Meet edie's 30 Under 30 Class of 2019: Jess Ainley, Little Freddie

This new series profiles the members of edie's 30 Under 30 - a nomination-based community of 30 hugely talented young sustainability and energy professionals who have already achieved great things or are showing fantastic promise. Next up: Jess Ainley, environmental & sustainability manager at organic baby food firm Little Freddie.

Jess has been at Little Freddie for just over a year and has previously worked in the food supply chain, environmental consultancy and environmental justice spaces

Jess has been at Little Freddie for just over a year and has previously worked in the food supply chain, environmental consultancy and environmental justice spaces

The future of business leadership starts right here. Earlier this year, edie unveiled the inaugural members of its brand new 30 Under 30 initiative – a group of bright and ambitious rising sustainability and energy stars from across the UK.

After being nominated by their colleagues and impressing judges from Global Action Plan and the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (ICRS), this cohort of youthful visionaries now benefit from an unrivalled opportunity to connect with one another and co-develop solutions to some of the most pressing environmental and social challenges of our time.

In this weekly series, we will be sharing their stories and successes beyond the group, giving edie readers insight into the minds of those who will be leading the charge in creating the low-carbon, resource-efficient economies of the future.

This week, it's the turn of Jess Ainley, environmental & sustainability manager at organic baby food start-up brand Little Freddie. 

How I got to where I am now:

“Studying for an undergraduate Geography degree at Oxford really sparked my interest in the interactions which people have with nature. I specifically chose a course that covered both human and physical geography as I was always interested in both.

“After that, I went on to study my Masters’ in environment, science and society at UCL, which led to me writing a dissertation on environmental justice and subsequently undertaking a research internship at the Environmental Justice Foundation. There, I was mainly looking at the sustainability challenges in cocoa supply chains, which inspired me to travel to places like coffee farms in Colombia to gain first-hand experience of sustainable practices in supply chains.

“When I finished the internship and returned from travelling, I decided I wanted to go into the sustainable business sphere. My first job was at Sancroft, the sustainability consultancy chaired by Lord Deben. Working across a breadth of industries highlighted to me my real passion for the food industry. I then moved to Sainsbury’s, where I gained deeper experience of sustainable and ethical food sourcing.

“When the opportunity at Little Freddie came up, I knew it would be a great opportunity because, as a start-up, I would have the responsibility of setting the sustainability activities up from scratch.”

My biggest career achievement to date has been:

“Creating and implementing Little Freddie’s Big Green Plan right from the start.

“This is our set of 20 targets to achieve by 2025, categorised under three pillars – planet, people and packaging. I worked from the chief executive level down to get buy-in for the plan and now we’re implementing it.

“I love working for an ambitious new company that wants to challenge the status quo.”

The biggest challenge I have encountered along the way is:

“Dealing with the fact that people who seem to have the same sustainability goals can unintentionally make things harder for each other to succeed.

“In this, my biggest challenges have been learning how to manage and consider the approaches and priorities of multiple stakeholders when designing sustainability projects and getting people who are used to thinking about shorter-term horizons to see the benefit of taking longer-term approaches.” 

If I had to describe my generation in one word or phrase, I would say:

“Conscious consumers.”

A successful 2019-20 for me looks like:

“Mainly continuing to develop Little Freddie’s Big Green Plan and implementing the sustainability activities necessary to drive progress towards targets across the breadth of the strategy. Our ambition is to become the UK’s most sustainable baby food brand.

“Educating our consumers and bringing them along on this journey with us will be a key focus – particularly through the growth of our pouch recycling scheme. For this project, I’d ideally like to help us partner with more retailers and local authorities over the next 12 months.”

In five years’ time, I would like to be:

“Managing a sustainability team at a food company which is ambitious in this space. I’d love to continue to broaden my work to make the food industry more sustainable across the entirety of our supply chains and make this holistic approach ‘business as usual’.

“Another key area I want to focus more on is to make buying sustainable products the easiest choice for consumers.”

Outside of my career, I enjoy:

“I regularly spend time volunteering at the Felix Project, which is an amazing food redistribution charity based in London.

“Like many of the other 30 Under 30 members, I enjoy travelling and generally being outdoors. Cooking and eating new cuisines are another passion of mine.”

My ‘Mission Possible’ message for business is:

“Embrace sustainability and embed it across all business functions – this is truly how I believe companies of the future will continue to thrive in an increasingly competitive landscape.

“And for food companies specifically – help people eat less meat and more organic products. The global food system is a major contributor to climate change, so if we can help people to manage their impacts through what they eat, this will make a big difference.”

My key piece of advice for any young professionals entering my industry today is:

“Be passionate - learn as much as you can and believe in what you are trying to achieve.

“But being patient is just as important. In sustainability, it takes a long time for the positive impacts of good work to be seen. Just because nothing will change overnight, doesn’t mean that change won’t happen at all.”

The full Class of 2019 series can be viewed here.

To stay in the loop for 2020 nominations for the 30 Under 30, email edieleaders@fav-house.com.

edie staff



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