A Passion for Sustainability

For International Women's Day, our founder Lucy Abraham was asked by Planet Mark about her motivations and inspirations for sustainability.

- Tell us a little about your background and your current role in sustainability?

I grew up in Australia and moved to London in 2010. My background is in Interior Design and I have worked in the Commercial Interiors world for a variety of brands such as Woven Image and Humanscale during my career. In 2014 I founded The Collective Agency to offer unique, beautiful and sustainable solutions to the commercial interiors market. Sustainability was my driving force in setting up my business – I wanted to make a difference in our industry, and I have always tried to make the best sustainable decisions

- Where did your passion for sustainability come from?

I have always had an underlying interest in sustainability. I grew up in Australia which life is lived very much outdoors, with a focus on the natural world. I was always intrigued by the miracle that is our planet – how perfect it is. How by chance we are exactly the right distance from the sun to warm us, how we have the right amount of water for us to survive, how being knocked on our side axis gave us seasons. Seeing what we are doing to these wonders makes me feel sad. We are not appreciating this gift. Working in the commercial interiors industry I have seen first-hand the waste and effects of industry decisions. More often than not, furniture and products are not given a second life and after five years end up in landfill. Seeing this drives me to do more and have a greater impact on protecting our planet.

- How have you embedded sustainability into The Collective’s practices, and how will you continue to embed sustainability?

Within the organisation we encourage and implement environmentally friendly systems. We introduced recycling bins including a food recycling system and ensure everything we specify or purchase is sustainably sourced, even down to the office snacks! Everything we send out, from postage to product wrapping material and tape is paper based. To control the vast numbers of samples we send out, we introduced a free post-back recycling service for all samples so that they can be reused, and during our manufacturing processes we always aim to reduce waste even if there is an additional charge to us. Finally, we are always open to partner with likeminded initiatives that effect environmental change, and are delighted to be part of the Planet Mark community.

- Who inspires you?

I am inspired by people and companies that are honest and self-teaching. People are not automatically taught how to make sustainable decisions; this is information that has to be self-taught and searched for. This takes commitment and energy. There are amazing organisations that are dedicated to making a difference. Energy company Bulb are inspiring, and it’s incredible how they are shaking up the energy world and putting the planet first. Triodos are doing some great work in banking and in the commercial interiors sector, Dodds & Shute are champions of sustainability. It is organisations such as these, and their founders who wanted to make a difference, that inspire me.  

- When faced with challenges, how do you address them and what keeps your vision and passion alive?

I constantly strive to notice what we do in our business to make a difference environmentally: what is within our sphere of influence. On one of the first visits to site I noticed our product, and many other products, were being covered in Correx plastic sheet for protection during the installation phase. This is made from low-cost virgin plastic which is used for a month then thrown into landfill. We very swiftly sourced an alternate protective material and now all our product arrives on site wrapped in a paper based corrugated paper which is protective and recyclable. Being able to make contributions – be they large or small, keeps my vision alive.

- Why do you think inclusivity in sustainability is important?

It is critical that sustainability is inclusive. It’s a global topic that affects the entire planet and every person on it. We are one planet and one team, and sustainability is only truly effective if we work as a team. But every team member needs to be armed with knowledge for them to be fully on board. They need to be educated in the sustainability methods they are capable of engaging with.  Therefore, the communication needs to be fully inclusive; easy to understand and accessible to everyone so they can be driven by their own desire for change.

- What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in sustainability?

Knowledge is key. Educate yourself. Be courageous in your passion for making change and doing things that are out of your comfort zone. Be prepared for things that might not work as there is always an element of trial and error. Take small steps as well as big ones as the small changes are as important as big ones, and if you manage to inspire other people with even small steps that’s the biggest impact you can make. Finally, go with your gut instinct. It’s usually right if you allow yourself to hear it.

- Any interesting sustainability readings/sources you would like to share?

I was introduced by a colleague to the Sustainable Jungle podcast which is a great source of ideas and information from a wide breadth of industries, also Goodonyou.eco is an independent evaluator of fashion manufacturing which helps me make better decisions about purchases.  I truly believe that every pound you spend is a vote for what you believe in so I try to spend it wisely.

- What are your hopes for the future?  

Like so many, I just desperately hope for significant global change to put our home, this planet, first and second to nothing, not money, or power, or politics, as we simply cannot afford to.

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The Collective Agency are proud members of The Planet Mark community and commit to reduce our carbon footprint by 5% a year for the next 5 years. We are dedicated to making changes that will shape a more equitable and sustainable world, working together to create a thriving planet for everyone. A collective power to make real change happen to 'build back better' in this critical Decade of Action.

Planet Mark is a sustainability certification which recognises outstanding achievements, encourages action, and builds an empowered community of like-minded organisations and individuals.

Lucy Abraham is Founder of The Collective Agency.