Where do you turn to for reliable and up to date data, facts and figures on the climate decade? One of my favourite places is Amy Nguyen founder of Sustainable and Social. We are bombarded every day with information, but how do we know it is correct, how do we know that the person who has given you the information has checked their facts. This is where the work that Amy does comes in. She thinks and researches before she writes. Then presents it to us in a way that makes it easy to understand. Her aim is ‘to democratise the conversation about sustainability and raise collective consciousness to educate and empower citizens in the pursuit of climate action.'
D: Amy where did you grow up?
A: I have been really lucky to have grown up in a number of different places. I was born in East London and have lived for the majority of my life in Hampshire. When I was younger I had the chance to live in the Philippines as we travelled with Dad’s job. For my studies, I’ve lived in Nottingham, Manchester and Milan.
D: What made you choose History and then go into Business?
A: I did History as my under grad because I always loved it at school, I was very interested in colonialism, environmental history specifically, and looking at the Vietnam war, because of my heritage. After I graduated I worked in luxury retail in marketing and comms and I really wanted to challenge myself further as I didn’t feel like I was fulfilling my potential. I wanted to learn more and have always loved business, and was really interested in economics, from a policy perspective. So decided to do a degree in International Business and Management, which sparked my interest in sustainability because as part of that course, I studied sustainability management, looking at global supply chains, CSR, fashion and luxury management.
D: Do you think there was a defining moment that made you choose the sustainable economic side of business?
A: I think this was influenced by the time I spent in the Philippines. Travelling as a child really opened my eyes to the realities of what vulnerable countries and communities face every single day. Spending extensive time in South East Asia has meant it’s always been on my mind.
From a sustainability angle, there were two influential moments. One was a lecture given by a climate scientist who worked with the European Commission. When he delivered a presentation on the future trajectory of planetary warming and what this means for countries in the Global South - I was in shock.
Another moment was when I was conducting a research project for my Masters on fashion value chains. This was when I first learned about the provenance of our clothes, how far they really travel across the world, the negative externalities involved in production and how it can impact communities. That was in 2017 and my work was influenced by the works of the Changing Markets Foundation and journalists like Lucy Siegel.
D: When did you set up Sustainable and Social?
A: I founded Sustainable and Social in 2018 after completing my Masters’ degree. At the time, I felt there wasn’t a platform to dissect complex sustainability concepts and issues to a millennial audience in a way that still provided data, information and a nuance in a way that was easy to digest. There are 5 areas in my mission, the main one is to democratise the conversation about climate so that anyone can understand what we are trying to accomplish.
I believe that the narrative should always have an element of hope too, which is why I like to keep it realistic but light hearted for the most part. Although now, given the urgency, I don’t think we should sugar coat everything.
D: Have you always loved facts and figures? Both on Instagram and your website you have the headings business, climate, fashion innovation and lifestyle why did you choose those areas to work across?
A: I have always loved stats and data and getting to the nitty gritty of a subject in a deep and meaningful way. Things have changed since I started, now there are lots of articles on sustainability or fashion but they will use outdated data, or reference studies that aren’t scientifically peer reviewed.
I have always tried to write pieces that are substantiated and trustworthy.
On the categories I work within, I have chosen topics that I have really enjoyed writing about with broad overarching themes. The business element is tied to one of the pillars of my mission with Sustainable and Social which is about sharing the values of sustainable business strategies. For instance, being a sustainable or environmentally and socially responsible business is not a zero end game, you will can still make a profit. I really wanted to include the finance element because sound economic systems where stakeholders allocate capital to where it’s needed most will really move the needle on climate adaptation.
I love to include stories of innovation and technology because, whilst it won’t solve the climate crisis, it’s a fantastic way to spark imagination and inspiration and proves that people are doing amazing things.
The fashion and lifestyle sections speak for themselves. We all wear clothes and we all have lifestyle habits that could be tweaked somehow.
D: I enjoy reading your facts and figures and the way you break it all down to get to the core of what's happening. What is interesting you at the moment?
A: So many things - to start with is the pace at which things are progressing. We are in a divisive climate decade, we don’t have any more time to waste. When we are looking at policy and legislation that’s coming into play now, things are coming to fruition, we are looking at a Green New Deal, a European textile strategy and we are seeing supply chain acts coming to the forefront. Whilst critics will say it’s not enough, it is still one step in the right direction.
It’s great to see that legislation and policy makers are slowly catching up.
Technology and innovation always sparks my interest - whether that’s fibre-to-fibre recycling, designing textiles void of synthetics, or incorporating virtual reality into the fashion industry to minimise waste and create a different brand experience.
On the tech side - I also greatly enjoy working with a company called Ripple Research, a non-profit using big data to solve big problems. They use natural language processing algorithms and machine learning to detect the emotions and dominant narratives behind what people are speaking about online. Their work with the WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been important for unpicking key public health issues like, what are the drivers of vaccine hesitancy and adoption.
We’ve also done a lot of work on climate anxiety and understanding climate polarisation too.
D: I'm finding the whole Bitcoin, Cryptocurrency thing interesting, in that it’s allowing labelling to be more transparent.
