The Future of Ethical Consumerism | A Q&A with Lucy Siegle

Louise Collins6 February 2015

We often like to run a few Q&As with the speakers we work with and recently we caught up sustainability speaker, Lucy Siegle, who is one of the UK’s most recognisable opinion forming journalists on environmental issues and ethical consumerism.

What could be considered a rather obvious question from ourselves, how did you get into corporate speaking?

My sister worked for a corporate (and still does) and they asked me to come in and give a little talk on being green at home as they were taking part in Earth Day. So I arrived with my actual compost bin. They thought it was hilarious and people had so many questions about their own lives that I saw it was a really great way to connect with every day eco issues. I no longer take compost bins on the tube though.

With retailers such as H&M introducing their Conscious Collection range, do you think we are moving away from the height of disposable, fast fashion?

I think it's game on! The battle for global resources is intensifying so it makes sense that a lot of big players are taking a long hard look at their impact and footprint and trying to get their supply chains in order for the future. The human issues are often more difficult for brands. What is happening is that we've got a generation looking for something different. They want individuality and are starting to look for 'real luxury' with a story, including how and why something is made. That's exciting and that's changing things up very quickly.

Who are your role models?

I love people who commit and stay enthusiastic. I set up the Ethical Awards ten years ago and I have ridiculously brilliant people on the judging panel from Colin and Livia Firth to Ben Okri and Deborah Meaden. They are my role models because they have the ability to interrogate life in the most charming way. From working in TV I'm a huge admirer of very professional, warm people especially in this business we call 'show'. Gloria Hunniford, Gyles Brandreth - you know the brilliant characters who always keep it together on screen and off actually! I'm also a massive Bjork fan and had the good fortune to interview and found her to be extraordinarily focused, smart and caring. She even made me lunch. They say 'never meet your heroes' but that's nonsense.

How can businesses ensure continued growth whilst still having a positive social impact?

I put this to some young socially minded entrepreneurs recently and they reminded me that the old school definitions of growth are flawed. A business that continues to trample over ecological and human rights is not a smart business, it's piling on risk and is unsustainable. I get to hear about a lot of cool businesses that are doing well because they're brave and innovative. Instead of basing growth on expansion, the smart ones diversify into other avenues where they can also do some good. If I was an investor that's where I'd be looking.

And as you mentioned, customers are becoming savvier to a business or manufacturers environmental impact. What tips would you give people who are aiming to be greener this year?

Wardrobe-wise don't buy anything you can't commit to wearing 30 or more times (fashion should never be a one night stand). Don't be a passive polluter. Read your ingredients on cosmetic products. No microbeads - this appears as polyethylene in the ingredients lists for face scrub and toothpastes - which are the scourge of the oceans. Use an app to scan bar codes! Be more self reliant. Get a compost bin. It's the one transformative process you can do at home - turning food waste and a bit of roughage (like cardboard) into compost gold! If you've got kids, get them outside in the natural environment. As the great ocean conservationist Jacques Cousteau put it, ‘People protect what they love.’ We have to make sure they see enough of the natural world for our kids to fall in love!

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