A very determined message from Sharon Lashley, Managing Director of Climate Action North.
“Like I say, Anthony, it's more about, I've been through all of that. I've been through the doom and gloom. I think we've all been through doom and gloom through COVID. We don't need to be sucked back into that. What we need to do is try and move around where we can. We might be moving sideways. We're not necessarily moving up, but we might be moving in all these different directions. But we have to try. We can't not.”
This is how our conversation developed.
Anthony: Sharon, welcome to the Sustainable Futures Report.
Sharon: Hello. Good morning, Anthony. Thank you for your inviting me to talk today.
Anthony: It's a pleasure. Now, before you actually joined Climate Action North, what sort of things were you doing?
Sharon: Right. Well, first of all, I still am an environmentalist in my own right with my own organisation that I run and have run since 2013 as a self-employed environmental consultant. But prior to that, I had moved around various different sectors. I started off as a shorthand typist, clickety clack on a typewriter. I started my career in the manufacturing sector, in the clothing industry actually. And then I went from the clothing industry to manufacturing, ironically and strangely, in the plastic blow moulding sector. But actually I learned a lot about plastics and the composition of plastics and the way that they could actually be reground and regenerated and recycled. So even then, when I was working for that organisation, I was in my early twenties and I was involved in setting up ISO 14001 management systems, but then also putting in place waste management systems. So we also had a recycling system for the intermediate bulk containers that we made.
So it was very much we make it, we take it back, which in those days was probably quite cutting edge in terms of circular economy because we were already doing it. And I never really related back to CE until I actually thought about what I did when I was in my twenties working for this plastic packaging company, which was quite clever, really, in the way that it laid the foundations for my environmentalism. And I actually did my training on the job and got myself an NVQ level four in environmental management while I was working at the factory. So it was very hands-on training. It was very involved in all of the processing, including the economic benefits of what we were doing.
So it was a bit of an all-round education on the job as well, so that actually laid the foundations for the job, well, the career that I have now. I've had quite a few jobs, but they've always had an environmental focus, which has really helped me to get to where I am now.
Anthony: Which is MD of Climate Action North. Tell us a bit about what Climate Action North does.
Climate Action North
Sharon: Yeah. Well, Climate Action North was kind of like a spinoff from my own organisation. I'd been running my own organisation since 2013, but really felt that working as a consultant for other people, I was very much driven by their goals and their requirements about what they needed to do. I wasn't really giving something back to the community on my terms, so I thought that perhaps I could set up a not-for-profit community interest company. So I did. So I thought about it in 2017 and thought, how can I give something back to the community that would really benefit those people rather than me just working for other people, similar to what I was doing before but on my own terms. But yeah, it was just a good way of giving something back to the community. So I set up the CIC, we call it the Community Interest Company, in 2017 with another director, Jennifer Clair Robson, who like me, had been in the industry a long time and we could see what was happening.
We just needed to do something. And then, yeah, the rest is history really. We've just come on leaps and bounds in the last six years to get to virtually where we are now. But we're basically focused on taking action through direct projects, not action projects, really, that take action that way. We're not activists, but we do take action through projects and we get things happening, mobilising stuff.
Anthony: Right. Okay. So you're still working with businesses, but I believe you're working more with schools now as well?
Corporate Social Responsibility
Sharon: Yeah, we're working with schools, businesses, communities, and basically our primary aim is to get local businesses linked with schools and communities so that they can make a difference on the ground through their own corporate social responsibility.
Anthony: Right. Now, you posted on LinkedIn recently and what caught my eye was a comment when you said, here at Climate Action North, we no longer preach or try to force climate change and climate action onto anyone. Those days are gone as we are no longer in the change period. We as a team are in full adaptation and resilience mode. And there are many ways to help. The news is indeed dire. But you can go on and I have done it on the podcast, sharing bad news, but I think what you're saying there is, we know that, now what do we do about it?
What do we do about it?
Sharon: Yeah, I mean, we've known that for the last 30 years, Anthony, to be honest. We've known the systems were breaking down, put it that way. We, Jen and I, were working on climate change adaptation nearly 20, 15, 20 years ago.
