What difference can Pope Francis make to the great environmental issues -I went to the vatican to find out

There is a certain inevitability beginning to enter the political conversation regarding the environment.  Progress remains alarmingly slow but momentum seems to be building.  With it, the political desire to change laws, and challenge and redirect incentives will follow.  We can see this in some of the words and deeds of President Obama, improvements in legislation around circularity within the European Union, and recent directives within China.   Often, businesses express to me their ‘scarcity anxiety’ and that they are looking for stability and surety in light of price fluctuations, resources and resource supply.  Have we reached a tipping point at which action is finally inevitable?  

I have been working on environmental and sustainability issues since 2002, first for WWF in Australia and then founding and running Earth Hour for eight years and now as CEO of Circle Economy. During that time, and I don’t mean this in a cynical way, I became very familiar with the language and narrative so often used around the general topic of ‘the environment’.  Within the environmental movement we often find ourselves talking within the bubble of those who already agree (e.g. environmentalists) or fighting with those who will never agree (e.g. Fox News).  Of course, this means we usually forget the great bulk of society who are key to making change — and if we are not relevant to the mainstream our issues stay on the shelf until the next disaster strikes.  Relevance at the ‘kitchen table’ is essential and far more likely to motivate progress than casting a fearful vision toward our future.  So it was with a definite sense of surprise that I found myself discussing the Pope’s Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ (on Care For Our Common Home) with my friend, Kumi Naidoo, over a very good chicken curry in south Amsterdam.  

The encyclical is really very good. I think both Kumi and I were in a bit in awe at how well and coherently it had been written. For me it brings together a multi-dimensional perspective of the current state of play, not just for the environment but for society in general, elucidating with clear insight the direction in which we are going and highlighting the frequent sense of disconnectedness that seems to inhibit our ability to set a different course. Two weeks later, thanks to a couple calls and a few favours, I was invited to the Vatican to join about one hundred other interested people, including Naomi Klein, Mary Robinson and climate action advocate Lord Gummer, along with key people from within the Roman Catholic Church and its organisations and NGOs, to discuss how this document might be able to catalyse the Roman Catholic Church and its 1.3 billion-strong congregation and beyond to help set us on a new course.

What became obvious very quickly was that whilst there is a general consensus around the issues, the challenge came when trying to move the conversation from the problems to some tangible answers and action towards towards creating system change at the scale required.  This is no great surprise, and is the very same problem that inspired my interest  in understanding the practical implementation and scaling of the circle economy. It seems that an underlying ethos and framework that drives decision making, design, approaches, employment, innovation, policy making and much, much more is required if we are to move beyond talking about the problem and speculating about the ‘dire future’.  What the Pope has given us is a document that creates a compelling interconnected argument for change, what  we need now is compelling vision of a different future and a pragmatic and scalable approach to getting there. For me, personally, the answer lies very clearly in the adoption of circular principles and the creation of tools and experience through which to implement these principles.

What was also very refreshing from these Vatican discussions was the understanding that so many of the great issues we face are very interlinked.  When we consider the circular economy in its most effective form it is not only dealing with topics such as resource chains, reuse and remanufacturing but also the skills we need our kids to learn to prepare for the future or the reshoring of jobs.  It becomes, in essence, a ‘kitchen table subject’, not just a technical matter, but also a matter of the heart.  This is where the ideology of the circular economy resonates with our politicians and citizens.

So what came from the two day event at the Vatican?  Well, in all honesty, I don’t know yet.  What can’t be denied is that a mobilised Catholic Church means many, many millions of people on the ground embracing a desire for change and adding their voices and minds to think and act differently.  It means that a clear message is heard across the planet that change is now inevitable and that the change will be either very good for society or very, very bad. We, as a global, and ever-more mobilized society can take up the call from Pope Francis and make the change happen so that, for example, we work together to create societies where the economic exploitation of natural resources and human capital is no longer viable and the power of lobbyists to slow or stop this change is significantly decreased. Otherwise, without action, change is going to happen to us and that change looks more like the following: natural resources are depleted, the earth’s temperature increases beyond the point of return, coastal cities disappear, and we see the global mass disruption of agriculture and all of the other terrifying consequences that go along with those scenarios.  Either way you look at it, change is coming, either good or bad or somewhere in between.  

