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20 questions with… Sarah Butler-Sloss



Sarah Butler-Sloss answers 20 questions on life, sustainability and everything.

An internationally recognised leader in the field of renewable energy for the past two decades, she is best known as the founder of the Ashden Awards.

Running since 2001, the event celebrates innovation and leadership in sustainable energy, and in that time has helped more than 140 pioneers develop their work.

It takes place for a 14th year at the Royal Geographical Society, London, next week.

We want the world to be as blue and green tomorrow as it was yesterday. What’s your mission?

To help bring sustainable energy to a billion more people across the globe by 2020.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

An intrepid explorer of the natural world!

How would your friends describe you?

Passionate and thoughtful.

What was your ‘road to Damascus moment’ in terms of sustainability?

In 2000, I was visiting homes and schools across Kenya and saw the appalling conditions that women were cooking in. The rooms they called kitchens were filled with smoke as they cooked on open fires. The smoke was choking the women, and they complained of terrible coughs and eye problems. A straightforward, fuel efficient smoke-free stove could change all this, saving lives and trees. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t everywhere!

Who or what inspires you?

David Attenborough, Jonathon Porritt, Amory Lovins and all of Ashden’s inspirational winners – they are all amazing people doing amazing work to make the world a better place.

What really grinds your gears?

Climate change deniers.

Describe your perfect day.

Being in a beautiful place on a sunny day with my family and some close friends with good food, good wine and the sea very nearby.

What do you see when you look out your window at home?

A big beautiful ash tree and the back of some flats.

What do you like spending your money on?

Holidays with my family in beautiful places, and clean energy.

What’s your favourite holiday destination?

The Greek Islands.

What’s your favourite book?

I love beautiful landscape and books of photos so I’m going to choose The Earth from the Air by Yann Arthus Bertrand.

What’s your favourite film?

So difficult to choose – The World of ApuGandhiWitness, Out of Africa, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It depends on my mood.

You’re made prime minister. What’s the first thing you do?

I’d make every home in the UK energy efficient with insulation and energy efficient boilers. It would eradicate fuel poverty, reduce people’s energy bills and dramatically cut UK carbon emissions, as well as creating lots of jobs.

If you were stuck on a desert island, which famous person would you like to be stuck with and why?

David Attenborough. We could explore the island and he could tell me about all the fascinating wildlife.

What was the best piece of advice you have ever been given? And the worst?

The best advice I ever had was never be afraid to question the status quo. I don’t remember the worst advice.

What would you like to be doing five years from now?

To do more of the doing rather than the rewarding and talking.

What’s your biggest regret?

Not to have had more time with my gorgeous children.

What one thing would you encourage readers to do to make their life more sustainable?

Insulate your home as much as possible and enjoy walking and cycling.

What’s the one idea that you think could change the world for the better?

Cheap solar photovoltaic (PV), combined with cheap energy storage.

What’s your favourite quote?

I find hope in the darkest of days and focus on the brightest” – Dalai Lama.

Sarah Butler-Sloss is founder-director of Ashden, a London-based charity that works in the field of sustainable energy and development and hosts the Ashden Awards annually. The 2014 event will be held at the Royal Geographical Society on Thursday May 22. Read more about the finalists here.

Further reading:

‘Sustainable energy champions’ announced as Ashden Award finalists

The latest IPCC report: it’s time to ramp up mitigation efforts

What we should really be doing about rising energy bills

Community energy projects need ‘support at all levels’ to flourish

The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013


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