Anthony: The difference is very many more people now are aware of it, even in the most recent past because of all these disasters in Greece and wildfires and all this sort of thing. And in fact, a very high proportion of people are saying, yes, we've got to aim for net-zero. Yes, there is a problem. The other problem, of course, is that having recognised it, they're not too happy about the action that needs to be taken in order to deal with it. For example, well, the ULEZ the Ultra Low Emission Zone controversy in London, where the council wants to introduce that to cut air pollution, but also cut carbon emissions, and yet people are up in arms. So we've got this sort of dichotomy. We've got this dilemma. Where do we go from there?
People Resisting Change
Sharon: Yeah, it is a dilemma. And like I say, it's a problem that we faced for many, many, many years now, and it's always been a problem. People have always resisted change, in all honesty, and they always have. I mean, we're humans at the end of the day, but we have to see a difference. We have to see something different as a positive rather than a negative. And we have to obviously do our homework and we have to review things, but there's a saying that we can study something to death and I take that from a recent podcast that I listen to, anyway, but you can. You can Study something for many, many years and then 10 years have passed, which is what's happened, which is what drove me to do something, because we had been talking about this subject for 10 years. And it is difficult for people to see past that dire situation and wonder what we can do.
I think we've just gone in with the aim to help people overcome the overwhelmness of it all because they're overwhelmed by the enormity of what they might have to do, but they don't have to do an enormous amount to make a small difference. And that's what we bring it back to. How can we have fun? How can we enjoy something that we're doing? And by default, we're actually helping the planet in a small way. And I think that's what we've come to, the conclusion that we just can't force people anymore. We've got to engage with them.
Anthony: The problem is, if you go back to the ULEZ issue, that's not fun. And the problem with that is there's a cost involved and it hits most the poorest section of society, and that obviously is unjustifiable. So again, how do we get out of that sort of issue?
Sharon: Well, these are the problems we can't solve, you see. This is why we've had to, and honestly, we've had to detach ourselves from the things that we cannot control. And I'll be honest with you, that's how we work. If we cannot control a larger global situation, we have to get on with the things that we can control. We're in a mess at the end of the day, Anthony. A lot of things are in a mess. We can't sort everyone else's mess out, unfortunately. We can only do something about what we can control. And I've been in the industry a long time. I've been working with businesses who won't change. Sometimes you have to walk away from those and concentrate on the ones that will. And sometimes it's a very difficult thing. It's a difficult situation we're all in at the moment.
Work on the possible, not the impossible
Anthony: Yeah. Reminds me of a quotation. I'm probably misquoting it, but it's something like, oh God, give me strength to cope with things I cannot change. Give me courage to change those things that I can change and the wisdom to know the difference between them.
Sharon: Absolutely. And well said. And that is exactly. And it's that kind of analogy that can be used in life in general, to be honest. But we have to be able to move through the problems that we can solve. And this is what we do. It's not something that's overly complicated, but we have to try and simplify the things that we can work with. Otherwise, we do get overwhelmed by everything. We don't get any work done, and it impacts on myself and my team, and we just need to move through what we can.
Anthony: Right. Government have a great responsibility, and government in the UK at the moment is working in completely the wrong direction. And in fact, the sort of things that are coming out of the opposition are not very encouraging either. Now, I know that you're not a campaigning organisation. You're a practical organisation. You're on the ground, you're working, you're achieving things. But there are other organisations like Just Stop Oil. Now where do you stand on Just Stop Oil. Are they doing the right thing?
Sharon: It's a difficult one. I can fully understand the frustration and the pressure and the enormity of their views. I can fully appreciate that. But in my humble opinion, this is just what I do. It's not the approach I would take. However, I'm not saying that that's good or bad. I really just sit on the fence where where Just Stop Oil and bigger campaign organisations are concerned because there's a lot more involved in the action that they take. There's a lot more sitting behind that. But going back to government though, government have a duty of care to protect us. And that's what I don't understand. I really don't agree with the approaches that are being made because their duty of care, they're failing on that, to look after society, and we only have the power to change certain things or act on certain things. We don't have the power to act on the bigger thing, and that's where I think they really are failing us as society.
Anthony: Last week, members of Greenpeace climbed on the roof of the prime minister's country home and unveiled a banner complaining about the latest decisions on oil drilling and so on. As a result, the government said they're not going to talk to Greenpeace anymore. Is that a sensible reaction?
