Really Upworthy?

10th September 2014 by

Every day I get updates from Upworthy into my email inbox. I’m not alone – the site has almost 7 million likes on Facebook. Sometimes I read the updates, sometimes I don’t – but generally it’s good to know that when I do open those emails they are full of videos and infographics that challenge much of the oppressive status quo that exists in our society today. Prejudice and oppression based on gender, religion, sexuality and race are regularly tackled, and there is often input about serious environmental issues – like climate change for example. Not only that, but the content tends to have a feel good element, and inspire some hope that things could be different! True, there’s the occasional advert posted as an inspiring video, which jars a little, because I don’t think equality should be a selling point (it should be a given), but all in all it’s a pretty inspiring job they all do.

computingYesterday, I opened an email from Upworthy – it was about about the upcoming UN Climate Summit and Upworthy’s involvement. I was just a teeny tiny (read: huge) bit surprised when I noticed a ‘U’ in the corner. The ‘U’ was none other than Unilever’s logo, announcing their sponsorship. In Unilever’s own words “[o]n any given day, two billion people use Unilever products”. Two billion people?? That’s quite a lot, almost a third of the whole world’s population. What do Unilever make, you might ask, and why are they sponsoring this? A quick look on their homepage shows me the following brands: Lynx, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, Knorr, Dove, Surf, Persil, PG Tips, Lipton, Wall’s, Colman’s Mustard… the list goes on. In essence, purveyors of highly processed products. There are any number of reasons that these types of products could be questioned – health impacts, treatment of workers, transparency, the environment. To find out more I’d recommend a read of  this report ‘Behind the Brand’: it’s a report by Oxfam on the ethics of ‘Big 10′ food companies, of which Unilever is one. Although Unilever is better than some – they still have a very long way to go.

As our topic is climate change, let’s stick with a couple of the environmental concerns. Body and cleaning products are usually derived from oil and chemicals – aside from the environmental impact of fairtradetheir manufacture, their impact once used, and their packaging (from plastic to aerosol cans) can be highly damaging. (Luckily their are lots of low impact ways to make your own – try this link.) A thought on some of the ‘food’ produced and marketed by Unilever doesn’t inspire a huge amount more hope. At Otesha our purchasing policy is to buy Fairtrade and organic tea and coffee. PG Tips bears the Rainforest foundation mark, which goes someway to protecting biodiversity, but doesn’t guarantee fair trade for the producers. But I’ve heard that non-organic food products, reliant on chemical pesticides and fertilisers, and usually grown in monocultures – are not great for biodiversity and again there is a big impact from the manufacture and use of chemicals. Industrial agriculture has massive carbon outputs too – a really good read to find out more in this area is Stolen Harvest by Vandana Shiva.

There’s so much more I could add here, but I think you catch my drift. So why am I writing all of this? I guess I’m just worried when companies so involved in creating the environmental crisis devise projects and sponsorship to ‘change the world’ when it’s really the core of their business operations that needs to change. I get the need for business to change, but I don’t believe that what they’re doing is changing their business. In their own words, they’re worried about climate change because they’re worried about profit. When smaller or charitable organisations take support from such organisations  and advertise it – whilst the companies continue to manufacture products in environmentally destructive ways – the word greenwash creeps to mind. Companies, cooperatives, organisations that produce and trade in environmentally and socially ethical ways don’t need their logo plastered onto other people’s projects – because they are already part of the solution. As individuals let’s support these positive alternatives to build a future that is healthy for people and planet (if you’re in Hackney try Growing Communities for food!) and let’s support other organisations to take a similar stand against greenwash!

One year on from San Francisco – are green jobs gaining traction in the UK?

4th May 2012 by

I can’t believe that it’s been over a year since I was in San Francisco cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge, eating ice cream in the grounds of UC Berkeley, and strolling down Haight-Ashbury.

Oh yes, AND learning and being inspired by tons of California green jobs projects, as part of the IPPR West Coast Green Alliances learning exchange. Many of you read and responded to my blog posts from California, and I thought that now would be a great time to take stock of what has happened in the UK since then. I want to ask whether we have managed to implement any of the lessons that we learned in California; what more needs to be done; and are we any closer to making that transition to a just, green economy?

What have we been doing?

In answer to that first question, there is a ton of exciting green jobs stuff that’s happened and got off the ground in the past year. Here is a run down of some of the projects that have been initiated and managed by those on the learning exchange. 

- IPPR released a report in July 2011, Green Expectations: Lessons from the U.S. green jobs Market. More recently, they have turned their attentions to the potential economic and social impact that might arise from the Green Deal.

The Greener Jobs Alliance, led by UCU, has launched the Green Skills Manifesto (if you’d like to endorse it, and been busy working with South Thames College and Sustainable Merton to provide training in green skills. Watch their video on Community Approaches to the Green Deal.

