Category Archives: Environment

The Rural Ambassador

From a small farm in Wales, the phenomenally sunny Anna Felton, runs two businesses as well as the occasional marathon. The title of her recent Do lecture says it all: “How do you manage 6 brands, a knitwear company and a flock of sheep? And still have a life.” As someone who grew up on a sheep farm in Cornwall, I’m in awe of her efforts to build vibrant rural economies: with Monkstone, she uses wool from her boyfriend’s family farm to make gorgeous knitwear (who knew it was possible to salivate over a sweater?), while with Dewberry PR, she spreads the word about all the good, beautiful things happening outside of the metropolises. So milkmaids and farmboys, here she is, the one, the only, Anna Felton.

That you can never sleep. If you want to make your business work you need to be 100% focused on your brand and ideas. I want to tell the story of farmers and the wool industry even more. You need to think outside the box to be different, personal and beautiful. People remember stories and not facts and this is something I try to work out in marketing strategies all the time.  There are so many new brands, you need to stand out. It’s a challenge. But one I love.

I have taken to bread making and I am trying to bake the perfect loaf. But on a work level, my burning question would be to crack time management and to allow myself to be as creative as possible, but not to scare people away. I try to question all that I do, so that I can get better.

It would have to be  Sean Carasso Founder of Falling Whistles. At the last Do Lectures, he totally blew me away with his drive and passion. Passion to make a difference by using an incredible brand identity and vision, being supported by friends and creatives, and spreading his love for what he does and the changes he wants to make.  It was just awe inspiring.

Most of my ideas come to me when driving, something I do a lot with my PR agency. I am lucky as I work for many beautifully minded companies that inspire me to think differently. I pick my projects based on the teams I am asked to meet with and the stories they tell me. I only ever work for companies that I believe in.

In terms of Monkstone, I want to bridge a gap between farmers and creatives. I want to talk to as many UK brands to make them understand the importance of manufacturing in the UK. Later this year, I am launching For Flock Sake; an exciting co operative of farmers, manufactures and businesses. I want to give the wool board a run for their money!


The dramactivists

I met Jo Dorras & Peter Walker in a bunk house on the side of a mountain in New Zealand. In between playing A LOT of cards and nursing our aching limbs, we traded stories and I found out about their amazing work in Vanatu in the South Pacific.

Over 20 years ago they set up a theatre company, wansmolbag. What began with 15 amateur actors has grown into an organisation specialising in development theatre with 100 staff and over 400 volunteers. They use drama to engage audiences on a range of issues from contraception to corruption. One of their biggest hits has been Love Patrol, a TV series centred on a police detective that focuses on HIV/ AIDS. Vanuatu’s first TV serial has been roaring success; it has been broadcast across the region, from Fiji to New Zealand and is now in its fifth series. Jo writes it, Peter directs it. I thought it was only fitting to feature them as a couple!

THIS YEAR’S LESSON: Jo: Never think you know yourself. Circumstances make or unmake the woman. It can be very hard to explain why you did what you did.

Peter: What everybody in their fifties starts to learn: that time speeds up. I remember sitting around with both sets of parents about 15 years ago, before my parents embarked on a dreadful last decade of illness. One night they started discussing their attitude to death and how it wasn’t worth worrying about. My father in-law, Harry, mentioned how time went so fast, chortling as he remembered some old celebrity in the paper saying how it seemed like breakfast came round every fifteen minutes. The good side  — especially if you are privileged enough to enjoy your work, and your partner is doing the same work — is that you savour each opening night, each great rehearsal and  also each weekend bush walk, with the knowledge that the years you will be able to do them are starting to dwindle — although I don’t feel that breakfast is coming round every fifteen minutes (perhaps only every half hour!)

THE BURNING QUESTION: Jo: As poverty is the cause of most of the world’s pain and suffering, can aid — which pays our own personal bills — do anything about it? And what will happen to all the young people at our centre when they are no longer appealing youth we are all meant to worry about, but men and women with nothing?

Peter:  Just how is Vanuatu going to escape the ravages of an ever more venal group of politicians? One would like to believe that in this, an election year, it would be via the ballot box. But, as the theatre group discovered last month when touring with plays pertinent for an election year, the amount of money, saucepans, fencing materials and solar panels being delivered to villages by politicians wanting to hold on to power suggests that we’re stuck with the lot we have and the weekly stories of corruption they bring with them. But here’s hoping… the after-play-discussions bring to the surface a great deal of discontent.

THIS YEAR’S INSPIRATION: Jo: The amazing Gigi, who plays Andy in ‘Love Patrol’. He’s a young gay man and was absolutely thrilled on his return from launching series 4 of LP in Cook Islands, where he was treated like a star and ran workshops with school children, communities and queens (the third sex group there). It’s not always like that for Gigi.

And always writing for the actors and seeing them take what I write and fly with it! Wow!

Peter: Read: Peter Godwin’s The Fear about the 2007 elections in Zimbabwe. We lived in the south east of Zimbabwe for 5 years in the 80s and went back in the mid 90s for a visit. So the wreckage described was perhaps even more poignant for us. The stories both of man’s unbelievable inhumanity to man and also the staggering bravery shown by many in standing up to the torture and general mayhem, just have you gasping on every page. Unavoidably we ran into diehard white farmers when we lived there. I remember 300 km hitchhiking car journeys, when they picked you up (aghast that you should be hitching), and put you straight about how their country really was.  Some of these same people, by their own admission in the book, have made incredible journeys to end up side by side with their black Zimbabwean colleagues.

Seen: The youth group we are currently working with! 26 of them, most of school age, none of them in school…..their absolute delight in the rehearsals. The other night they did a run through of something they’d been working on since the last time I’d seen them. They finished. I said I thought it was good and they clapped and cheered, so pleased were they that I had liked it.