A: The prioritisation of transparency and traceability is very exciting, from February this year I have been working with a company called EON. They create QR codes and Digital ID’s that trace garments across their entire life cycle. They work with the world’s leading luxury players including Net-A Porter and are currently also working with Prince Charles at The Sustainable Markets Task Force initiative.
D: What do you think drives you Amy?
A: From a personal perspective, what drives me: my dad was a refugee, he came to England with nothing, and we know that climate crisis is going to cause mass displacement of billions of people. Whether that’s internal, or to another country, all these people are going to be made to feel like refugees in some capacity. They are going to have to rebuild their homes, leave their land and maybe their countries. This is so destructive and traumatic, that's something that really motivates me.
Because of my own person struggles, comes the realisation that life is so short, and too short not do something that you really want to do, to create change in the world. I’ve always enjoyed doing a lot of different things, working hard, connecting with people that really inspire me from so many different areas, whether it's a creative or someone that works in finance. I love interacting with people and working on really important global challenges.
D: Everything we do is either creative or political whether you realise it or not. Every choice made is political and every time you solve a problem it's creative. If we are not creating a better planet now for humanity, what will life be like in the next 50 years?
A: There is really no time to waste and that is what drives me. I read a hilarious book called Bullsh*t Jobs, it’s a book written by the academic David Graeber. There are so many jobs in the economy that are bullsh*t, when you think about how much time we have left to save the planet: that is my new mantra, no bullsh*t jobs we have no time to waste in this climate decade.
D: Do you like to plan two or five years ahead? Or do you like to evolve as you go along?
A: Because I'm still in my 20’s I feel there’s much more I want to learn, to progress career wise and to further develop my skills.
In terms of three to five years I don't plan that far ahead, after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ when she said: ‘when I was thinking about future careers, Mark Zukerberg hadn’t even created Facebook, but here I am now’ (at the time of writing Sheryl was COO of Meta), and I think that's a powerful premise. For me, I always look roughly one year ahead, and at the moment plan my life in quarterly chunks, I like that, it makes it less daunting.
D: An inspiring article read by another of the women in this series when she was in her early 30s was written by a woman who was in her 60s, who was looking back at her career, she said: ‘At 30 people think that you have to have everything figured out. But in reality, you have another 30 years or 40 years of your career to create change’.
A: I couldn't agree more and I'm such a big endorser of the career pivot. At school, you're only shown this linear idea of following one career path from say junior to partner in the same company and for me personally, that is so boring.
D: Do people still do that?
D: Really. I didn’t think that existed anymore.
A: It really does, and I think you can switch it up, you can go from finance to starting your own company, that is my general approach. I always think it is easy for me to say that, because I currently work for myself but there is always that element of ‘it would be nice to be in full-time employment’, however I get paid to do what I love, which is absolutely amazing. I wake up in the morning and look forward to it. I consider myself very fortunate.
D: Looking back a little bit to what you said about climate refugees. With the tsunami and earthquake and volcano that happened in Tonga earlier in the year it shows how volatile all those Polynesian islands are and that they may not be here in 100 years’ time. They see themselves as one continent and the water is part of their continent, they believe that it's not the land that joins the water but the water that joins the land’.
A: They won’t be here in 50 years, all the science points to that. Something that I have written about is that by 2050 Vietnam will be submerged in water. The whole problem is the fact that it's all these countries in the Global South, when you look at the Philippines, when you look at Bangladesh, the lack of action and ignorance is awful. It’s a social injustice that polluting countries in the Global North fail to provide climate finance for those in the Global South.
D: Part of your degree and your interest then was around colonialism and this is still very much that. We have to create a world going forward that that doesn't work that way. That takes slavery out of supply chains and that kicks colonialism into the long grass. It should not be part of society.
A: The Green Colonial element is already coming to fruition; in the green energy sector you see kids in the Congo mining for lithium for electric car batteries and it's hideous. Yet everyone in the west gives themselves a pat on the back for driving electric cars and doing something ‘good’. But reality is, that it’s a rebranding.
D: You contribute to different publications, that must be really interesting.
A: Yes, it is nice to have a platform to be able to write about things that interest you.
D: Do you get to choose the subjects, or do you have an editor briefing you?
A: For example, with Forbes, they ask for specific things like a piece on Sustainable Business and within reason you have free reign on what you write about. For Raconteur, who publish reports in the Times and Sunday Times, there is also flexibility whether that be on Brexit, business or finance but I like to focus on the sustainability angle. It is a privilege to write about things that are important, to cover and share the good work that is being done by so many great companies that otherwise, may not be profiled.
D: How would you describe yourself and the work that you do?
A: I would describe myself as an active citizen and this translates to the work that I do. I’m hungry to help make a difference and never like to take no for an answer.
My work focuses on research and writing, shining a light on controversial issues that can inform key decision makers be that in business, policy making or society more broadly.
For example, I’ve had the privilege of working with the Changing Markets Foundation on their Fossil Fashion campaign to highlight how the industry can improve and reduce its reliance on oil and gas.
I am probably in a flow state and most happy when I’m analysing things, conducting research and writing. Alongside this, I treasure my time making an impact in my community, whether that’s being invited to present to companies, meeting with businesses or sponsoring my old school’s sustainability prize.
Website: Sustainable & Social
Instagram: Sustainable & Social
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