling your support for polluting multinationals. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Is it a viable industry to enter?

Of course! Our generation’s biggest challenge is to carve a new way of life. There’s much work to be done to overhaul an entire way of living including localised resource management, supply chains, behavioural and cultural beliefs, investments and financing, ecological and environmental impact, and so on. 

One thing is certain, things cannot carry on as “business as usual”, and significant impact is made from those willing to step outside the comfort zone of the “known” and embrace the challenge of carbon net-zero.

It is currently considered a stand-alone industry, but sustainability will become an integral part of any industry and function. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

Stories about the consequences of climate change around the world deeply impact me every day. Every news story about a bleached coral reef, devastating droughts, farmers ending their lives over one too many failed harvests, unexpected floods leading to loss of life and its long-term impacts on people and communities… it is hard not to be. 

However, success stories such as growing renewable energy uptake, banning and regulation of plastic uses by various governments, revival of “farmers markets” and local produce, climate change insurance products, ESG investing, and net-zero legislation are all positive steps being taken to mitigate and adapt to climate-change. 

These steps and those leading the charge on the climate conversation serve as an inspiration to tackle my generation’s biggest challenge. Well… that and pandemics, shrinking economies, brexits and the death of tv to name a few. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

It is important to remember that a little goes a long way. Small changes on their own may not seem like much, but together we can make real change. The internet is a wonderful resource and privilege — use it.

Spotlight Series: Q&A with ESG Research Analyst, Visvesh Sridharan

We caught up with Visvesh, Chemical Engineer turned Environmental Social Governance (ESG) Research Analyst, working in impact investing with Sustainalytics

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I am an engineer turned sustainability professional currently working as an ESG (Sustainable Investing) analyst for Sustainalytics in Frankfurt. I grew up in Chennai, a large metropolitan city in south India and completed my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering before moving to the US to do my masters in environmental sustainability.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

It has been a combination of different experiences and moments. I have always enjoyed spending time outdoors in nature and this was probably my starting point towards getting into sustainability. Growing up in India, I was able to witness first-hand the environmental costs and repercussions of human development. My degree in chemical engineering also helped me realise the amount of pollution that comes with industrial growth. Eventually, it was about finding an avenue to make an impact and for me that was sustainable finance.

Can you tell me about your career so far and work with Sustainalytics? What inspired you to take this role on despite studying Engineering?

My role with Sustainalytics is to analyse and rate publicly listed companies based on their sustainability performance. It involves engaging with companies to understand how they consider environmental and social metrics and integrate it into their business models. The other part involves helping the investment management community make better long-term investment decisions by providing them with relevant non-financial data that can have financial impacts on the companies that they invest in. 

I got inspired by the fact that my research and analysis can have an impact on how money is being used by investors.

The idea behind sustainable investing of how you can use money as a force for good attracted me to this field. By convincing investors that climate change and other non-financial factors can affect their returns, you are indirectly influencing corporations to act responsibly and ethically.

This top-down approach to implementing sustainability coupled with the fact that you are influencing those who have large capital to manage got me hooked to this industry. 

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

I strongly believe that the only constant is change and one should learn to embrace it. Life is unpredictable and to never take anything or anyone for granted. Kindness and empathy can go a long way in understanding and convincing people. My biggest success for now is being able to work in a field that I enjoy and being able to help those who are looking to get into this space. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to work in sustainability? Has it been challenging?

Sustainability was a new and upcoming field and there were concerns from family members as to what kind of career I could have in this space. I also had friends jokingly tease me about my intentions to save the planet. But I am thankful to my parents for giving me the freedom to do what I liked and believing in my vision.

It was challenging to find jobs in sustainable finance as I had no prior experience in finance apart from some academic coursework. Although my graduate degree was focused in Sustainability and Impact investing, preference was still given to those with a finance background. However, nowadays I see that trend changing with consideration given to those who have knowledge or expertise in sustainability as well.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I think living in Europe makes it a lot easier to be more sustainable. Recycling is followed quite diligently. Public transportation is pretty good and locally I travel by cycle to work. Some of the long-distance trains here are powered by renewable electricity. Most of the grocery items in Germany are sustainably sourced and have certification labels that meet minimum environmental and quality standards. From a personal standpoint, I like living a lifestyle that is minimalistic and free from too many material possessions. I have also been trying to invest my savings in sustainable funds and companies. 