Sharon: It's not a sensible reaction. I don't think it's. Again, it's about the context of things, really, Anthony. All of these things are taken in a certain context and alienation and alienating things and people and followers is a difficult thing to manage as well. And I think we have to be very careful to get the balance right. We have a society that needs to go through this just transition to get to where we need to be, and speaking of changes, we do have to make some changes that are going to have to happen quicker than others. Some people have the power to make the changes quicker than us. Those are the people that we really need on our side. Some people have the power to shout the loudest, and that's what they do. But I think it's all about context. People have to sit back and say, well, why are they so passionate about what they do?
Why are people so angry about this? Instead of saying, you might have someone in one ear, someone in the other, I don't know the situation, but you've got to listen to both sides of the story and where the oil and gas sector's concerned, I'm not a hypocrite, I use oil and gas. I have to because I don't have any choice. I have a mum in a nursing home that absolutely needs oil and gas at the moment. So I can't sit and say, demonise all fossil fuels, because I don't. What I actually do is support the just transition process. We have to give people the opportunity to change. We have to make those people who are not changing quick enough see that they've got to change quicker. So all of this thing, just in my opinion, about the just transition, the oil and gas situation is we have to work quicker for a different solution, a better solution for the future.
Anthony: Let's talk about some of the practical things you do at Climate Action North. I believe you're involved in re-wilding, and there's a lot of debate on that. What's your view and how far you involved in re-wilding?
Sharon: Okay. Well, re-wilding, I think, is our hope for the future. I have actually, in the 10, 15 years that I've been working more heavily in climate action, I have never been more positive about anything than I have about re-wilding, at scale. Because if you split it down to re-wilding large areas at scale and do large scale re-wilding improvements on land that's marginalised, that may not be used for food production. And this is where we need to come back a little bit. We work really closely with Rewilding Britain. We are the northeast coordinators for Rewilding Britain here in the northeast. And we abide by their principles on their website. And Rewilding Britain are not trying to re-wild the whole of the UK. They're just looking at something like 5%. So it's not a great, massive area that we're asking people to think about.
So large scale rewilding shouldn't be confused like lynx, bears and wolves because we're not going to have that. We might have something, but we won't have all of it. And then you've got to come right back down to community rewilding, which is where we sit within the spectrum. So we're mobilizing communities to be more mindful of their rewilded spaces and businesses as well. We've got a lot of business parks. If they could re-wild 30% of their business parks, imagine how much connectivity that would give for wildlife and insects and pollinators. The connectivity would be much improved. So it's a topic, though, that is debatable. Very much so, across all of that area.
Role of Livestock
Anthony: Well, one of the main issues, I mean I take your point that you're talking about re-wilding principally marginal agricultural land, but one of the major points of debate is whether within that model you still have livestock. Now, George Monbiot is very much against livestock. Other people say, no, you need livestock. They're part of the whole ecosystem and they fertilise the land and they are essential. Where are you coming from on that?
Sharon: I think there's a difference between livestock as in livestock for food, for a like a big food industry. And there's a difference between grazing animals that we typically might do the job of in our own little garden. We might snuffle like a pig when we're using a trowel and stuff. And it's about the land needs to be moved in some way. Because if you just left a piece of land to just re-wild on its own, you'd just have a forest or a woodland, you wouldn't have any sort of management at all. So I mean, there's a lot of really excellent webinars and podcasts out there to give people a better view on why we need some grazing animals.
And then obviously the grazing animals that some people are using are sort of modelled on the original species that we might have had many, many years ago, like wild ponies and oryx and stuff like that. So all of these different animals are not just grazing livestock, but for food production, it's a difference between just raising animals and using animals for food production and feeding that livestock. And then there's a difference between grazing livestock that you can utilise on, say, a farm like Knepp, for example, where they've utilised the grazing animals for re-wilding, but they also have their own economy building from that as well.
Anthony: Knepp. What's Knepp?
Sharon: Knepp. It's K-N-E-P-P. So if you Google the Knepp rewilding project, it's basically a farm in Sussex, West Sussex, that, over the last 10, 15 years, has been transitioning from a typical normal standard farm growing crops, et cetera. But it's been transitioning into a rewilded space. So they've got various compartments that are looking at completely rewilded space with minimal management, with some grazing livestock. They've got a meat production, sustainable meat production business. They've got a glamping business on that. So Knepp is held up as the sort of government case study, I suppose, for a rewilded specialist area. So yeah, you can read all about Knepp in Isabella Tree's book Wilding, the first book. And then you can read her next book, which is called The Book of Wilding. And it's all about rewilding all along the spectrum, from high level sort of species reintroduction down to what you can do to rewild your window box, for example.