For me, as I sat at the meetings at the Vatican I felt a personal sense of excitement inspired very much by seeing the broad horizon of opportunities to address these great issues before us — by applying circularity at a city, business and community level.  At Circle Economy our task is to develop circularity at practical and scaleable level and to do it quickly whilst learning and improving on the job.  I hope we will be asked back for the next discussion at the Vatican – and next time I hope we can share what we have learned so far as I believe  there may well be a pathway out of this chasm, and hope it is a pathway that inspires innovation, entrepreneurship, a clear and fair market, and the opportunity to improve the lives of billions whilst safeguarding our shared home.  A pipe dream to some, perhaps, but we are at a point where change is inevitable.  And therein lies hope for the future.

African Dream – Six Days of Inspiration

The overriding sense I got as I flew in a small Cessna 4 seater out of Maun, over the buffalo fence and into the Okavango Delta was surprise.  There are so many things about this place that make it unique, but the first thing that struck me were the colours. From the air, the sun shimmered on the vivid dark blue of the water and the vegetation was lush and intensely green.  It was like looking at our planet from space.  The first animals I saw from my window were four giraffes crossing between islands – extraordinary – like watching a David Attenborough film.



A collage of blue and green – like viewing our planet from space


I found myself in Botswana, tasked by my lovely wife, Tammie, with checking out some of the camps that her company Matson & Ridley Safaris is sending guests to.  I had left my role as CEO of Earth Hour two days earlier and, in Tammie’s view there are not many places on the planet as inspirational and awe inspiring as the Okovango Delta – just what I needed.

So in 6 extraordinary days my trusty beaten up Canon 1000D and I travelled by mokoro (canoe), Land Rover, Light Plane and foot around the Delta, so, with a little help from Instagram, here’s some of the images I took


A herd of elephants viewed from 500m whilst taking a very bumpy ride in a four seater Cessna


We tracked this male leopard after seeing his footprints in the sand very early in the morning.  We caught up with him very briefly before he disappeared into the long grass.


Play time for some young male elephants as the sun was beginning to go.


We found this lion guarding the carcass of teenage male elephant. The lion had had a rough night probably fighting off hyenas.


The bird life is extraordinary.  This pelican was taking off from a water hole near Chitabe Camp .  Much of the water is left over from local rainfall from previous months.  The floods have yet to reach this part of the Delta yet.


Lion on the hunt – her sister was moving in from the other side on an unsuspecting warthog.


Whilst people often are most excited by the big animals, the wildlife viewed from a mokoro (canoe) can also be amazing.


Having watched the mother leopard kill an impala the night before we returned in the morning to find her with her cub, having successfully held on to the kill over night.


The stalk of this lily acts as an effective water filter and a good source of food for local people.  The lily itself was a fairly magical thing to see.


Driving through dense Mopane trees we (not for the first time) ran into a large herd of elephants. We felt as flustered as each other I think.


A cheetah taking a rest under a bush on Vumbura Plains


A very brave fella agrees to ride in a mokoro with me, we did not get very far.


An African Eagle Owl warming up in the morning sun.


Travelling through the Delta in a mokoro – beautiful and probably my favourite shot.

If you would like to know more about where I went and how to get there drop me a note or check out Matson & Ridley Safaris


How To Not Regret The Christmas Party


This week I had the pleasure of being at the Singapore launch of the Let Elephants be Elephants (LEBE) campaign set up by my lovely missus and elephant expert Dr Tammie Matson and good friend, Earth Hour ambassador and TV star Nadya Hutagalung.  These two highly motivated women have started a campaign to focus energy and resources on the need to ‘kill the demand’ for ivory in Asia.

As many great ideas do – LEBE came from a conversation in a pub, with Tam and Nadya finding a common passion whilst surrounded by friends indulging in Christmas party quantities of beer and wine. What started as a chat about elephants led to Tam taking Nadya to Kenya and has turned into an example of what two motivated people can make happen when they focus their unique talents and decide to do something.

