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Future sustainability leaders: Kate Beattie



What will business look like in the future and who are our future leaders?

This is the next instalment in our series speaking with a group of young people who are making waves in sustainability. All 12 are scholars on Forum for the Future’s renowned master’s course in leadership for sustainable development.

Kate Beattie has turned her concern for the environment, which she picked up while on a gap year in Fiji, into a passion about making society more sustainable. Here, she tells us about some of the key lessons she has learnt over the past year.

Tell us about your experience on the Forum for the Future master’s course. What have your placements involved?

I picked the Forum for the Future master’s for the work experience element, to help kickstart my career and try working in different sectors and organisations. My placements at the Fairtrade Foundation, Ecover, Kirklees council and FTSE have been varied and interesting, and I have learnt a huge amount about sustainability in the real world, as well as gaining some invaluable skills and meeting some great people along the way.

Though the work experience has been an amazing opportunity, the best bit about the course has been my time at Old Street with the other scholars. Being part of such a close knit group, all passionate about sustainability, though often with slightly different views, has been highly rewarding. The sheer variety of lectures, workshops, debates and field trips has opened my eyes to new ideas and I have learnt a lot about myself and my abilities, too. Overall, it’s been a highly enjoyable, if slightly crazy, 10 months and I feel ready to tackle the next adventure.

Where does your interest in sustainability come from?

My sustainability interest stems from volunteering on a coral conservation project in Fiji on my gap year. I fell in love with the ocean and couldn’t believe that island communities would use dynamite and chemicals to fish, even though it meant destroying what they relied on for food. I have always had a love of nature, but this was the first time I really thought about the impact we are having on the planet.

More recently, whilst learning about sustainability focused businesses at university and the power they have to make a difference, the concern turned into a passion to do something about it.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your course?

The best advice I’ve had from the course has been from my fellow scholars during our time with the Leadership Trust. Three hundred and sixty-degree feedback on our strengths and weaknesses, along with discussion and reflection time, gave me the opportunity to learn a lot about myself and how I interact with others.

The best specific bit of learning from that process was that if you can have an open, honest working relationship with others, things will get done quicker and you’ll all be happier.

What’s most important business lesson you’ve learnt?

That’s a tricky one… Maybe that being able to talk the talk and make a good, confident first impression can be vital when working with corporates.

What one idea do you think could change the world for the better?

I would really like to say teleportation, but I suppose I should be more realistic. The next best thing for me would be an alternative way to measure national output that drives us towards a happier, healthier global society. If we can work out a way to use happiness economics instead of GDP, I think that would be a really positive step for mankind and would mean policy aimed at what is really important in life for people to be happy, rather than trying to achieve continued growth, which we know cannot continue long-term.

What do you see of the future in terms of sustainability, business and the environment?

The future will have to be sustainable because we won’t have a choice.  Businesses are already starting to live up to this and realise that they need to change to survive and even the financial sector is showing signs of taking sustainability much more seriously. This positive change gives me hope for a future whereby business works in harmony with nature and people, and even aims to make a positive impact to improve our planet. However, there is still a long way to go and I hope this shift happens fast enough to prevent huge loss of life and natural habitats.

Where will you be in 10 years’ time?

I’m really passionate about creating sustainable and ethical supply chains so I would like to be doing something on that. I’m also equally keen to help clean up the oceans somehow or get involved in a community farming project.

I guess I’m not really sure where I’ll be in 10 years, as there is so much of interest to me, but overall I hope to be working to create a more sustainable world in a job I love because I feel like I’m making a difference. On top of that, though maybe a little quaint, I hope to have a house and family in the country to enjoy the great outdoors and grow my own food.

Further reading:

Future sustainability leaders: Maia Tarling-Hunter

Future sustainability leaders: Ruth Shave

Future sustainability leaders: Angela Green

Future sustainability leaders: Andrew Adam

Future sustainability leaders: Zoe Draisey

Future sustainability leaders: Rebecca Trevalyan

Future sustainability leaders: Sam Gillick

Future sustainability leaders: Patrick Elf


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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