My sustainability challenge: reconstructive innovation

In my previous post on Sustainability Leadership I mentioned several areas which I was aiming to explore further. Firstly, contributing to the capture of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere through sustainable forests. Secondly, defining a sustainable business model to make the management of these forests economically viable. Thirdly, constructing my own sustainable house. Fourthly, ensuring that my profession contributes to both local and global sustainable development. And finally, practising what I preach in terms of having a sustainable life-style. Today I’ll share with you how my thinking has progressed in these areas and how my determination to continue along this path has increased.

On the one hand, I have been actively looking for pieces of land and talking to different land owners about their features and associated costs. My idea of the kind of land I want to buy has evolved. For instance, I started looking at plots of one hectare, but I now want to buy over 10 hectares. The larger area would enable me to combine reforestation and forest management with permaculture and the introduction of different animal species to help balance the forest in terms of fertility on the one hand and control of invasive weeds on the other (contributing in turn to local biodiversity). Its maintenance would require the help of skilled professionals and employing them would have positive social impact. In terms of a sustainable business model, I have identified several potential sources of income.

In the last few months I’ve had many conversations with many different people. I’m amazed at the responses and reactions I’ve had:

  • My cousin, who has worked for a major bank for the last ten years, would like to invest in the project, although I think we have different views in terms of the business model.
  • My brother-in-law, who is looking for an investment opportunity, initially said that this project would never be profitable, but now every time he talks to me asks me about it because he has become interested in the business model. What he doesn’t know is that I’m not too keen to share the details of the business model until I see that his motivation is mainly environmental and social rather than economic.
  • I’ve identified potential major investors (large corporations) who might be able to scale up the project faster. I need to see if their conditions are aligned with the mission, vision and values of the project.
  • My sister and her partner are currently looking for a piece of land too (in a different region).
  • My mother is involved in checking the legal situation with regard to the purchase of land and she is ready to help in the process of acquisition.
  • A month ago, at the age of 67, my father started to tend a piece of land for the first time, growing fruit and vegetables with a friend. His feedback is very useful and has made me aware of the restrictions that many areas are subject to in terms of access to water. On the one hand, I decided to exclude these areas at least for the first stage of the project. On the other hand, my awareness of how fast the desert is advancing in some parts of Europe has increased and I plan to start a conversation around this issue. 
  • I’ve reactivated and expanded my network of experts and we’ve had some very insightful and encouraging discussions.

Now I feel much more encouraged as I’m better informed and feel supported by like-minded people. One of the things I’ve learnt from the Masters on Sustainability Leadership at Cambridge University is that, whatever challenge you want to tackle, most of the information you need is already out there, and that’s the main resource that will help any Sustainability Leader in engaging key stakeholders. In my view, collaboration and partnerships are the foundation for reconstructive innovation.

By Green Ubuntu

Turning to the professional dimension, I’m currently making a temporary contribution to a global project which aims to improve the sustainability performance of businesses involved in international trade in commodities such as palm oil, coffee and soya (which use vast amounts of deforested land). I have also been teaching international students on sustainable development and sustainable energy.

To finish with, my future steps are the following:

  • In August I will go to see five potential plots of land. I will travel many miles and I plan to do so by using car-sharing platforms such as BlaBlaCar. Furthermore, I’ll expend several days with an experienced farming family, who will share valuable knowledge with me.
  • In terms of sustainable housing, I’ll opt for an approach based on a wooden structure with external walls built with straw bales. I’ll give more details about the benefits of this solution and about my progress in that area in the next post.

I hope that my journey will inspire other people to undertake new sustainable adventures regardless of their backgrounds and current situation.

6 thoughts on “My sustainability challenge: reconstructive innovation

  1. I am amazed that you are truly pursuing this leadership challenge no matter how difficult it may sound. Your blog post really acts as a proof that engaging others (call them stakeholders) is a way forward. Seeing the interest from the members of your family is already an achievement, because it is a misconception that family would support any idea you have. Yes, your relatives may be indeed more willing than anyone else to trust you and get inspired, but we all know that family also consists of people who know you extremely well – too well to refrain from constructive criticism. Therefore, getting their support is already a small step in the right direction and, of course, an opportunity to practice your pitches. It is remarkable that you already approached companies and, surely, the forestry sector is going to grow, if multinationals want to keep their carbon balance right.

    From your blog post, I have not understood in which country you are exploring the plots of land, but if they are located Britain, it is worth talking to the charity Trees For Life. They have on-hands expertise in greening the country, and have a lot of useful tips and are very well aware of all limitations and obstacles that you may face.