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I think people in South Asian communities are well aware of the climate crisis, partly because of the several extreme weather events that have affected daily life in those regions. Some of the South Asian countries are still growing at a rapid pace and the key focus should be about sustainable development and adopting a long-term approach. Aligning growth, based on the sustainable development goals and implementing policies aimed at climate change adaptation should be the norm.

I still believe that tackling some of the fundamental issues facing humanity such as poverty, water scarcity and women empowerment will significantly help in solving the climate crisis.

Being carbon conscious on a practical day-to-day basis can be quite costly (e.g. vegan/organic food supplies, general supplies/toiletries, electric cars etc). How can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

I think there are different ways to be carbon conscious depending on a person’s lifestyle and way of life. Some of the cost-effective ways to be sustainable include minimizing food waste, recycling and composting based on local disposal guidelines, and purchasing products that are designed to last long.

If your local city has a good public transport network, try to use them as much as possible to commute. Changing one’s diet to reduce carbon footprint can be hard and it’s a personal choice. However, one can take efforts to buy free range meat or farm meat instead of factory grown processed meat.

There is this misconception that practicing a sustainable lifestyle is expensive, but it’s the simple things like minimizing water consumption, walking or biking to nearby places and reducing impulsive buying that also largely makeup sustainable living.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Future generations will be facing the implications of climate change in ways the older generations never had.

However, history has shown us that when humanity is slowly pushed to the brink, it comes up with some of the most innovative and uplifting solutions to not just survive but thrive.

Climate change and sustainability is the biggest challenge of the 21st century and I am hopeful of our ability to tackle this issue. I encourage the younger generations to be aware of the big picture and try to understand how every little action contributes to something large. To try to cultivate long-term thinking and not for short-term gains. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

It is a small incident during my mom’s college years. She was preparing for an important exam during which her father had a life-threatening road accident and an emergency operation was required. As she was in medical school, the surgeon performing the operation requested her to participate in the operation procedure and was scheduled to take place a day before the exam. The surgery was successful, and my mother also ended up clearing the exam. I was just amazed and inspired at the level of composure, mental strength and determination to get through that phase.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I generally like to meet new people and listen to their stories and experiences. My communication channels are always open, and I will be glad to help those who are trying to understand ESG and sustainable finance.

Connect with Visvesh on LinkedIn

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Policy Advisor & Founder of Climate Bites, Aman Grover

We spoke to recently appointed Nuclear Policy Advisor and Founder of Climate Bites, Aman about his experiences navigating through the industry mid-pandemic, his MSc climate adaptation research in Punjab and more

What is your ethnic and academic and professional background?

Hi, my name is Aman Grover, and I’m a Policy Advisor for the Nuclear Directorate at the UK Civil Service (Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy), where I contribute towards overseeing the new nuclear build power stations as part of the government’s energy infrastructure and net-zero commitments. I’m also a recent Master’s graduate in Climate Change: Environment, Science & Policy from King’s College London, having specialised in climate adaptation within the Punjab regions.

I wanted to use this background with my experiences as a public speaker, poet and facilitator to empower and engage with my local communities and networks. So I recently founded Climate Bites, a new educational platform designed to make climate science accessible, engaging and easy to understand for young people, through concise digital content and workshop programmes.

I believe change will happen through discourse and discussion, and at the heart of that lies the uptake of knowledge and education about climate action. That’s what Climate Bites hopes to shape, the conversations in our living rooms around climate change.

Away from environmental discourse, I co-founded the Two Rupees Podcast, a platform that discusses issues surrounding the South Asia diaspora here in Britain.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

I don’t have a groundbreaking story to be honest. Like many graduates, I wasn’t sure where my career would take me and chose to pursue consulting and the technology sector after leaving university. I was building applications for clients to transform their business, and it was definitely worthwhile, but I found that I was lacking internal satisfaction towards the work I was doing. It didn’t feel like there was a bigger picture. And when looking at my options, I realised that I had been keeping up to date with articles and books around various aspects of climate science. So I went back to university, choosing to immerse myself in climate policy and environmental change.

I strongly believe robust policy serves as a catalyst for environmental change. And I hope to use this aptitude and drive in my current policy role, to utilise nuclear energy in supporting the UK’s drive towards net-zero and improve how climate change is communicated to the public.

Can you tell us about your MSc research? What were your findings and has it had any significant impact beyond academia? 

Sure! I studied the effectiveness and role of climate adaptation strategies in the province of Punjab in Pakistan, and the drivers and barriers affecting local capacity to build resilience towards climate change.

