Encourage your child to talk about what they’ve learned about climate change to friends and family. Let them know that fighting the climate crisis is important and discuss further action you can take together. We must be bold, stand up and take action to tackle climate change.
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Juliet Davenport.
Juliet Davenport is the Founder and CEO of the UK’s first 100% renewable electricity company, Good Energy. An environmental activist with the emphasis on ‘action’, she has dedicated her life to the practical solutions to the climate crisis. She’s also the host of the brand-new podcast series Great Green Questions, and currently sits on the board of the Renewable Energy Association, Innovate UK and the Crown Estate. The first series of Great Green Questions is live now.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I actually had a really high carbon upbringing, as the daughter of two rally racing co-drivers, I spent a lot of my childhood at race tracks. I started driving early too, on a tractor when I was only 12! So not green at all. I grew up in the South and South West of England. Though my first school was in London and very focused on creativity. Then I moved on to a high school in Wiltshire, but it wasn’t until I went to university that I started to learn and care about climate change.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
I talk about the infamous storm of 1987 as being my ‘eureka’ moment — the one that Michael Fish got wrong! I was studying atmospheric physics at Oxford University and had started to learn about climate change, beginning to understand that its effect on our weather systems will be really massive. I remember reading in the library when the storm hit and thinking, this is what I need to dedicate my life to.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
Do what you are good at and you enjoy. We need passion and creativity to tackle environmental issues, we need scientists but we also need brilliant communicators, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs and everything in between. Figure out what you love first and then work out how to apply it to a cause.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that Good Energy are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
Good Energy really has addressing climate change at its core. That was the explicit reason I set up the business over 20 years ago, because I saw that people wanted to be a part of the solutions to the climate crisis.
The first way we did that was with electricity. We were the UK’s first 100% renewable electricity supplier, and back then only about 2% of electricity came from renewables so the industry establishment didn’t believe we could do it. I went around knocking on the doors of some of the people generating their own clean power and said ‘would you work with us?’ And that model hasn’t changed much today, we still get all of the power we supply customers from a community of over 1600 independent renewable generators. No loopholes or greenwashing.
The next big step was helping people generate their own clean power at home. We created the HomeGen scheme, which became the blueprint for the government’s Feed-in Tariff scheme, allowing people to get paid for electricity they send back to the grid. Today we are the only energy company with more customers generating their own electricity than buy it from us.
We are still fighting for more renewable electricity but the big frontiers for energy and climate now are heat and transport. Good Energy launched green gas a few years ago, but the future of decarbonising how we heat our homes is electrification — heat pumps. We launched the UK’s first heat pump electricity tariff last year. And on transport, Good Energy is now the majority investor in Zap-Map, the app used by over 90,000 electric vehicle drivers to make finding and paying for vehicle charging simple.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
It’s easiest to think in terms of areas of your life. At home, first you can reduce your energy use, then you can switch to a genuine renewable electricity tariff for what you do use.
When you travel, Robert Llewellyn summarized it well on our first podcast episode. If you can walk, walk. If it’s too far then cycle. If you can’ then get public transport. And if that’s just not possible then drive, but drive an electric car.
The other big area is what we eat, or even what we don’t eat. We have two upcoming Great Green Questions episodes on food, one on waste and one on what we eat. If food waste was a country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the USA. And in the UK the majority of food waste is from households — so it is really important we buy and use what we need. On top of that eat local, eat organic and eat less meat and dairy.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
First, encourage young people to educate themselves about the impacts on the environment through credible sources.
Listen to environmental podcasts, learn from leading figures who are making their stamp in the climate change sphere, keep up with the news, and learn about the impacts on the environment. Our podcast Great Green Questions tackled this in an episode with teacher Bobby Seagull and young environmental activist Mya-Rose Craig (Birdgirl). Our conclusion is that eco-anxiety is very real for young people, but the only solution is to know the facts and to help them feel empowered. Good Energy has also recently recruited our ‘Good Future Board’, a new advisory board made up of secondary school age children to help inspire us and hold us to account on protecting their futures.
Open an honest conversation about the environmentally friendly lifestyle changes you can make as a family
I always introduce each podcast episode with an environmental confession, as a way to show that although I’m an environmentalist and care a lot about the planet, I’m also human and make mistakes. Opening an honest dialogue with your children about the impacts on the environment will allow you to identify how you can encourage better behaviors and lifestyle changes. To quote comedian Eshaan Akbar: “I’m an environmentalist, but I order way too many things online, and I’m definitely contributing to air miles, and road miles. I’ve tried to get better by trying to do same day delivery, but then I remember something else to buy, because I know that I can get all of my deliveries packaged together. I know that I’m obsessively online shopping, and it’s bad for deliveries and the impact on the environment.”
Practice good habits at home
Lead a good example and show that you care! Which can be as simple as turning the lights off, and water at home when they’re not needed are small habits that can make a big difference on the planet in the long run.
Help your children to love nature
Get outside, learn about animals and wildlife. We all have to remember exactly what we are trying to protect in fighting the climate crisis. And time in nature is one of the best remedies for anxiety, about climate change or otherwise.
Encourage your child to talk about what they’ve learned about climate change to friends and family.
Let them know that fighting the climate crisis is important and discuss further action you can take together. We must be bold, stand up and take action to tackle climate change.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
I have spoken to a lot of fellow sustainability focused business founders over lockdown and asked them a similar question to this — does a sustainable purpose help or hinder profit? Unfortunately, the general consensus is that it can makes things harder. Whether it’s sourcing that organic material from the smallholder at a higher price, or in Good Energy’s case going out and finding the renewable generators. Our system doesn’t always reward businesses doing the right thing, and there aren’t any shortcuts. But the good news is it pays off. The customers who believe in your purpose will find you and they will be more supportive and loyal.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people who have helped me, but it is maybe easier to talk about who has inspired me. My dad instilled my competitive instinct from an early age, but thanks to my mum I grew up around a series of bold and successful women who inspired me. My mother herself was a co-driver in rally racing, and she was friends with racing driver Jenny Birrell. My mother’s friend Zsizsi was a refugee who had left Hungary during the revolution of 1956 at the age of 12, and become a successful entrepreneur. Then I would honestly say the first real hero of my adult life is Greta Thunberg. By 17 she ignited a whole generation to call for action on climate change, creating more momentum than decades of activism had achieved before.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think the movement I would want to inspire already exists — the climate action movement! We have so much passion and energy from young people now, and we are starting to see results. I think political leaders are listening. If I can inspire anything to add to that I would love it would be to optimism. The effects of climate change will be catastrophic if we don’t take action, but the solutions to climate change can enrich our lives, allowing us to breathe cleaner air and enjoy nature.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how it is relevant to you in your own life?
The economist Kate Raworth wrote that “we have economies that need to grow, whether or not they make us thrive. What we need are economies that make us thrive, whether or not they grow.” The philosophy on economics and business that protects people and planet that Kate outlines in her book Doughnut Economics crystallised what I have spent years trying to achieve with Good Energy.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
Listen to Great Green Questions on Apple, Spotify and all major podcast platforms.
Good Energy’s official website can be viewed here.
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!