    What surprised me most, was that you announced several challenges at the beginning of the year and haven’t picked one in the end, but you seem to be pursuing several of them. I wonder, how do you manage this time and passion-wise? It is sometimes so hard to learn just 1 new habit, let alone several challenges… What’s you secret tip? Or do you actually regard your whole life as one single sustainability challenge? I am also interested, how your family and friends react to all those changes and challenges in your life. How do you manage to convince and inspire them?

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    1. Hi Pragmagreen, thank you very much for your comment. Always so constructive and encouraging. I have to confess that I’m not taking specific actions to convince people. Twenty years ago I was a very harsh person telling people what they should be doing and why. This behavior had really bad effects. Although I influenced some people who changed their behavior I became unpopular in the sense that some people preferred to avoid having a conversation with me. In the last twenty years I have learned that nobody wants you to give them advice unless they ask for it. Therefore I decided to just focus on maximizing my own impact. Only if someone asks me, I explain what I’m doing, with passion. It seems that giving “unintentional” example works, specially if you communicate what you do with passion. People become interested and suddenly someone wants to be involved or wants to do something similar.

      Regarding to your question about the scope of the challenge and my energy to do so. Two years ago I was working in a multinational company living in Barcelona next to the see and I decided to break with all to move to the UK and specialize in global sustainable development. When I did this I forced myself to start drawing a whole new life on a blank paper. I’m trying to do so as sustainability as possible. Of course at the beginning it was hard for some people to understand my decisions and it is also true that the journey has not always been easy, there have been very hard moments. In any case the energy that keeps me going is the conviction that I’m the right path.

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  2. Hi Julie, I am impressed by your seriousness and dedicated efforts towards your idea of purchasing land for reforestation. I remembered that you mentioned about it last time we met. Now you are even getting more ambitious: 10 hectares – how wonderful!! And I like the enthusiasm and support your whole family has been giving you. It sounds like they all get involved actively! By chance, I have started some similar endeavor in China. Like you, I have always had this dream of having a sustainable house somewhere. Working in a big city is okay. But for living, I need to be surrounded with nature. There is an eco-island near Shanghai. A friend and I are looking at renting or buying a place with a small piece of land so we can build a sustainable house for restaurants & get-away retreat purposes, with the possibility to grow our own vegetables. We shall keep each other updated if we make further progress on these.

    On the other side, I am also happy to see the progress you have made on the career. Particularly, I like the teaching role you take to help international students learn more about sustainable development and sustainable energy. I landed at Kochi International Airport in India two days ago. It was really interesting as I didn’t realize that it is the world’s first airport fully run by solar energy. The project is also a great commercial success. What you are doing is so important. Please continue carrying on all the good work and spirit. From our last conversations, I remembered that you wanted to move to more senior roles where you can practice leadership skills, managing a team etc.. How is this going?

    Your next steps look concrete and exciting. Good luck! I am certainly looking forward to hearing more as your journey goes along.

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    1. Hi Chrysalis,

      Thank you so much for your comment and your encouragement.

      I have been visiting some pieces of land the last days and I have to say that it is not that easy to find a convenient combination between affordability, access to water, manageability (required maintenance works and costs) and suitability for the in-mind sustainable business models. I have the hope that as it happened in the past with other searches, having the clear idea of what I want to find, the sooner or the later I will find it.

      Your plans in the eco-island near to Shanghai sound exciting. I also need to be surrounded by nature. Will you auto-build your house? Which kind of constructions are there?

      Thank you for appreciating my teaching role, I agree that teaching is a very powerful tool to rise sustainability awareness. My other role doesn’t imply to guide or coordinate a team. Maybe is not my moment yet and probably in the UK it is a bit more difficult for me to opt to such a position. In any case at the moment what I care the most is to contribute to as much positive impact as possible and in the meanwhile if I align my profession with my element, a progression should flow naturally.

      Thank you again for your friendship and encouragement. I look forward to receiving your photos from India. I’m sure you are living a super experience!

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  3. Hi Julie, I echo the others’ thoughts: what an inspiring plan. I love the way you after engaging work so many people to make it happen.
    Many years ago I had a deal similar to toss to create a self-sufficient smallholding. While my plans didn’t materialise I very much hope yours do.
    Here is a book they provided me with a lot of great ideas and inspiration, is useful:
    https://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Complete-Book-Self-Sufficiency-realists/dp/0751364428
    Good luck! Oliver

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    1. Dear Oliver,

      Thank you very much for reading my blog and for your nice comments.

      It is a pity that you haven’t build your own self-sufficient smallholding yet. The good news is that you still have time to do it if you wish to. It is never too late 🙂

      Thank you for recommending this book. I remember that I had it in my hands once when browsing through several books in a library. I’ll buy it!

      I hope you will keep reading my posts. In the last week, we did much progress and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you in the next post.

      Do you have a blog post I could follow too?

      Best wishes,
      Julie

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