Both of the Punjab regions represent an important case study in this field, due to their high physical vulnerability and economic significance as an agricultural hub, as well as significant for me since it’s where my family stem from. My research found 4 key themes based on primary research of climate adaptation contributors within the province:

Adaptation strategies in Punjab were difficult to differentiate with other development efforts. Climate adaptation was essentially ‘pasted’ onto bog-standard agricultural irrigation by international donor agencies, and promoted as climate adaptation for appearance and reputation purposes. Respondents from the study implied a disconnect between stakeholders on the ground and external organisation with their climate initiatives.

Coordination and collaboration amongst local stakeholders is key to the successful implementation of climate adaptation in Punjab. Where there has been buy-in and participation from farming communities at all project stages, climate adaptation is largely successful in improving resilience. However, limited communications between departments, as well as external funding being withdrawn when projects finish, threaten the sustainability and longevity of climate projects. 

The bureaucratic systems in place are the biggest contributor to the effectiveness of climate adaptation. This includes power relations between province and district level on who is responsible for climate change management, climate change priorities changing with government transitions, and even corruption. 

Farming communities use very different terminology to that within climate policy, with some communities not even acknowledging and attributing the environmental changes within the region to climate change. The discourse around climate change is written predominantly in English and by external agencies, with little discussion in native dialects and factoring in localised impacts and vulnerability. This weakens attempts to build resilience, since these attempts do not factor those communities that they are trying to help.

The aim of this research was to explore what defined effective climate adaptation in relation to Punjab, which could inform policymakers and international agencies on how best to formalise adaptation and account for vulnerable communities. I presented these findings at a Sikh Research Conference in December 2020 and hope that these efforts lead to more focus and literature on climate change with Punjab.

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about your career choice from family, friends or society at large?

No backlash from my immediate family and close friends, they are very supportive and know enough about me to know that I enjoy my work most when I am creating change and trying to make a difference.

I think I experience ignorance mostly, from people who are distant or don’t know me as well. Sometimes it is frustrating, when you get lots of questions or off-handed comments, or where it’s difficult to engage and have conversations with others because they make no attempt to understand other career paths outside of the orthodox ones. But I believe it’s part of the role, to raise awareness of your career, crucial challenges you’ve faced, etc. Since you’re the one engaging with environmental activities, when you speak about it, you are in the best position to articulate this in a concise and engaging manner to others.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I definitely acknowledge that I have a long way to go in order before I can classify my lifestyle as sustainable. But there are ‘quick wins’ which I think anyone can do, and build the momentum to make small changes that feel relatively easy. I don’t eat meat very often anymore, maybe once or twice a week maximum, which has taught me to be more conscious about my dietary choices. I’m a big fan of the variety of plant-based milk available, and have switched between soya and oat for my cereal, coffee, etc. I’m conscious about my shopping habits, and try to make fewer purchases and purchase quality clothing that I can make last much longer, as well as thinking twice before making a car journey.

Making incremental changes takes the fear out of change, and opens you up to make larger adjustments to your lifestyle and way of thinking. The black and white way of viewing the world does not work for sustainability, and it’s okay to accept that you are not perfect.

I see my role primarily as having a voice and being able to articulate myself, in order to project and champion causes and hopefully inspire, so I’ve embraced that as my contribution towards social action.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

As a community, we have placed our trust in education and believe it to be an empowering platform across all aspects of our lives. Education provides the refinement and the tools to contribute to society, shape our future and live meaningfully. It is what has allowed South Asians to succeed in many fields. But, when it comes to environmental concerns, I’ve found my communities to adopt a ‘someone more specialised or knowledgeable than me will fix it’ type mentality.

It’s as though we believe we are inferior, or we must be an expert, that we can only act when all the conditions around us are perfect. So this is the biggest blocker – disassociating ourselves from the mentality that we need to be all knowledgeable to act.

Fighting the climate crisis is a continuous learning process, both on a deeply personal level and on a large international scale. And in order to empower this, the technical and policy knowledge on why we need to tackle the climate crisis and tangible strategies that we can all align with needs to be easily available and digestible. 

