Women are leading change across land and water management, climate and sustainability. But who most inspires you? The Environment asked our 2021 climate sheroes and members of the extended CIWEM family to pay it forward, naming the women who’ve inspired them
CIWEM trustee Hanna Coogan nominates Ipsos MORI public affairs practice, head of energy and environment Rachel Brisley
Rachel Brisley leads a multidisciplinary team of researchers, evaluation specialists and economists working in environmental, energy and sustainable-development policy for public-sector clients.
She is an expert in development and analysis of climate change and environmental policy; everyone who works with her benefits from learning about the logical frameworks she applies to solve environmental challenges.
She is a dynamic and energetic senior leader and a great role model for women in environment and sustainability. She leads fairly and brings a sense of fun and teamwork. I’ve learned a huge amount from her and am fortunate to have such a great and supportive mentor.
St James Church warden and environmentalist Deborah Colvin nominates writer and ecologist Rachel Carson
It’s now almost 60 years since Rachel Carson died of cancer, soon after she published Silent Spring. I have already lived two years longer than her.
Rachel Carson was born in 1907. Like me, she grew up on a farm, exploring the natural world. From these rural roots she grew into a perceptive observer and scientist, a courageous activist and a lyrical, inspiring communicator.
A marine biologist, Carson communicated her love of the living world through inspiring, poetic prose. Six months after I was born, she published the world-changing book Silent Spring. Carson spent four years gathering evidence and examples of environmental damage caused by widespread use of pesticides, especially DDT.
Carson investigated the science, but also talked to scientists, government officials, farmers, doctors and people affected by exposure to pesticides. Her writing focused opposition to DDT, despite fierce challenges from chemical companies and other vested interests.
Carson’s new ecological approach helped to people think about narrow solutions’ wider impacts, laying the foundations of the modern environmental movement. She brought about a pivotal change in consciousness.
Lighthouse Sustainability founder Emma Burlow nominates #EndPeriodPlastic founder Ella Daish
Ella Daish is a determined, logical and persuasive campaigner to make period products plastic-free, raising awareness of disposable menstrual products’ impacts and having an unprecedented impact on major brands.
It’s rare to see someone influence brands like this, especially on a topic few are willing to champion. Every day in the UK, we flush 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million pads and 700,000 pantyliners down our toilets. Too often, they end up in our rivers and seas. That should be hard to ignore.
But awareness was low – it was hard to find more sustainable options. Daish has made huge progress tackling this. She has persuaded Sainsburys, Aldi and Superdrug to stop producing plastic tampon applicators. Lillets, Morrisons and Superdrug have launched eco-friendly ranges. Bodyform has launched a reusable range. And nearly 250,000 people have signed her online petition to make all menstrual products plastic free.
British Water chief executive Lila Thompson nominates Mulesoft account executive Ludmila Fadejeva
Ludmila Fadejeva looks after utilities in the UK and Ireland for Salesforce’s Mulesoft division, helping these companies to enter the digital age. She is passionate about data, technology and digitising workflows in the infrastructure and water-utility industries.
She is also a passionate supporter of women in the water industry. She joined us at a Women on Water event last year, sharing her experiences as a 30% Club mentee and helpful career tips from her mentor, Travis Perkins chief executive Nick Roberts.
She talks about how mentoring can help us to overcome fear, unconscious bias and imposter syndrome in our male-dominated industry. She urges women to think about work in terms of our prospects three to five years in future; using today’s position to succeed in the next one.
She advises never to put short-term earning above long-term potential. And finally, when you want to be promoted, don’t just do your job better than anyone else – be bold. Bold people get noticed.
The Environment editor Karen Thomas nominates anti-pollution campaigner Belinda Joyner
Belinda Joyner campaigns against pollution and to protect her neighbours’ health and wellbeing in Northampton County, North Carolina. She works for Clean Water for North Carolina, a non-profit that studies and works to tackle environmental problems.
Joyner is no single-issue activist. She defends her community against air pollution from hazardous waste incineration, dust from a biomass production plant and campaigned to stop a natural-gas pipeline.
Northampton County is a mostly African-American community, one family in five living on or below the poverty line. New industries that pledge jobs and prosperity deliver only pollution and broken promises, Joyner says.
“This flies in the face of the promises these companies have made for decades, asking us to accept pollution in return for economic development,” she explains. “I’m dismayed that the broken promises are not just about jobs but about the environment.”
CIWEM Trustee Hanae Bezad nominates Fridays for Future Uganda and Rise Up Africa founder Vanessa Nakate
I would like to nominate Ugandan climate-justice activist Vanessa Nakate. In a press conference she co-hosted with Greta Thunberg, Nakate urged the world to listen to activists from Africa and pay attention to their stories.
These stories are about awareness, progress and growing pressure on governments to take action. After COP26, Nakate challenged world leaders to keep the promises they made. She said: “The atmosphere doesn’t care about commitments. It only cares about what we put into it – or stop putting into it. Humanity will not be saved by promises.
“We don’t believe that banks will suddenly put trillions of dollars on the table for climate action when rich countries have struggled since 2009 to raise US$100 billion for the world’s most vulnerable countries. We don’t believe that commitments made to cut methane emissions will result in fossil fuel companies taking real action. Prove us wrong.”
I appreciate the courage and boldness of young African female activists like Vanessa Nakate, dedicated to making climate action a priority for the world.
Air-quality campaigner Rosamund Adoo-Kissi-Debrah nominates World Health Organization (WHO) director of public health Maria Neira
Maria Neira is a medical doctor. I would trust her with my kids’ lives. She is a true champion in the public-health movement. Her knowledge, passion, authenticity is second to none. She is truly committed to saving lives; she understands the detrimental impact of air pollution on children's organs and continues to push for real change.
