Ten Questions with Grace Stead

 

Based in Cape Town, Grace Stead started the consultancy Steadfast Greening in 2007. With her roots in town planning and after a stint in local government, she was also a founding partner of The Event Greening Forum and has most recently teamed up with like-minded professionals to start Wrap Zero, which is focused on sustainability in the film industry.

Get the right system in place. You can have the best intentions in the world, but if you don’t have the right systems in place then it will not work out. This could mean that you get a dedicated recycling bin, or get your scooter license or opt for the more efficient stove, but these basics help us to achieve our big picture goals.

1. Where do you go for inspiration?
My brother and I own a small piece of land just outside of Robertson with two worker’s cottages. I try to go out there at least once a month to catch my breath and recharge my batteries.

2. What do you think is the most urgent global environmental challenge facing us?
I believe that unsustainable farming practices are one of our biggest challenges that contribute towards our biggest threats. Besides the need for healthy, nutritious, short-chain food sources, it also addresses concerns around climate change and consumerism. Unfortunately, it is hampered by the current drought in Cape Town, pressure around availability of land, soil degradation through large-scale monoculture farming and use of pesticides. I don’t think the true threat is fully understood.

3. What is the most useful tool that helps you every day?
Google. Well, I have changed over to use Ecosia as a search engine because they use ad revenue from searchers to plant trees, but I do use the internet as a quick and easy tool for all kinds of information.

4. What do you feel is the biggest issue the sustainability consulting industry has to overcome?
The biggest challenge I find is that people agree what needs to be done, but simply don’t do it. I find that by making it personal and helping people to understand what they can do and why, it encourages people to do things differently. The second big challenge is that the small number of people who are driving sustainability often get “burnt out” because they are constantly swimming against the stream. A big portion of my time is simply spent encouraging people to keep fighting the good fight as I am seeing the difference and believe that we are making an impact.

On the flip side, the interconnectedness of sustainability in every sphere of our lives helps to drive change regardless of personal viewpoints. Whether we want to save money, provide our children with a better future, or avoid sitting in a traffic jam, we can address these by taking a systems approach to finding a better solution.

5. When was the last time you were scared? What scares you?
I am currently working with a local NGO where we support farmers in the townships to grow organic vegetables and sell surplus vegetables to people in the suburbs (Abalimi Bezekhaya). I was scared when I realised I had to retrench some of the staff and the impact that this would have on the farmers in the townships. I am concerned that we might not get enough funding to continue doing this work, and this keeps me up at night because it is a small reflection of the bigger picture around urban farming and food security.

6. What are you reading/listening to?
TED talks. I really enjoy the variety of TED talks available on so many different topics. I find that they are clear and to the point, without taking up too much time.

7. What achievement are you most proud of?
That I have been able to run a successful business despite a tough economic crisis. Through this I have made impacts on numerous different organisations and people to encourage a more sustainable option.

8. What is the best part of your workday?
That I don’t need to sit in traffic! My office is me and my laptop regardless of where I am (coffee shop, aeroplane or at home), so I make a point of missing peak time traffic. I tend to get most of my productive work done during the “night shift”, which means I am not at my best first thing in the morning.

9. What is a message you would like to shout from the rooftops/put on a billboard? Something you wish everyone could know and take to heart.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. It is essential to understand what the impact of your actions are, as this will help to determine if you need to continue or revise your strategy. Through measuring your successes (and failures) you will be able to make an informed decision about your next steps based on facts and it helps with target setting.

10. What is a nifty, ‘sustainability hack’ that you use in your daily life to live more environmentally friendly?
Get the right system in place. You can have the best intentions in the world, but if you don’t have the right systems in place then it will not work out. This could mean that you get a dedicated recycling bin, or get your scooter license or opt for the more efficient stove, but I believe these basics help us to achieve our big picture goals.

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