Capacity Global convened the London Greener Jobs Hub in the months after the learning exchange, with a view to create leadership in London on green jobs and provide an information hub. Keep your eyes peeled for a launch event in September, as well as a green jobs fair! Their Skin project is also up and running, working with the hair and beauty industry to demonstrate that we can create green and decent jobs within non-traditional green industries.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation have continued to be an exciting and progressive funder, supporting the work of The Otesha Project UK and their Greener Jobs Pipeline project, the London Greener Jobs Hub, the Transition Network’s ReEconomy project, and the Finance Innovation Lab, among many others!

Friends of the Earth took the government to court over the cuts to the feed-in tariff, and won! Our Solar Future estimate that the FIT cuts threaten 25,000 jobs in the UK.

Oxfam Scotland have been doing amazing stuff setting up social enterprises that plant trees as a means to regenerate marginal land for community benefit. On the employability front, they are developing a programme on community improvement and sustainable development in secondary schools with a view to increasing awareness and employability skills for the green economy, and a programme for young unemployed people is currently underway. 

Claverhouse have been able to sustain 5 full-time equivalent jobs in their construction materials reclaim/recycling enterprise and are now producing a tonne of wood fuel briquettes per week from recycled timber!

The Climate Alliance renamed itself the Alliance for Jobs, Climate and Communities and is currently planning a big campaign…

And I have been really busy at The Otesha Project UK, moving ahead with our work with the East London Green Jobs Alliance (so many alliances..).

So I think, maybe, we’ve done a pretty good job as a team since our return from California! Granted, we don’t have a green economy yet, but we sure as hell are paddling fast to get there.

What else is going on?

There are some other very cool things going on too, including the One Million Climate Jobs Caravan (coming to a town near you in a couple of weeks), and the UK Youth Climate Coalition Youth for Green Jobs campaign. Actually, there are too many cool things going on for me to list. Upsetting that I can’t list everything, but also kind of heartening!

What more needs to happen?

Um, a lot. Because unemployment is kerazeee right now and that pesky climate just won’t settle down. Because the solutions being presented through government programmes, like Workfare, are neither green nor decent. If you want me to talk about, you know, actual concrete things, then I suggest that we can all shine a spotlight on the UN Earth Summit come June (also known as the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development). Why? Because they are negotiating two big themes, and a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication is one of them. This is a crucial opportunity to shout loud about the commitment we want to see from nation states in making the transition to a green economy, by making actionable plans that will create green and decent jobs, and promote access to green skills. So why not sign up for updates and take action. I will also be following the negotiations and blogging from Rio, so may be sending along a personalised update or two…

So that’s the One-Year-On update! Well done if you got to the end, since it was looong. But I think that’s testament to the fact that, although we’re operating in a very difficult economic and political climate at the moment, things are still moving forward. We are pushing ahead and little by little, change is happening.

UN summits, flying, decisions, decisions, decisions: or, how we think we change the world.

27th April 2012 by

I’m on a bit of a 90s kick at the moment – dungarees, lots of plaid, long straggly hair, and Grandmaster Flash on the stereo.

And it’s not just me feeling nostalgic, even the United Nations (UN) is rewinding to the 90s! You might not remember (I was only nine), but in 1992 the UN held its first ever conference on environment and development, otherwise known as the Rio Earth Summit. Lots of things came out of this conference, including an agreement on the Climate Change Convention (which in turn led to the Kyoto Protocol), and an agreement to “not carry out any activities on the lands of indigenous peoples that would cause environmental degradation or that would be culturally inappropriate”.

In other words, it was at this conference that the world set standards for itself on how to develop in a sustainable way. Twenty years on we are, of course, struggling to meet these standards. Every day brings another headline about some environmental challenge or injustice that is happening somewhere in the world. The 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, where we had hoped to find solutions for many of these challenges, was widely accepted as a failure. It seems that we need another boost of inspiration, determination, optimism, and motivation to get things moving again in the right direction.

Cue the Rio Earth Summit that’s happening this June, 20 years after the original (also known as Rio+20)! At this conference, the UN aims to get Heads of State and other bigwigs together, to assess how progress is going towards internationally agreed commitments, and to secure further political commitments to sustainable development. They will also be negotiating on two main themes, which are… drumroll….

- Green Economy in the context of Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development

- Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development

It’s not only bigwigs that will be there at this conference. Lots of representatives from ‘Civil Society’ will be there too, including NGOs, indigenous peoples, farmers, and an estimated 2000 young people! You can bet your bottom dollar that there will be a ton of lobbyists from business and industry too.

So, why am I telling you all this? Firstly, knowledge is power! And secondly, I will be one of the 2000 young people going to the conference! I’ll be running workshops for the youth there on building green jobs alliances, I’ll be following the negotiations, talking to our government’s negotiators, trying to get media coverage and blogging. I’ll be learning lots too and bringing lessons and stories back to the UK.