Anthony: Right. Well, I'll put links to those on the podcast website so people can follow that up. And obviously I'll also put a link to George Monbiot's book, Regenesis. Well, as we come towards the end of our conversation, let's look again, in practical terms, what's your message to people listening? What should they do? What sort of things can they consider that they should be doing in their daily lives to make a difference?
What makes a difference?
Sharon: Well, first of all, I would say look at the things that you can actually control first. Because if you try and tackle the things that are out of reach or out of your control, you'll just get despondent and you won't do anything. And that's what we get faced with, a lot of, oh, I can't do that. I'll never be able to make a difference, so I won't bother. And that's the difference. So it's about making sure that you are managing your own expectations and what can you do. So anything from, and I'm probably going to go over all the things that we would say to people making one small change in your lifestyle. It might be looking at using less single use plastics, for example. Do things like beach cleans. They make you feel good, they're a good thing to do. You get out on the beach, you've done something, you've stopped all of that plastic going back out to sea, and it's actually fun and you are making a difference.
Rewild your garden or yard
And then coming back to rewilding, if you've got a garden space, think about leaving some of it wild and just watch what comes back. Because I've got a yarden, actually, I've got a yard-garden and mine is tiny, and it's packed full of plants and pots, and I've got a mini ecosystem in itself, just in my tiny space. So it doesn't matter how small that space is, if you make space for nature, for example, and think about how wild can you let your garden go, then you will see things landing. And I think that's important. Help the species that need the help, that they've not asked for this, they've not asked to be driven out or be made extinct. We've just done that by default.
So please just try and help in any way that you can. Follow us for the stuff, the work that we do, follow what we're doing. You might get your own ideas. We've got a whole new climate resilient communities program starting as well. It's about making people more resilient in the changing climate, just by knowing what they can do. There's a lot we can do. We might think that we're insignificant as one person, but together we make a lot. 8 billion people on the planet all did something, we'd be pretty well off, wouldn't we?
Anthony: Yeah, that's a very positive message. Now you're based in the northeast of England. Are there similar projects elsewhere in the UK and indeed elsewhere in the world?
Sharon: Absolutely. There's so much going on, Anthony, in terms of, I mean, even if you were just Googling rewilding and you look at all of the rewilding projects in Europe, you can easily become so energised by all of this really good news. So I would say, look past the doom and gloom if you can. Don't trawl through all of the bad news. Try and detach yourself from that. And come to, sometimes, my side of the world where all I do is listen to rewilding podcasts, and I've listened to some of them 10 times over, and I can probably recite them, but it's just because they make me feel good. They make me feel positive about what's happening in the world.
So if we don't just isolate ourselves to the UK and everything that's going on here, try and look wider and think, my goodness, what would that be like if that came to our country or our world? So all of these things will add up. So there's a lot of positive projects going on if you start looking for them. Even across the UK, there's some incredible... there's a company called Heal Rewilding, for example, that are buying up land to re-wild. The wildlife trusts are buying land to re-wild. It's all good, positive stuff.
Everyone is doing what they can. Everyone is trying to buy land to keep it wild and make it more sustainable for future generations. So buying land is a really, really important, positive thing to look at as well. So yeah, you can get there just by looking wider than the immediate doom and gloom that we're in at the moment.
Anthony: Well, that's great. It's good to have a positive message because there's plenty of negative messages out there. Not just messages, but news and all that sort of thing. So thank you for raising the tone, making us more hopeful. Sharon, it's been a pleasure to talk to you at the Sustainable Futures Report. So thank you very much for joining us today.
Sharon: You're very welcome. Thank you for having me. I'm going to have a coffee in my little tiny yarden.
Sharon Lashley is the managing director of Climate Action North.
Their main projects are Pollinator Parks ® (Rewilding the North’s Business Parks), Global Wilders ® - education project with children, schools and communities linked to the Sustainable Development Goals. There is also a Business Action Toolkit developed to help businesses assess their resilience in the changing climate. It’s all on the Blogs page and there’s a link on the website. There are also links to the books and other things we mentioned.
That should give you something to read over the rest of August.
BACK IN SEPTEMBER
I've got to the point where I'm going to take a break and I'll be back early in September. I do hope you're enjoying the summer although it's not been at all enjoyable recently. Still time for an Indian Summer. We can always hope.
I’m Anthony Day.
That was the Sustainable Futures Report.
I’ll be back in September.