Neira is part of the team behind the new WHO air-quality guidelines. I will be doing everything in my power to ensure that all governments everywhere implement them. Every year, air pollution ends the lives prematurely of seven million people worldwide and these new guidelines should save 80 percent of these deaths.
Neira is a fighter, who will do everything to make sure it happens. She truly deserves her place in the climate movement. And can I tell you a secret? She also adores my kids.
CIWEM early-careers trustee Sian Leake nominates sailor and circular-economy campaigner Ellen MacArthur
The women who inspires me the most is Ellen MacArthur, a success in sport, charitable causes and business. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation helps business, government and others to transition to a circular economy.
MacArthur recognises that we need a systemic shift in the way we produce, to reduce waste and pollution and regenerate nature. Her foundation seeks to mobilise system solutions, providing resources, publications and tools to help industries to do better business and design better problems.
I commend her for engaging players to tackle this complex and challenging issue. And her success across sport, charity and business makes me realise we shouldn’t limit ourselves to one specialism in our careers.
Hard work, commitment and courage can help you to achieve things you didn’t realise were possible. If we restrict ourselves to one career path, we might miss the chance to create value and succeed in other areas too.
Wildlife Trusts interim director climate action Kathryn Brown nominates CIBSE head of research Anastasia Mylona
I’d like to nominate Anastasia Mylona at the Chartered Institute for Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), a passionate, committed advocate for climate-change adaptation.
Mylona is a long-time specialist on overheating risk in buildings. In 2020 alone, more than 2,000 deaths in England were linked to high summer temperatures. We expect annual heat-related deaths to double by 2050 due to climate-change impacts.
Mylona provides technical research to understand risk of extreme heat in buildings and helps architects and others to design and maintain safer buildings. She is a rock of support and source of knowledge on how climate change is affecting the built environment.
Beyond her technical work as CIBSE head of research, she is a fantastic communicator, putting in a huge amount of energy and time to explain overheating risk. Her research has underpinned assessments by the Climate Change Committee and UK government policy development.
She is always willing to get involved and help, no matter how busy she is, passionate about her subject and a champion for others working in climate-change adaptation.
Waterwise managing director Nicci Russell nominates Campaign for National Parks chief executive Rose O’Neill
Rose O’Neill is a fantastic campaigner who has made a real difference to the environment. She brought big corporate money into WWF to improve the water environment at scale. She set up a behavioural-science unit at Natural England and instigated fantastic research, showing how important nature was during the pandemic and how exclusive it still is in terms of diversity – or lack thereof.
She sits on the boards of two environmental organisations, including mine, and now runs the Campaign for Natural Parks. She’s an absolute dynamo. Having her in the room guarantees lots of ideas and fun. She’s been an incredible support to me as Waterwise managing director and pays it forward to many women.
She is ambitious for the environment. Her Twitter feed is so positive, highlighting the joy she and her family get from nature and campaigning for better protection and inclusivity. Asked to make a video for Ofwat about her vision for the water sector, she coined the life-affirming phrase: The hero of the water story is nature itself.
She is awesome. If you follow @RoseONei11, she’ll inspire you, too.
Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd nominates social-justice campaigner Sheela Patel
I first got to know Sheela Patel as fellow commissioners on the Global Commission for Adaptation. The commission ended last January, but I was thrilled to continue to work with her when we then became UN global ambassadors for the Race to Zero and the Race to Resilience.
She is recognised internationally for putting urban poverty, housing and infrastructure on the radar of government, bilateral and international agencies and as an international advocate for women’s leadership in managing climate change, which should be obvious but is too often overlooked.
The climate emergency has had a lot of media attention but we need to pay more attention to what Sheela is saying: “Local climate adaptation is not just what individuals – especially the vulnerable – do to survive. Everyone needs to blend traditional and new knowledge in a way that helps them to make intelligent choices.”
Sheela Patel is the former chair and founder of Slum Dwellers International and founder-director of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resources Centres, set up in 1984 to advocate for pavement dwellers in Mumbai. SPARC plays a major role in politics of slum development in the Global South, working with organisations in 70 cities in India.
C40 Cities head of campaigns Donna Hume nominates C40 director of inclusive climate action Caterina Sarfatti
Milan-based Caterina Sarfatti is director of inclusive climate action for C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. She has built an incredible programme, from the ground up, to help cities to build principles of equity, inclusivity and justice into their climate-action plans, so that these also reduce inequality and improve people's lives.
She works with C40 to put social and economic justice at the heart of organisations’ thinking about climate change and is developing a pilot Green New Deal programme with cities from Africa, Europe and North America, working with informal-sector workers, trade unions and community groups to find inclusive solutions.
The challenges range from shutting down gas plants while ensuring a just transition for workers to addressing energy poverty among older people. Her dedication, passion and firm principles are inspiring every day and, I believe, drive her success.
Student climate activist Noga Levy-Rapoport nominates Teach the Future policy lead Scarlett Westbrook
Aged 17, Scarlett Westbrook is the youngest leading policy writer in Europe, leading the campaign to Teach The Future, the youth-led initiative to push the Climate Emergency Education Bill – which she co-wrote – through parliament and into our schools, so that we can all access inclusive, accurate and incisive climate education from a crucial and early age.
She co-organised the first-ever Westminster Hall debate on climate-change education and has worked with MPs across parties to push for youth empowerment and education. Her fight to enfranchise young people everywhere through political power and climate education is crucial to the climate movement, a movement she's played a central role in, from organising climate strikes to speaking at COP26.
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