Green is good

Women in Leadership

In March, we held our biannual Women in Leadership Conference, this year with a focus on sustainability. The event was designed to drive empowerment and leadership among the young leaders of tomorrow on some of the most important issues of our time, and brought together an impressive panel of speakers drawn from the school community and beyond. Speakers’ expertise reached far beyond the traditional ‘green’ sectors into areas as diverse as ESG & ethical investing, global social sustainability, environmental activism, healthcare and how to build a career around sustainability.

A series of powerful keynote speeches set the parameters for some of the biggest challenges facing society today. Opening the event, Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas, Professor of Marketing and Sustainable Business at the British School of Fashion and Blackheath High alumna, explored the social, financial and ethical dangers of fast fashion, and highlighted organisations and individuals who are challenging the pervasive ‘race to the bottom’ ethos of the industry, tackling pollution and waste, and looking to rebalance representation and gender discrimination.

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Pam Barbato, founder of Action Net Zero, then focused on the importance of collaboration in the common goal of reaching net zero. Her ‘triple bottom line’ approach helped students understand that authentic sustainable change comes from the bottom up, and that by working together as connected communities, we can accelerate change, bridge the ‘say-do gap’ and inspire others to take action.

Students participated in a series of interactive workshops, designed to provoke thought and inspire action. Highlights included junk modelling transition towns to explore the most useful elements for a sustainable future; working with Blackheath High’s Textiles teacher to upcycle old pairs of jeans into new denim skirts; an exploration of social, cultural and economic impact of climate change on healthcare and careers sessions designed to get students thinking about the many ways sustainability can be built into their futures.

Students also organised a preloved clothes sale to demonstrate the importance of repurposing garments and reducing waste, raising more than £500 for the DEC Turkey-Syria Earthquake Appeal.

The event closed with students collaboratively creating a manifesto for change which they entitled ‘Radical Collaborators’. Taking inspiration from the expert panel, the Manifesto focused on small, tangible changes that can be implemented quickly to make a real difference. These ranged from lobbying the schools’ catering companies to reduce plastic waste and introduce meat-free days, to installing more bike racks, instigating local litter picks and creating allotments for vegetable growing. Recognising that education is a vital part of sustainability, students will also campaign for curriculum changes to ensure their generation is empowered to effect radical change.

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Cath Day, Head of Futures at Blackheath High School, commented: “Every person, every community, every council, government and business needs to put sustainability at the heart of every decision they make. Sustainability has financial and health benefits for all – it affects everyone and everything. Perhaps not unsurprisingly therefore, sustainability is predicted to be the largest area of growth in the employment sector. The Financial Times recently published an article identifying the role of sustainability manager as being the second fastest-growing job title in the UK which is up from seventh fastest this time last year. As the change-makers of the future, it is imperative that we allow young people to engage with the biggest issue of our time and support them in thinking about sustainability in radical new ways.”