But, it takes a lot of carbon to get to Rio. Two tonnes, if you’re flying (which I am). Here at Otesha, we have a really clear travel policy which states that ‘All long-haul trips are made overland if possible. Flights are only taken as a last resort when no other transportation options are available and when the benefit of the trip is clear.’ Since travelling to Rio overland is super, super difficult (although you can read about our friend Lucy Gilliam, who is on an Edwardian sailboat to Rio as we speak – wow!), we had to make a consensus decision as a team about whether we thought this trip to Rio would be of clear benefit – to the people that I’d meet, to those who would read my blogs and learn about the summit’s progress, and to us as an organisation by bringing back learnings and contacts.

It was a really, really difficult conversation. We have a diverse set of beliefs here at Otesha, even if they are all rooted in the same principles. Like most people in this movement, we all differ slightly in what we think will create change, and how we should get there. Eventually, however, we decided that this was a pretty incredible and unique opportunity. It has been 20 years since the last summit, and who knows when the next one will be? Plus, when we co-coordinated the first ever UK youth delegation to the climate negotiations in Poland back in 2008, we created some pretty kick-ass youth campaigners and organisers as a result. I’m not sure if you can ever judge that one flight or another is more ‘worthwhile’, but we hope that being involved in this process will make a difference.

The exciting bit is, even though we don’t really believe in the concept of ‘carbon offsetting’ (see parody site Cheat Neutral for a good explanation of why) we are going to ‘spend a significant amount of time and money doing carbon-reducing activities’ (another bit of our travel policy). After lots of discussion and ideas, we’ve come up with a three-part plan.

Part 1: We are going to spend £50 on buying pollution permits from Sandbag, who take excess carbon credits out of the EU Emissions Trading System. We are also going to donate £50 to a community project through Global Giving.

Part 2: We are going to go out as a team and spend a day planting trees in our local community. We might buy a tree pack, or volunteer with Trees for Cities or BTCV.

Part 3: I’m going to do a 30-day vegan challenge before I go to Rio, and other staff members might join me! A vegan diet is a lot less carbon intensive, but I’ve never tried it before so I’m a little nervous. If I can go longer I will, I just wanted to set myself an achievable goal first!

I will be updating on how our three-part plan goes, and of course, this blog will be inundated with updates and learnings from Rio come June. So keep your eyes peeled, and vegan cookbooks at the ready!

Reclaiming our future: UK Youth at the UN climate talks

23rd November 2011 by

Our friends at the UK Youth Climate Coalition are heading to Durban for the crucial climate talks about to start there. They’ll be making sure that the politicians and bureaucrats hear the voice of youth – and of future generations. This is the first of a series of guest blogs by the UKYCC which we’ll be publishing, as they keep us up to date on progress at the talks. Thanks for your hard work and dedications, guys.

It’s that time of year again, when diplomats and negotiators, in iron-clad grey suits come face to face with young people who are ready to flashdance and cheerlead their way to the future.

Those two things might seem worlds apart, but in just a few days in Durban, South Africa, the UK youth delegation from the UK Youth Climate Coalition will join with other young people from across the world for the United Nations annual climate talks.

The countries of the world come together once a year to try to formulate a plan that will reduce emissions and prepare for inevitable changes to our climate. That meeting is called the Conference of the Parties, and its 17th annual meeting is about to start.

We believe that young people are the ones who truly have the overwhelming passion and energy to show that, despite the lack of success these talks have had during our lifetimes, we want the most ambitious solution possible to climate change.

And the reason we’re so strong as a group is because we all have our own individual experience. The climate negotiations are crucial to solving climate change, but they are not the be all and end all. We’re all involved in a huge variety of projects around climate change and empowering young people in our local communities, and that’s where our strength and energy come from.

Youth are not the bystanders in this process, we are the ones who will be dealing with the consequences of these decisions for decades to come. And what’s more, progress, or lack of it, has impacts for every young person back on the streets of the UK. Progress towards a low-carbon, clean future, would provide new opportunities for growth and jobs. Politicians and diplomats are bargaining and procrastinating over our future.

And don’t be beguiled by our facepaint, silly costumes, propensity to dance and sing and wear colourful clothes. We’ve also spent the year fundraising hard and in particular learning about climate change policy. Behind our sunglasses and flowery shirts, we’re armed with the tools to have conversations with negotiators on their level.

What’s more, we hope to communicate what’s going on in these talks back to young people in the UK and that they will get in touch with us. Every young person has a stake in this process and we want to make sure that they know what’s being decided in their name, about their futures.

And we’re also excited to link up with the hundreds of young people from all over the world who scrimp and save to come to South Africa, who study detailed policy, who plan creative actions to open politicians’ eyes. We want to help shape the efforts needed and decisions taken to tackle climate change for the lives of all young people.

Find our blogs at, follow us @ukyccdelegation and email us your thoughts and hopes for a clean, safe future –

Youth Delegation to the UN Climate Talks, UK Youth Climate Coalition

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