Green.org sat down with Isabel Fernández de la Fuente, a Spanish native and Communications & Media Relations Manager at EcoAct UK & USA. Isabel shares why she started working in cleantech and renewable energy, and the importance of helping companies reduce their carbon footprint.
Isabel, thank you for being here. Tell us a little bit about you and your background:
I believe building a better world was in the back of my head when I enrolled at the University of Law a few decades ago. Though what that would look like was still not completely clear. What I did know was that I wanted to experience and learn new things from different people, so after a few years of studying in my native Spain, I decided to move abroad and continue my studies in Germany. Freiburg and its university checked many boxes: small but international, lively, vibrant, hidden in the middle of the Black Forest. It reminded me of those fairy tales from the Grimm brothers I used to read as a child.
What I realized only later, is that Freiburg im Breisgau is considered one of the greenest cities in the world, and has a long history of tackling climate change, using an integrated approach to energy management, transport and land use, as well as urban liveability. With people at the heart of decision-making, citizen participation has always been present in many of the city’s initiatives and policies, such as opposition to the planned nuclear power plant back in the 70s. Being immersed in this new reality made me understand the value of acting to protect our environment and resources.
The power of people in driving change, with no intention of waiting for political action, brought me to my first job at ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability – a global network of more than 2,500 local and regional governments committed to sustainable urban development, and later to C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group – a global network of mayors taking urgent action to confront the climate crisis. These 12 years working with climate leaders worldwide, continuing to raise the bar on tackling the climate crisis, helped me realize the power of communication in channelling the urgency to bring stakeholders together and deliver transformational change for people and the planet.
So I decided that this is what I would do. I would help people see clearly the challenges humankind is facing, and communicate how each of us can play a role in making things better. The private sector is one of the main emitters, and thus a key player in reducing our carbon footprint. Its action in the next eight years will be vital for meeting the 1.5 degree Paris Agreement goal. After more than a decade of working with mayors and the public sector, I felt the need to see the other side of things and understand how to untap companies’ potential to combat climate change.
I chose EcoAct, an Atos company, because as a climate consultancy and project developer, they offer a unique portfolio of services and solutions, walking companies across multiple sectors through all steps of their decarbonisation journey. From understanding and managing their carbon footprint and setting science-based emissions reduction targets to integrating climate risk into their decision-making and contributing to the net-zero transition through innovative nature-based solutions. Effectively, our mission is to support companies define and implement credible corporate roadmaps to accelerate net-zero delivery.
Climate science is filled with uncertainties, and it’s not always easy to visualise what we can do to reverse global warming, as individuals and, even more so, as organisations. Within my role as Communications and Media Relations Manager, I work closely with companies and support them in setting up strong, transparent, and creative communications to turn science-led climate strategies into action.
What is a fun fact about you?
To support my studies at the University of Freiburg, I used to work at the local Irish pub which was conveniently located just behind the university library. I remember that, during the finals, I was running back and forth between the two buildings, late for work, my backpack filled with books and erratic notes. On Fridays, I used to hang out with a bunch of international people who came in for a few pints and a game of darts. We used to share jokes and good laughs, which was nice to decompress after a long day. Some of them, perhaps after one beer too many, were apt to share fun things, and I often teased them in their future visits. For some strange reason, I never got to ask why they were all living in Freiburg. The answer came a year later when I got a job at ICLEI. I saw them all in front of me, shaking their heads, whispering to each other as my supervisor introduced me to the different teams, probably surprised to see their Friday waiter as their new colleague (and probably slightly embarrassed for all the tipsy conversations we had). That was the moment when I realised I had made the right decision. And here we are, almost 15 years later, still in touch, and pulling in the same direction to achieve sustainability. They have become lifelong friends.
Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?
Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We are all affected, no matter where in the world we live. From extreme weather events that put agriculture at risk leading to supply chain disruptions and shortages of key goods, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding. The case is closed: 99.9% of scientists agree that global warming is caused mainly by human activity. Yet, politicians, entrepreneurs and many people don’t see the immediate need to act, or don’t know how to go about it. But we are far from powerless when tackling this global threat. It’s time to rethink almost every aspect of how we do things and start transforming the way we think and act. Fast.
This means changing, for example, how we use land, how we grow and process our food, how we transport goods, or how we power our industry. We need to transition away from business as usual, and while we decarbonise our economy, take full responsibility for our climate impact now. All of this without forgetting that the impact of climate change is not being felt equally around the world. 10% of the global population generates more than 50% of global emissions, whilst large proportions of the population continue to lack access to basic freedoms and services.
We recently saw how temperatures reached up to 51 degrees Celsius in parts of India and Pakistan, and it will take months to understand its full health and economic fallout. Most of the solutions are at hand: investing in renewable energy, fostering innovation, upskilling task forces, building alliances across supply chains, investing in nature by protecting biodiversity and ecosystems, building stronger local and circular food systems, and helping consumers understand how changing some of their habits can have a tremendously positive impact on the environment.
Taking action on the climate crisis can help us rethink the world we want to live in, leading us to a more inclusive society and economy, leaving no one behind. And this imaginative effort feels empowering. It can even be fun. Local actions and initiatives and new circular business concepts are offering new ways of living that offer people what they need while building a new-found sense of community. From the people, for the people.
What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?
It’s clear that leading and responsible companies are increasingly taking action to both reduce their carbon footprint in line with climate science and become resilient to the impacts of climate change. They understand that environmental issues will impact their long-term growth one way or the other, so better to be ahead of the curve. The pressure from investors, customers and asset managers to put sustainability at the top of the agenda is constantly increasing. Climate change is already transforming the global financial system and how it looks at risks and assets.
As a consequence, acting upon climate change is no longer optional for companies. It’s a way to stand out amongst competitors or to build a positive brand to retain and gain customers. It has become imperative. In the next decade, we will see companies raising their climate ambition to be able to contribute to the net-zero imperative as fast as possible, using every tool at their disposal. Not only focusing on reducing their carbon footprint and setting science-based emissions reduction targets but also promoting green procurement policies, driving innovation, fostering collaboration with both suppliers and customers, and engaging in education and policy making. Companies have understood that a change for the better is not only possible, but also profitable.
What can the average person do to make a difference?
Generally speaking, it’s about understanding that resources are not unlimited and that we must use them wisely. Taking shorter showers to save water; turning off the lights when not needed; turning down the heating a degree or two; avoiding food waste; eating local, healthy food and reducing our meat consumption; moving away from packaged products; thinking twice before we buy that new pair of shoes; using public transport to go to work or to our favourite restaurant, or reconsidering the holiday overseas and planning a train trip instead. All these small actions have an impact and can support shifting the way we think about resources and our planet. It’s also about challenging others, the city you live in or your energy provider.
Tell them that protecting the environment matters to you and that you expect real action from them. Find out what your bank is investing in or where your pension fund is currently invested and move to ethical banks and funds if you are not satisfied with their investment strategies and purpose. Most importantly, it’s time to listen to what others have to say, to be compassionate and learn how to share the planet we have created together.