Riding the waves of change around the world

Seeking out people and organisations working towards environmental stability has always been at the heart of Emily Dunning’s travels. She recounts her experiences, the lessons she has learned and the inspiration behind her new website Seek The Change

My career with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) World Conservation Monitoring Centre is devoted to trying to create maximum positive impacts to help reverse some of the damage caused to the natural world.

As a keen traveller and sustainability enthusiast, I wanted to find a way to combine these passions and make a positive change. So I began to plan a dream trip that would help facilitate engagement in environmental issues, create connections between people and inspire action towards environmental sustainability.

I travelled from the UK to Hong Kong via the Trans-Mongolian Expressway, and onto Japan and New Zealand, exploring 12 countries and meeting 67 people working on different environmental and social initiatives along the way. These spanned changing consumer behaviour, embedding sustainability in schools and supporting the creation of social enterprises.

“The passion, generosity and proactive spirit of people has bowled me over time and again”

It was in sharing these stories that my website Seek The Change was born. Here’s a snapshot of my adventure, and what I learned along the way.

Recycling in Russia

In Russia the political system makes it difficult for citizens to call for change and the infrastructure has not yet made recycling the norm in every household. Denis Stark has overcome these obstacles by establishing Musora Bolshe Net, the aim of which is to help facilitate a zero waste society. The network has spread across Russia and now involves more than 100,000 people. They hold clean-up events, establish waste systems, plant trees, run recycling systems at festivals and much more. Through spending time with Denis it became clear to me that culture, society and infrastructure significantly affect how easy it is to be green. When certain norms are established, such as household recycling, it makes it simple to live more sustainably. Until that happens, it is up to a dedicated few to facilitate grassroots action and accelerate that process.

Green Drinks in Japan

In Japan I met Nao Suzuki, founder of Green Drinks in Japan – a regular networking event for sustainable start-ups that began in London and has since spread around the world. At the evening I joined in Tokyo there were more than 60 people volunteering advice and assistance to six individuals who were facing problems in their green organisations. Groups formed around each person to help brainstorm with them. It captured perfectly what Nao is trying to achieve – increased connections, encouragement and support and creating a movement of people who are creating positive change. My time there provided one of the main insights of my trip: connecting with and learning from others is key for creating widespread change.

Youth training in Taiwan

Similarly, in Taiwan, I learned that believing that you can make a difference is vital. Five years ago there was no coordinated movement on climate change among young people in the country. Now, Taiwan Youth Climate Coalition provides a platform for young people to have a voice on climate issues. Those involved have established projects to tackle it locally and are a recognised and respected body by the Taiwanese government. They train young people to attend international climate change talks and contribute in a coordinated and meaningful way. Liangyi Chang is the 26-year-old responsible for this dramatic change and one of the most enthusiastic, friendly, persuasive and energetic people I’ve ever met. But crucially there is an unflinching belief within him that he can make a difference. So, after seeing the organised efforts of young people from other countries, he took it upon himself to make that a reality for Taiwan too. And it’s working.

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Connecting the dots of positive businesses around the world has changed my appreciation of the challenges faced by the planet. When I asked people what their greatest obstacle was, the most common response was money.

But despite that I have come back with even more spring in my step and optimism for what the future may hold. The passion, generosity and proactive spirit of communities around the world has bowled me over time and again. People, in every context, share the drive to make a difference. Individuals can make significant changes.

It’s easy to feel discouraged by the problems we face. But now, back home from my adventure, it’s also easy for me to remember that another world really is possible. I’ve seen it and I know that people all over the planet are already living it.