Climate Bites does this through informative weekly videos on a range of environmental topics, from sustainable behaviour to new technologies. I hope to use my experiences, of seeking this knowledge out myself, working in the education sector and being a public speaker, to make this process easier for others. And in turn, with the right information delivered through an approachable medium, we as individuals feel a greater competence, and can support and align ourselves with local organisations that are doing the hard work. Whether that’s holding our local authorities and governments accountable, tree-planting in your town, community-clean ups or pushing for changes in our school curriculums.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

The largest barrier I’ve seen when working with young people is the belief that one person alone cannot make a difference. It causes us to question whether our voice and the value we project out into the world is worth listening and watching. If we are heard, we feel as though we are unworthy or a fraud. I continue to experience it myself regularly. I felt it when I left my job to pursue a Masters degree, and questioned whether I’d be able to keep up with everyone due to my inactive study skills. I experience it when I run workshops with young people, and wonder if I even have anything valuable to pass on. Experience is the best teacher. Planning and strategizing is useful, but it can be debilitating as well.

I realised that I want my career to focus on contributing towards humanity’s biggest challenges, in any way I can, which would make me feel like my efforts are worthwhile. So I was drawn to climate change, and I’m just beginning that journey.

My advice would be to pay attention to the causes that mean something to you, that bring out real power and passion when you speak about them. Then, throw yourself wholeheartedly into them and ask questions later. I have a favourite quote that I fondly remember when someone asks what impact one person can make. ‘Those who question what difference one alone can make, have obviously never been trapped in a room with a fly’. That keeps me smiling. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

The entire process of public speaking for me has been defining. I’ve always loved speaking and narrating from a very young age, but I found myself gravitating at it towards university. I thrived in situations or scenarios where I could influence and inspire simply by using my presence and voice. That realisation was incredible. I feel very complete on any ‘stage’, whether it’s performing at poetry slams, at the front when delivering a workshop or keynote speech, or on a screen presenting to clients and stakeholders in my career. It’s a very grounding feeling, and it’s one I want to continue building towards and pursue every opportunity to do so, as I champion the causes I care about – including education reform, climate and sustainability, creativity and the South Asian arts, etc. So that’s where I hope to end up, with a microphone in my hand, creating change and opening minds. 

What was it like trying to find a job in the industry during challenging COVID-19 times? Do you still think you made the right decision to choose this industry?

It was immensely difficult, for a number of reasons. Like other graduates across multiple sectors during this tough time, there was a lot of self-doubt and internal turmoil that comes with job searching. I think that there is less awareness about the environmental and sustainability sectors overall, so I definitely found it harder to seek career advice and expertise, both from close family/ friends and professional contacts.

Whilst there are people to connect with on LinkedIn and aspire to reach a similar position, I feel as though the options for resources, job boards, forums, etc are all fewer than more orthodox pathways e.g. Finance, Consulting, etc. But I don’t regret aligning myself with this industry, and I am so pleased I am now contributing meaningfully to our government and low carbon energies.

I found the feeling of continuing to contribute whilst job searching kept me going, through volunteering, speaking at events and raising awareness, as well as creating educational resources. Climate change represents a substantial challenge spanning across all sectors, so all of us have a role to play.

How do you feel about the UK government’s TCFD & 10-point climate change plans?

I think the greatest aspect of the 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution is what it represents. It shows initiative and intent, and a degree of gravity about achieving net-zero. Better yet, it incentivises green jobs and community involvement.

Economic gains will always generate the most interest in the current society and systems we operate within, especially to large investment organisations, so stressing that environmental measures can also be economically viable is definitely the way forward. So it is definitely encouraging. But it just represents the beginning, and an opportunity to demand more from the organisations that we interact with, for increasing environmental transparency, accountability and action at every stage of their processes. 

Find out more about Aman and Climate Bites

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Shilpa Bilimoria

We spoke to Shilpa, Creative Director and Founder of House of Bilimoria about her ancestral roots in tailoring and how she ‘luxcycles’ South Asian textiles

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I am Indian, my mother was born in Kisumu Kenya, my father in Mumbai. My grandparents were all born in Gujarat. I have a BA (hons) in Design for Fashion & Textiles and have worked in the fashion industry for the last 15 years.

What is House of Bilmoria, how did it come about and what are your main values as a business?

House of Bilimoria was born from the gifts my ancestors have bestowed upon me – the craft of tailoring and making clothing. I was dissatisfied working within the fashion industry as a high street retailer when I first graduated. I came to very quickly discover that it had none of the energy, or substance that I felt designing and creating should be about. With that in mind, and being pregnant with my first child, I decided to take it into my own hands and start my label. 

The values of my label would be all the things I didn’t find in that first job: ethics, sustainability, culture, community and circularity. More detail can be found here.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

My inspiration was and will always be my elders, my grandparents, my ancestors. I was so proud of what they did for a living, I was so proud that I had these skills embedded inside me and that they only needed to be ‘switched on’ in a sense. 

