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9 February 2022

Sian Conway-Wood Q&A: “On climate, there’s too much talk and not enough action”

The sustainability expert on the suffragettes, leaving the corporate world behind, and her hero Dolly Parton.

By New Statesman

Sian Conway-Wood was born in Barnsley in 1990 and is the founder of Ethical Hour, an online community supporting sustainable businesses. In 2018 she was named the UK’s Green & Eco Influencer of the Year.

What’s your earliest memory?

Discussions around the family dinner table. I grew up in a house where we were encouraged to talk politics over dinner, even if it led to disagreements.

Who are your heroes?

Dolly Parton. Her Imagination Library has given out more than 100 million free books to children, she helped fund the Covid vaccine, she champions environmental causes – and she writes music you can dance around the kitchen to!

What book last changed your thinking?

Politics is for Power by Eitan Hersh transformed my relationship with news consumption and challenged how I participate in politics.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Ken Robinson, an adviser on education. He was influential in championing creativity and innovation.

What would be your “Mastermind” specialist subject?

Working in communications I learn about a lot of different subjects, from the pros and cons of tree planting to ethical fashion. But if I really had to take a deep dive into a subject it would be the original Jurassic Park film. I could probably still recite it by heart.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d join the suffragettes in the early 20th century and learn how to really create change with deeds not words.

What TV show could you not live without?

The Great British Bake Off, or anything narrated by the soothing tones of David Attenborough: cake and hope!

Who would paint your portrait?

Artemisia Gentileschi, so I could hear her life story while I sat for her.

What’s your theme tune?

“9 to 5” by Dolly Parton – it reminds me why I love working for myself.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Know the outcome you want to achieve before you start the process. It sounds simple, but it’s where so many campaigns miss the mark. If you know the outcome you want, you can focus on the most impactful way to get there.

What’s currently bugging you?

There’s too much talk and not enough action. Too many people are feeling powerless in the face of global problems, but it’s not about grand gestures: it’s about the small actions we can all take every day to move towards the world we want.

What single thing would make your life better?

Knowing that the planet will not be on fire in 20 years’ time.

When were you happiest?

Hosting the Be The Change Awards in 2019, when we could put on a ball gown and sip champagne together, celebrating the small business owners, activists and campaigners that are having a positive impact on the planet. I can’t wait to be in a room full of inspiring people again.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I left a corporate career behind to do the work I do now. Even in another life I think I’d find my way into a role campaigning for change in some form or another.

Are we all doomed?

Yes. Unless we start working together and taking action.

“Buy Better, Consume Less: Create Real Environmental Change” by Sian Conway-Wood is published by Icon Books

[see also: Susan Golombok Q&A: “People often say the family is doomed. I disagree”]

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This article appears in the 09 Feb 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Sunak's Game