Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2023: Emma Richards, The Carbon Literacy Project

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. Up next, The Carbon Literacy Project's head of development Emma Richards.

Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2023: Emma Richards, The Carbon Literacy Project

More than just a list, edie’s annual 30 Under 30 initiative shines a spotlight on talented sustainability and net-zero professionals – aged under 30 – who are delivering on efforts to build a better future and showing fantastic promise for their future potential.

After a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19, the initiative has returned for 2023-4, with the new class having been announced last September.

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.

Our next profile interview is with Emma Richards, head of development at The Carbon Literacy Project. Emma is also a Commissioner for the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission.

How I got to where I am now:

“Like many, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a career when I was at school.

“I’d always been interested in our planet, having been exposed to some wonderful places and observing the glacial retreat of the Mer de Glace within my lifetime. This led me to weave climate change into art projects and into my personal statement when applying to study BSc Geography after taking A Levels in geography, fine art, English literature and biology.

“However, it wasn’t until I undertook Carbon Literacy® training at university that I had that lightbulb moment and really ‘got it’ on climate.

“Although I was proactively studying climate modules as part of my degree, that one day’s training reframed everything. Climate change was no longer something merely academic, or for others, scientists or governments, to fix. It became tangible and something that I could actively influence by taking action in my personal and professional life. I realised the potential for Carbon Literacy to shift awareness and action on climate, and knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life.

“Later that year, the opportunity to become a student Carbon Literacy Trainer (CLT) at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) was offered and I grabbed it with both hands, becoming the first accredited CLT and going on to deliver training across England, France and Germany.

“My desire to get further involved with Carbon Literacy led me to volunteer with The Project before joining the staff team. As the team has expanded, my responsibilities have grown and my role has morphed into what it is now. I am incredibly grateful for the unique experiences I received at MMU that have led me to where I am now.”

My biggest career achievement to date has been:

“Whilst by no means something I’ve achieved on my own, I’m most proud of the impact and growth of The Carbon Literacy Project and the role I’ve played, in various capacities – learner, trainer, volunteer, staff member, leader – over the best part of the last decade, in helping to drive forward our exponential growth.

“From a team of three with 4,000 learners reached over four years, we have grown to a team of 80, now reaching over 4000 learners per month, with over 338,000 tonnes CO2e saved to date.

“Seeing where we are today and the impact we are having is beyond anything I could’ve imagined when starting out. With a growth rate of around 50% per year, our trajectory puts us on track to reach a million learners and over 3,602,000 tonnes CO2e mitigated by 2030.”

The biggest challenge I have encountered has been:

“Staying positive and motivated in the face of the climate crisis.

“It can often feel like there’s an onslaught of negative news stories, damning scientific reports, and persistent platforming of misinformation and denialists. With this, it can feel as if the weight of the world is upon you and no matter how much you give, nothing is enough.

“However, it’s been said that the most effective cure for climate pessimism is action. I’m incredibly privileged that, through my work, I get to take meaningful action on climate every day.

“Seeing the impact that Carbon Literacy training has on the individuals, communities, organisations and sectors that we work with, and the ripples of change that cascade from these projects, fills me with hope for the future. When individuals are provided with knowledge and skills, and empowered to act, zero-carbon cultural change is possible.”

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

“Drivers of change.”

A successful 2024 for me looks like:

“Increasing access to Carbon Literacy globally.

Ultimately, every individual should have the equal opportunity to understand their role in addressing the climate crisis and how they can benefit from joining the growing green economy.

“Within the next 12 months, we’ll be launching our Community Pot to support Global South communities’ access to Carbon Literacy training. We have also been successful in securing funding to support the adaptation of existing Carbon Literacy sectoral toolkits into nine new nations. We’ll be looking to collaborate with organisations in our existing core sectors, operating internationally, to support this development and dissemination.

“As a project, we’re also rapidly approaching the milestone of reaching 100,000 learners, with over 360,000 tonnes CO2e saved. With this comes great potential but also requires consolidation of, and investment in, the structures and processes that sit behind the numbers, to enable them to continue to support and accelerate that rapid growth trajectory now and into the future.”

Outside of my day job, I enjoy:

“Being outdoors, in the mountains, and spending time in nature. I enjoy hiking, climbing, swimming, and cycling. I get a lot of gratification from the sense of freedom and perspective they can bring, from exploring new paths and places, and by pushing myself to go further and faster.

“That being said, I also benefit by slowing down and being more aware of my surroundings, whether that be butterfly or fungi spotting, foraging, gardening, painting and drawing.

“I’ve found being outdoors, in whatever form, to be a vital part of my life, health and happiness, so try to make it a regular part of my day. I think it’s incredibly important to have regenerative practices such as these in which you can completely switch off from your work and come back feeling refreshed and renewed.”

My ‘Mission Possible’ message for business leaders is:

“Every job should be a climate job, as everyone has a role to play in the transition to a zero carbon society. This starts with education- all of your people need to understand and feel ownership of your climate targets.

“However, it is vital that any education initiative delivered is relevant to the needs of your people and leads to tangible and significant action. By empowering your people to be a part of the solution, and giving them the permission to lead change within your organisation, you will greatly enhance your capacity to deliver on your climate and sustainability strategy.”

My key piece of advice for any young people entering my profession today is:

“Work is such a huge part of our lives that I really believe it’s of the utmost importance that you enjoy what you do, and that you’re surrounded by a team that supports and nurtures your career and wellbeing.

“This is imperative when working in climate, where the collective cost of failure and the associated mental and emotional burden can be high. Know that change is possible, but it takes time, and it’s not all on your shoulders.

“Take all the opportunities you can get and put yourself out there, as you never know where it may lead you. To be cliché, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so don’t write yourself off without even trying. Submit the application or the proposal even if you think you’ll be declined. You could find yourself in a position better than you ever imagined.”

The full 30 Under 30 Class of 2023 membership is detailed here

To stay in the loop for the next round of annual nominations for the 30 Under 30, email [email protected]. Nominations will open this summer.

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