Harriet Lamb is the CEO of Ashden, an organization promoting sustainable energy and supporting initiatives against climate change. In this chat with Impakter, we will find out more about her career, her thoughts about sustainable development and most important about how she is shaping her future.
Prior to becoming CEO of Ashden, you were the CEO of International Alert, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation and then CEO of Fairtrade International. How have these experiences shaped your life and how do they impact your current role at Ashden?
Harriet Lamb: I learned my politics from Indian activists who saw development and environment as one. If you were harming the environment, then clearly it was not development. Sadly most people were not listening but it affected my world view.
Personally, I first heard about climate change from Fairtrade coffee smallholders telling me how the weather had gone mad: that it rained when it should be sunny and was sunny when it normally rained. Then more and more farmers were affected by mudslides, torrential rains, droughts, hurricanes. The climate crisis was clear and was hitting those who had done the least to cause it and had the least resources to cope.
Later, when I worked in building peace in countries in conflict, I discovered how climate change is an exacerbating factor of conflict – for example with drought forcing people to migrate, that then causes tension with other people. Gradually I decided that with just ten years to stop global warming, I wanted to focus on that. Ashden is a wonderful opportunity to highlight the solutions to climate change that exist and all the inspiring people, in developing and richer countries, who are creating the living alternative – showing how we can have a greener and a fairer world.
You have received several awards including Orange Businesswoman of the Year, Cosmopolitan EcoQueen and a CBE. Which one of those do you feel prouder of? Why?
Harriet Lamb: They all belong to the whole Fairtrade movement; you have to a figurehead who receives them but the awards belong to the grassroots social movement who helped put Fairtrade on the map and to the farmers and workers who are the beating heart of Fairtrade.
As a messy, lifelong campaigner, it still makes me laugh that I should be named businesswoman of the year or Cosmo Ecoqueen, both of which are so important as we need to reach out all the time to engage wider communities and new people and these awards help do that.
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In your book Fighting the Banana Wars and Other Fairtrade Battles, you explain how people should always make sure that the products they are using or buying should not be a result of the worsening of someone else’s conditions in other parts of the world.
Do you think a similar philosophy could be applied to Ashden’s main area of interest, energy?
Harriet Lamb: Absolutely. Stopping climate change is the fight of our lives. We have ten years – just ten years – to stop global warming. And, we know that those that have contributed the least to it will suffer the most and are already feeling the effects of extreme weather, fires, floods, and droughts.
So every individual has to play their part: walking instead of driving, not buying goods wrapped in plastic, encouraging renewable energy, joining local groups campaigning for change – and calling on governments and businesses to take the big bold steps that are needed. No-one expected that offshore wind or solar energy would take off as fast as they have in Europe – now we have to build on that success and go further, faster.
Can you tell us more about the Ashden Awards? Specifically, what categories do they cover, what do you look for in a winner, etc.? Any award recipients from this year that you would like to highlight in particular?
Harriet Lamb: The Ashden Awards have been running since 2001 and we have 225 winners from around the world that are improving the lives of millions. They save over 13 million tonnes of carbon every year. Our winners range from south American cities re-greening their streets to provide shading and new cycle routes, under-floor insulating robots in the UK, and global innovation in cryogenic storage and solar-powered fridges for vaccines in India.
The 2020 Ashden Awards see us highlighting some new areas for us, including climate-friendly cooling, humanitarian energy, and nature-based solutions. We believe that the solutions to the climate crisis already exist and need highlighting so that the investors and policymakers can see what needs to change.