plastic bottles compacted in bags
two women sitting on a panel

Heather Clancy and Sanda Ojiambo, CEO and Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact © GreenBiz Group/Louis Bryant III

Is there a one size fits all when it comes to corporate climate action? No matter how big a business is, says Heather Clancy, one thing is for certain: inaction is no longer an option. Clancy is Vice President and Editorial Director of GreenBiz, the media company working to accelerate the just transition to a clean economy. She tells LUX why companies need to work harder to embed environmental justice into their corporate sustainability strategy, and explains how climate fintech may just be key to the green transition
A woman with grey hair wearing a green jacket

Heather Clancy ©GreenBiz Group/Louis Bryant III

LUX: Is there a one size fits all when it comes to corporate climate action?
Heather Clancy: The way a company prioritises is very focused on their individual business. The supply chain of one company could be totally different to that of another. US tech companies, for example, have done a lot on renewable energy, but should be doing more on how they treat and engage with their employees on various issues. Each company must look at what they touch and then make the decisions about which levers to push and pull most directly. The one thing they must do, however, is act. They can’t sit around anymore, no matter how big or small they are.

LUX: How should companies be balancing the ‘E’ and ‘S’ of ESG?
Heather Clancy: Corporations are not spending enough time thinking about how environmental justice is embedded into their corporate sustainability strategies. The pandemic has prompted a lot of soul-searching when it comes to where companies are doing business, but there is still a huge disconnect between the company’s corporate perceptions of what environmental justice means and how they act as a business. There is so much attention being put into making sure workforces reflect the diversity of the community –which is great – but companies need to get a lot more thoughtful about how they engage with the individuals and communities with whom they engage.

For example, one of the biggest blockers to the clean energy transition right now is the supply of materials like lithium, cobalt, and nickel. The necessity of these materials – which are used for wind turbines, electric vehicles, and batteries – has prompted a large increase in mining activities around the world, but there has not been enough attention paid to where that land is. A lot of it sits on indigenous territories, and these communities are not being consulted or involved in the plans, or economically compensated if that’s what is required.

Now that we have this supply chain rethink happening, it would be incumbent upon corporations to look closely at where they’re siting their new manufacturing city facilities if they’re going to move them. This means actually including communities in those plans –helping them understand what the plan is and asking them what makes sense.

rows of solar panels

Accountability of corporations is crucial for the green transition. Image courtesy of Andreas Gucklhorn

LUX: Are there enough measurable standards for corporations to be measured by?
Heather Clancy: If you ask them, there are too many standards! What is missing is a push for accountability, especially in the United States. The markets are motivated by these earnings reports that we get on a quarterly basis, but there is no equivalent for ESG measures. I do believe that this will be changing, though. Probably the most important prompter for this has been the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), whose recommendations made a tipping point happen as far as how companies talk about what they’re doing and how they are being held accountable for that. But now things are in place, we need to get some agreement and coalescence around certain of these things.

LUX: What role can early-stage climate tech play in decarbonisation?
Heather Clancy: Small, innovative companies have a real opportunity to innovate and become the new suppliers for larger companies – for example by producing alternative materials like mushroom-based packaging to replace plastic or Styrofoam. It is not coincidental that there are so many corporate venture funds now focused on climate technologies, because these corporations are going to benefit from that innovation when the company goes public down the line.

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A great example is the Amazon-Rivian relationship. Rivian was a vaguely unknown electric van maker, which got a hundred-thousand-unit order from Amazon and has now gone on to become public. There is a lot of shakiness in the market right now with some of these suppliers, but that’s fundamental to business. It’s mainly a great innovation opportunity.

LUX: Do you think it’s correct to talk about de-carbonisation and opportunities in climate tech as being ‘opportunities’, or are they still challenges?
Heather Clancy: Look at Allbirds. They had some shakiness with their ESG IPO, but their entire company was created with the idea of using materials in a different way. One of the biggest problems with athletic shoes is the soles, so they worked to create a new type of sole with a new material which has a lower carbon footprint than other sneaker soles. Instead of choosing to make that sole their own proprietary invention, they opened the technology up to other organisations and helped other companies to start using it. As other companies start to use this technology, the costs will come down and it will be cheaper for them to use it as well. That is a company whose entire business model is framed around this.