Tam and Nad baby elephants low res

It is extraordinary how history repeats itself. We think a problem is a thing of the past and then it reemerges: same problem, different people. One of the most sobering examples of this is the rampant growth in the demand for ivory and the subsequent killing of almost one hundred elephants a day to feed this trade. Back in the ’80s the trade was being driven by Europe, North America and Japan, when hundreds of thousands of elephants were poached for their ivory. I can remember reading articles and seeing press photographs of the butchered elephants when I was at school, powerful images that stigmatised having ivory in your home or on your body. In the end it was the impact of the campaigns to end demand that built the political pressure to ban ivory trade and most importantly kill the demand.

carcass II-1 Big Life

In 2014 we are once again facing the likely extinction of the African elephant within the next two decades if the poaching is not stopped, and once again we need to turn our eyes and efforts to the consumer. The vast bulk of ivory is being sold as jewellery and ornaments in Asia, particularly China, but also in countries like Thailand, which has the largest unregulated ivory market in Asia. Like many environmental issues it is in the hands of the consumer to stop consuming.  In Thailand, the legislation allows ivory from domestic Thai elephants and from before the international ivory ban (1989) to be sold, but the sheer amount of ivory on the streets for sale can’t all be old or domestic elephant ivory.  Much of it comes in illegally from Africa and represents the lives of many poached African elephants.

Whilst millions of dollars are being raised and spent to try and combat poaching in Africa, only a tiny percentage is being directed towards stemming the demand in Asia, and exactly the same can be said for the even more catastrophic demand for rhino horn.

If you were to take any other major consumer driven demand and try and change or end it,  the first place you would start in order to address the issue would be find out more about the consumer behavior behind the problem and then work out how to best target that behavior. We still know very little about the ivory consumer.  Some of the funds that Tam has raised through her latest book launch in Australia have gone to TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade organisation, who are conducting market research on who is doing the buying of ivory in Thailand.  This will help to inform campaigns like LEBE.

Coupled with this there is widespread ignorance around the ivory trade, much of which enables the industry to continue to thrive regardless of policy attempts to stop the trade. Fundamentally, to kill the trade you need to kill the demand.

LEBE pic

Things you should know about elephants and the illegal ivory trade:

  • The elephant has to be killed to get the ivory
  • Ivory grows for the duration of an elephants life
  • There are probably no more than a hundred males left with very large tusks like this bull below. Most of the really big tuskers have been killed, leaving younger males with smaller ivory.
  • In Africa, both females and males have tusks, unlike Asian elephants. Babies with small tusks and mothers are also killed to provide ivory for illegal trade.
  • Ivory doesn’t drop out like teeth; the face has to be hacked into with machetes to get it out, sometimes when the elephant is still alive
  • Elephants and humans have the same brain convolutions. They are extremely intelligent, emotional animals with strong family ties.
  • When an elephant dies, its loved ones will return to its bones for years to come. Elephants really don’t ever forget.

Tam and Nadya are building a digital community to influence governments and consumers to get on top of this problem, and you can help them by taking the pledge to say no to ivory here.   If you want to go further for elephants, join Tam on one ofher safaris to Africa.  She leads ethical safaris to different parts of Africa every year focused on camps and operations that not only offer amazing experiences but also make a difference on the ground, both for wildlife and local communities.



After eight years this year’s Earth Hour is my last as CEO.  It has been an amazing journey filled with incredible highs, many challenges and best of all, some extraordinary people.  My final official day at Earth Hour Global will be August 31st.  In the mean time I thought I would share some memories from the last eight years.

2007 – This was the very first Earth Hour and one of the most extraordinary experiences I have ever had, standing by Sydney Harbour watching this beautiful city go dark and realising that there were millions of people out there who shared our desire for change.  But more than this, as the days got closer to Earth Hour, it was the diversity of participation that was most impressive – from priests, rugby league clubs, school kids and major corporations to drag queens and speed daters.  It was the start of the manifestation of Earth Hour’s powerful mainstream reach, the people ‘in the middle’ that we in the green movement had struggled to access in the past.


2008 – In year two, we hoped that Earth Hour would spread to cities and towns across Australia.  Amazingly, it did more than this and went international very quickly. Toronto signed up a couple of days after EH1 and by the time we reached the event, EH was happening in nearly 380 cities and towns in 35 countries.