The story I always come back to is when I was first gifted a toy sewing machine, I must have been about 8 years old and so excited! I quickly went to use it, but was so frustrated, that it wasn’t actually stitching. It had a needle, foot pedal, and was battery operated. What was going wrong? I took the machine to my Dada (grandfather), and he looked at it, and said to me “Shilpa, there’s no bobbin.” I was so disappointed. I can remember the shock, and being so stunned at how quickly he knew why it wasn’t working. He explained what the bobbin’s job was and I understood, and swiftly went on to use the actual sewing machine my Mom had – no more toys! I love this story because it was my first glimpse into the real technical side of sewing and the craft. I knew then I would need to know all of the parts of the machine and how it all worked. You could call it the moment that the penny dropped. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about your career choice from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

I did. I had people in my immediate family that were not supportive of it at all, that this was ‘going backwards’. If I really wanted to make any money and be stable I should be an accountant. That negativity was and has been one of the toughest things to navigate through, as all you really need and want in life is to be supported and believed in by those that are the closest to you. With the burden of failure already implanted into my mind, it had become a barrier to starting with the strength and belief in myself that would have been a great gift. But on the flip side, it made me even more determined. I would do this, and I’d do it with all the ideas they had which were so wrong about the industry in the first place. 

Alongside that, I must give total credit to my Mom and some of my extended family who have actually been nothing but supportive. I mean my Mama & Mami (uncle and aunty) were the ones that gifted me the toy sewing machine in the first place. I have many that are so proud and happy to see that this craft and legacy is continuing. This is how and what I use to overcome the negative aspects; being very in touch and in tune with my why – which is continuing my ancestors legacy, and that over any opinion wins, always. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

There are lots of things that I have changed and continue to do so slowly. It is not an overnight thing. I consciously choose our detergents, soaps, and cleaning products to ensure they are not harmful to the environment. I have grown up wearing and loving hand me downs, so this is something that has continued in my own home. My girls wear clothes that have been passed down to them, and even more special that they have also grown up wearing the very dresses I had worn, that were made for me by my grandparents. We don’t own a car and use public transportation. I also have a lot of second hand items of furniture in our home! Before I look at new things, I always check if I can source second hand items.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I don’t feel it is a stigma, I think it is more the lack of understanding, alongside a cultural and societal success benchmark which is very materialistic. If we look intrinsically at many of the habitual practices we have at home and have grown up with, they are things like saving the empty yogurt container to use for leftovers. I am sure there are homes that have cupboards full of these ready to reuse. I am sure that before this boom of fast fashion, many have also grown up wearing hand me downs too.

I think the blocker is now having a greater consciousness and connecting the dots backwards, as to where and how the products we buy are made. 

It doesn’t take much to see that the products we consume are and have been made with the lives of our own communities and people on the line. Once this connection is made, I believe that it would be hard to look at things without thinking about them. 

The South Asian community is very fixated on the idea of what ‘success’ outwardly looks like and maintaining that picture to the world. This though is an outcome of what the generations before us have been through, it’s something that I am beginning to unravel for myself. I believe that it’s once this work is shared and done, that our communities can look at starting to break into these cycles, which will in turn have an impact on how they live their day to day lives and becoming present to the issue of climate change and what it is a bi-product of. 

Do you find such lack of understanding makes having a sustainability-led business like yours more challenging? 

Short answer YES! Educating our audience is 75% of the work, but I am happy to do this, and it is what I am passionate about so… I also see it as a challenge that I am ready to be up against. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Choose and start with ONE thing that is important to you, ethics, animals, air, water… Start with that and see what you can do to live in line with ensuring that you approach life and purchases being conscious of that. Once you have got one working well, add another. You will often find that with one, others come automatically too. It’s a win win!

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

I lost my older sister at a very young age. She used to talk a lot about the environment, about not being wasteful, I can remember brushing our teeth. She would always tell us to stop running the water in between – it’s wasting. To cut up all the plastic rings the cans of soda used to come in back then because they would end up strangling birds…

As much as my grandparents inspire my deep love for craft. My sister inspired and instilled my passion for sustainability. It’s also a part of her I can keep living on.

In many ways she was a spirit that was here well before her time (this was in the early 90’s), and she left me messages that I can live through and by everyday. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

I love to share, exchange ideas and collaborate with like minded people! Don’t hesitate to contact me or DM! 

You can find out more about Shilpa and follow her journey here: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Linktree