Two women speaking to each other sitting on chairs next to each other on a panel

Heather Clancy and Hana Kajimura, Head of Sustainability, Allbirds © GreenBiz Group/Louis Bryant III

LUX: What else is exciting you in the climate tech sector at the moment?
Heather Clancy: I am particularly interested in nature-based carbon capture and sequestration technologies. There is an organisation called Project Vesta that’s using nature-based approaches in this way. There’s a big debate about whether we should be investing in those things, because it takes money away from these newer areas, but I think we need to remove the carbon that’s there.

LUX: What role can fintech play in the green transition?
Heather Clancy: The digitisation of sustainability is really important, because it’s becoming part of the financial infrastructure of the companies themselves. Software innovations help companies better understand their climate risks, have a truer accounting of the carbon footprint of their supply chain operations, and to understand whether their carbon offset has the value they think it has. These tools also help people make investments in the other climate technologies.

LUX: What is the biggest barrier to scaling climate tech?
Heather Clancy: Politics. Climate is such a partisan issue in many areas of the world. It has become so easy for one side to weaponise the community and say, ‘look at these renewable energy advocates, they’re making your energy costs go up’. That’s been very damaging in terms of the whole concept.

Beyond that, though, is policy. If there’s one thing that we really are lacking from corporations, it is the voice and end policy support. There are so many policies in place that need to be changed, but there is not enough happening at the federal, state or local levels to help put the policies in place that will make this transition happen more quickly.

plastic bottles compacted in bags

Heather Clancy explains the battle for companies desiring to create and bring in new greener technologies but not wanted to create waste by dumping the old materials. Image courtesy of Nick Fewings

LUX: Should we prioritise de-carbonising existing infrastructure or starting from scratch with new green technologies?
Heather Clancy: I’ve been thinking a lot about net zero buildings and how difficult it is to go in and retrofit a building to become a better performing building. There are incentives that exist which make it much easier to knock the thing down and to build a new one. That’s just a huge waste: why aren’t we reusing those materials? But the policies and the laws make it harder to do it any other way.

The other problem with giving credit for renewal projects is that it caters to the people that have money already. If you are a small organisation and don’t have the revenue, you can’t actually take advantage of some of these incentives currently because you can’t afford to invest in them. This is true of the way some of the clean energy incentives are written in the United States. That doesn’t make economic sense.

Read more: Product designer Tord Boontje on sustainable materials

LUX: Are corporations, consumers, or legislation responsible for leading the green transition?
Heather Clancy: Extended producer responsibilities is the buzzword here. It’s important that corporations be more responsible, and they have to be using their voices as well.

LUX: What should the wealthy be doing?
Heather Clancy: They should model better behaviour, and they also need to put their money where it counts. What Bill Gates with his Breakthrough Energy coalition is extraordinary, and seems to me to be an important model. Likewise, Mackenzie Scott and Laurene Powell Jobs have put money in some extraordinarily unusual places by investing in historically black colleges and communities that don’t usually get the money. They’re doing it quietly, and they’re putting their money to work.

It’s also time for the wealthy to help small businesses get on the bandwagon in terms of ESG – to help them with energy efficiency, with their waste and manufacturing processes. Buying from these companies will enable them to make the shift to greener practices.

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Reading time: 8 min
A woman in a white blazer reading an art book at a table
A woman in a white blazer reading an art book at a table

Anita Choudhrie, Founder of Path to Success and Stellar International Art Foundation

Anita Choudhrie is at the forefront of building opportunities for women in both the worlds of art and sports. Here, the founder of Path to Success and Stellar International Art Foundation speaks to Samantha Welsh about where her passion for philanthropy in these particular fields came from.