Heard: Stories on the BBC World Service series ‘Witness

The design storyteller

Leonora Oppenheim- where to start? She’s one of them with many strings to her bow. One of which is Creative Data, which is all about experiential storytelling. Twang. Another one of which is Elio Studio, a design communications practice. Twang. And then there’s her journalism for Treehugger and Coolhunting. Twang. Twang. Twang. I’ve worked alongside Leonora and love the craft of her storytelling and the way she approaches journalism as design.

THE LESSON: Listening to my instinct without trying to rationalise it. I have a tendency to over analyse questions in both my professional and personal life. Something I’m working on is listening to what kind of feeling I’m getting from a situation. What is my instinct telling me? In the past I have often overridden a sense of unease because I couldn’t translate that feeling clearly in my mind. Now I realise I don’t need to intellectually understand why I do or don’t want to do something. Our instinctive reaction is inherent knowledge, so rather than ignoring it and getting myself into trouble, I’m listening. Basically I’m learning to say no, which is a pretty vital skill if you want to stay sane and healthy.

THE BURNING QUESTION: Scale. How much is enough? There are loud voices in the field of sustainability who are rightly concerned about the speed of change we’re achieving. We need to move faster, they say, to avoid global catastrophe. There is a current obsession with digital because of its ability to scale, but with Creative Data. I am swimming against the tide. Our physical and spatial exhibitions are designed to work at a local level reaching hundreds of people at a time, not millions. I’m pursuing this route in the belief that we need to work with communities to help people emotionally engage with the issues and understand how climate change will directly affect their own lives. My question is: how can Creative Data projects have a large-scale impact while still working on deeper personal engagement in future landscapes? How can the physical and digital work together in this context? Tom Uglow, head of Google Creative Labs EMEA, recently said that the future of digital is physical, which boosted my confidence and made me smile.

THE INSPIRATION: There are so many extraordinarily exciting projects happening out there, I am inspired daily. But with respect to my “burning question” I think a brilliant realisation of local creativity with global reach is the work of French street artist JR. Addressing the theme of identity he uses large-scale photography of local people on an architectural scale in their communities. He works guerilla style, without permissions or corporate sponsorship. It’s fast, radical and provocative spatial intervention which creates powerful emotional reactions and a sense of pride in place.  He won the TED prize this year for his Inside Out  project, which scales up his personal work, allowing anyone in the world to transform their own identity into a community artwork by sending them enormous posters of their own portraits. The quote below is from his TED talk and resonates very clearly with me about the purpose of Creative Data.

“Art is not supposed to change the world, to change practical things, but to change perceptions. Art can change the way we see the world and create an energy. Actually the fact that art cannot change things, makes it a neutral place for exchanges and discussions and then enables you to change the world. What we see changes who we are. When we act together the whole thing is much more than the sum of the parts.”

The Queen of Campaigning

Rebecca Tarbotton is one of America’s most lethal environmental campaigners. She’s the Executive Director of San Francisco based RAN. The Wall Street Journal calls them the “most savvy environmental agitators in the business”. Treehugger calls them “a pack of jackals”, writing that “its campaigners jump on a target’s back and won’t get off until it submits”.  Whenever we’re in the same city at the same time, Becky and I set the world to rights over cocktails.

THE LESSON: This was my first full year as Executive Director of RAN, and for a good 6 months of the year, I felt as if I never ever had enough information to make good decisions. My predecessor and friend Mike Brune (who now runs the Sierra Club) said to me just as I was taking on the mantle of ED: “Everyone is now going to think you are smarter and funnier than you were before you were ED. Always remember, that you’re not”. I thought he was a little crazy at the time, but it’s been a huge lesson to realize that just by virtue of my position suddenly my opinion matters more (and apparently my jokes are way funnier too!). This was paralyzing for a while, until I realized that people don’t want to tap my expertise, but my thinking and my experience. I call it instinct, others call it strategy or analysis – whatever term you use, it’s not about knowing all the facts all the time, it’s about knowing what questions to ask.

THE QUESTION(S): This is pretty nerdy and in the weeds, but my big question right now is ‘how do we pivot from running great corporate campaigns that truly do affect the way corporations do business to tackling some of the deep systemic flaws in our economic system…without losing any of the sharpness that makes our campaigns so effective?’. RAN is great (I mean really really good) at running corporate campaigns that both pressure and inspire corporations to voluntarily address the environmental and human rights impacts of their business model. For example, we’ve convinced most of the big US banks to phase out financing Mountaintop Removal Mining, we’ve successfully gotten old growth timber off the shelves of the major home improvement stores and have won commitments from most of the major US publishers to demand paper that doesn’t destroy Indonesia’s natural forests. These are big wins, and they all address very real and urgent problems that need to be dealt with immediately. But how do we ensure that all these victories add up to more than the sum of their parts? How do we parlay them into systemic changes that not only fight the fires but also transform the system so that the fires aren’t an inevitability, part of the system design, but only an occasional occurrence (how’s that for a tortured metaphor?).

Another one: how to achieve scale without increasing size? The problems we’re facing (environmental, social) are enormous, but I rebel against the notion that we need to be bigger to be effective change agents. That said, we do need reach and impact and for that we certainly need to be of a scale equal to or bigger than our opponents. if the goal is to have a large scale and if that can be achieved through networks, how do we overcome the silo’s of organizational self-interest to collaborate effectively?

THE INSPIRATION: We gave Naomi Klein (author/activist) an award this year at our annual fundraising event. In her acceptance speech talking about the Occupy movement she said: “We are more popular than we ever imagined”…and she’s right.  The question is, what does it look like to start behaving that way?

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