LUX: What drew you to advocate for the rights and needs of the disabled?
Anita Choudhrie: My mother had a terminal eye problem, so much so, that by the time she was fifty she was completely blind. However, growing up I always admired how she continued to live her life with such endeavour, confidence and purpose. She was rarely dependent on other people and managed to live each day to the full despite this challenge.

Having witnessed her strength and determination, I wanted to empower other individuals, facing unique challenges, with the same resolve. Whilst studying at Delhi University, I became increasingly aware of the hardships that those outside of our vision and environment face, and I decided that I wanted to make a difference. As a result, I became deeply passionate about my own charitable work, and this led me to the path I am on today.

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LUX: You have been leading change in disability services for over 25 years. How did this all start?
Anita Choudhrie: Inspired by my grandfather’s philanthropic work and my own passion for charitable endeavours, in 1985 I became involved with a school for disabled children in India. From being on the board, to championing fundraising efforts and working with the children in the school, this experience was my first real role in championing disability services.

I decided I wanted to take the work we were doing with the children to the next level – both to enhance the support they were receiving and to boost fundraising efforts. As a result, I organised for sixteen children with multiple disabilities to travel to the UK to raise awareness. It took almost eight months to arrange everything, including a performance at the House of Commons, and the trip was a great success. All the funds raised went to the school and enabled them to build an entirely new block, purchase a specially adapted school bus and also to acquire land for a new school altogether.

LUX: What pivoted your attention towards women’s disabled sport?
Anita Choudhrie: Female athletes are just as able to achieve great sporting accolades as their male counterparts, however, women’s sport typically receives far less funding – and this disparity is even more pronounced when it comes to para sports.

Therefore, I wanted to focus my charitable efforts on supporting female para-athletes in sports which receive little to no government funding, to work towards levelling the playing field and creating equal opportunities in society.

Anita Choudhrie with two girls in wheelchairs

Anita started Path to Success to provide more opportunities for women para-athletes

LUX: What is Path to Success and is there a connection between how you are personally invested in giving and the support offered by PTS?
Anita Choudhrie: Founded in 2005, Path to Success is the UK’s leading disability charity that focuses on turning inability into ability for disabled women in sport.

Currently we support 9 female Paralympic athletes as part of our appeal of ‘Empowering Female Athletes in Disability Sport’. These athletes compete across four disciplines; wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, para powerlifting and para badminton. We have also supported the London Titans Wheelchair Basketball Club since 2015 – one of the largest basketball clubs in the UK who have produced over 50 Paralympians.

Our mission is to address the barriers para-athletes face, secure the legacy of disability sport in the UK and inspire a new generation of British female Paralympic stars.

LUX: How successful was Tokyo 2020 for the Paralympians?
Anita Choudhrie: Women’s sport is slowly gaining more recognition, but women’s disability sport still doesn’t attract anywhere near the attention it both needs and deserves. The Paralympics is always a brilliant platform to raise awareness of these individuals and the tremendous capabilities of para-athletes on a whole.

It was therefore brilliant to see the athletes we support achieve the great successes they truly deserve and have worked so hard for in Tokyo.

In total, five of our athletes took part in the Tokyo Paralympics, brining home two silver and three bronze medals.

Read more: 6 Questions: Angela McCarthy, The Earth Foundation

LUX: What can we look forward to in women’s parasport this year?
Anita Choudhrie: The key event to look forward to this year is the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham at the end of July.

Due to the way the sporting calendar is set out, there is usually a two-year gap between the Paralympic and Commonwealth Games. However, as a result of the delays to the Tokyo Games, this marks the first occasion that they will follow directly on from each other. The hope therefore is that much of the momentum and excitement will carry over, making for a spectacular event. To add to this, this year’s event is set to mark the biggest participation from para-athletes ever, which can only be good for the development of women’s parasport.

In addition, this year British Wheelchair Basketball has also launched the first-ever women’s premier league. The inaugural season which will run until the end of May 2022 is the first of its kind for women’s wheelchair basketball in the world and the very first professional para-sport league in the UK. The introduction of this league marks a monumental step forward for women’s parasport and the hope is that it will not only help to make the UK a hub for the world’s best wheelchair basketball players, but that other parasports will soon follow suit creating new opportunities for aspiring female para-athletes.

Anita Choudhrie in a gold sari standing by a painting

Anita Choudhrie and her husband started their collection when they were married and now have over 800 significant 800 artworks © Charles Shearn

LUX: Is there a philosophy shared with PTS behind why you founded STELLAR?
Anita Choudhrie: My underlying philosophy has always been that we are stronger together. For example, every year the Stellar International Art Foundation celebrates International Women’s Day by supporting a female artist who has faced socio, economic or physical challenges.

A desire to empower women, and under-represent diaspora in society, is very much at the heart of what I do through all my philanthropic endeavours. Art and sport are two great passions of mine, yet women are still grossly underrepresented in both. What unites my work in both sectors is a desire to change this and ensure women have the exposure, support and funding that they deserve – to showcase their talent and build their profile.

LUX: Your personal passion is the visual arts and you have collected more than significant 800 artworks since the 1970s.  Are there underlying principles that guide you and what is your approach?
Anita Choudhrie: My husband and I have always shared a passion for art, and we have been collecting pieces since we got married. Founded in 2008, Stellar International Art Foundation began when we decided to comprehensively organise our collection.

colourful art and installations in a plain white room with a window on the ceiling

Stellar International Art Foundation Artist Vasundhara Sellamuthu show, 2021

What started as a family endeavour to collect pieces of art for the pure love of it, has grown into something much more. Now we view our collection as a way to advocate for artists who we believe have an amazing appreciation for culture and can enrich society through their work. To this end, one of our underlying principles is to acquire entire collections, rather than just individual works of art, to help secure the artists legacy.

Moreover, by collecting European, Russian, American and Indian art and distinguishing our selection less on regional concerns and more on artistic talent, we have been able to champion overlooked artists and give them a well-deserved voice.

LUX: What artists are personal signifiers and are part of your family legacy?
Anita Choudhrie: I’d say probably our collection of MF Husain’s works. We have one of the largest artworks outside the estate, making it the most significant home for the artist’s works. With over 250 works spanning from the early 1950s through to his final years, the collection supersedes all the world’s museum, gallery and private collections. A great patron of the artist, we were chosen as the guardians of not only a large volume of work in general, but especially his most famous and, arguably, most important series: Maria. With the same ethos in mind, the Foundation has sought to keep his most significant series intact for future generations.

LUX: How have you shown the collection to date and is there a vision for it?
Anita Choudhrie: Stellar International Art Foundation has staged a number of exhibitions, has produced a seminal publication on a master artist within the Collection and has even been revered by some of the worlds’ most respected curators and critics.

We also hold an annual speaking event in celebration of International Women’s Day, to help champion overlooked artists and give them a well-deserved voice. Ultimately, the real meaning of our foundation lies not in its material possessions, but in the opportunities it provides for artists.

three women standing next to each other

Anita Choudhrie and Vasundhara Sellamuthu

This year we are delighted to be supporting emerging London-based South Asian artist Vasundhara Sellamuthu. Through an exciting range of media, Vasundhara’s work explores a range of binaries such as East/West, architecture/vernacular and foreign/home, playfully engaging with her urban environment and its unnoticed makers. I have long believed in the value of artistic practice as an active force for challenge and change, and I hope that by showcasing Vasundhara’s work, preconceived binaries will be challenged and together we will be able to drive change.

The dream one day is to have a permanent museum to showcase the entire collection. Hopefully this is an aspiration that will become a reality in the not-too-distant future.

LUX: What advice would you offer a young person embarking upon their philanthropy journey?
Anita Choudhrie: I would implore anyone embarking upon their philanthropic journey to first really consider what they are truly passionate about. Throughout my career I have found it is those individuals who have a unique, personal perspective that are able to drive the greatest change.

Education, disability and supporting women are the consistent threads that have run through my philanthropic work. I find that opportunities and causes present themselves to you the deeper you become involved in philanthropy.

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