Earth Hour balloon

It’s definitely not a favourite moment, but four days out from Earth Hour the website crashed and continued to intermittently crash for the following three days. We had not built the site to handle anywhere near the level of traffic that it had to handle. I was awakened continuously by my phone ringing to be met on the other end of the line by a particularly distraught member of the team in the US telling us the site had failed again. We were, in all honesty, a fair bit out of our depth.  What a lot of people don’t realise about Earth Hour is that despite its scale, it has always been run by a very small team with extremely limited resources.  We have always fired on the passion of great people.

March 2009 – Ten months out from the global climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, the world really did ‘vote earth’ with their light switch. The campaign developed with Leo Burnett’s was amazing and we leaped from 379 cities and towns to just over 4000

Vote Earth - Video

Earth Hour was celebrated in China and Mongolia. The Pyramids in Egypt turned off or the first time. Since my school days, I’ve always been a big fan of Egypt, inspired by their inventions and development. Seeing the lights go out at the Pyramids really touched my heart. It was extraordinary watching the campaign unfold around the world. Back in 2007, we had imagined that it might be a bit like New Year’s Eve for the planet. It was a very emotional experience and for the first time, I began to see Earth Hour’s true potential as a movement for change.

Vote Earth Tree

December 2009 – We all came crashing down to earth at the global climate change negotiations in Copenhagen (COP15), where we had planned a special Earth Hour for the event with WWF Denmark. I remember standing on the stage in the main square of Copenhagen and getting a call from a member of the WWF team working at COP15 to tell me that the UN Secretary General – due to make a speech and flick the switch at in 30 minutes – was unable to attend as the talks had gone into crisis. We had TV crews from around the world ready to film his speech and capture the moment. It was snowing and beyond cold. They literally started to pack up their camera gear and leave in front of our eyes, a very sobering moment and a lesson in politics. In hindsight, we realised that we had gone off course and put our faith in politics instead of the power of the people.

Earth Hour 2009 Hopenhagen

Earth Hour 2010 – In the aftermath of Copenhagen, we had to pick ourselves up again. The shock waves to the green movement were palpable after the failure of the UN climate meetings to deliver any meaningful change. We had to decide as an organisation if we were going to stop Earth Hour at this point. Frankly, in my head, I thought if a deal had been done in Copenhagen then we could quite rightfully have done our last Earth Hour there. But the weirdest thing was that in so many places across the planet the desire to be part of something different and global was even stronger now. Not only this, but the vast majority of people not even realize Copenhagen had happened! We got up, brushed ourselves off and tried once more. Earth Hour broke records again, with more than 120 countries involved and hundreds more cities and towns. More importantly, we started to see signs that people were starting to use Earth Hour as a movement that was broader than just a climate change campaign. We saw air pollution and water quality as issues about which people were raising awareness.  Earth Hour had a momentum of its own.

Four and a half month old Sol Ridley with his proud Dad, Earth Hour Founder and Executive Director Andy Ridley © WWF/Andy RIdley

Earth Hour 2011 – This year was our first attempt to go beyond the hour.  The previous year, we had seen the first signs that Earth Hour had the potential to be more than an event. We were also beginning to encounter more stringent criticism that Earth Hour was just symbolic and didn’t achieve anything. We had always seen Earth Hour has having three potential phases: Symbolic, Beyond the Hour and then (in our dreams), a Global Movement. We launched the Beyond the Hour platform with the clear intention of capturing as many individual actions as possible and inspiring others to do more.  For me personally, there were two high points to the campaign. First, there was the story of Nathi, a fifteen-year-old lad from Swaziland who single-handedly started Earth Hour in Swaziland. Between him and his mates, he got schools and businesses engaged, and in the end communities all across this landlocked African country were involved – an amazing effort.

Minutes silence Tokyo, Japan WWF Japan Copyright

Earth Hour 2012 – This was the year that Earth Hour went into space, literally and metaphorically! Also former rebels in Libya started Earth Hour in Benghazi and Tripoli (with help from the Scouts). We also launched our “I Will If You Will” (IWIYW) campaign – daring people to protect the planet. It went really well and proved for the first time that people could take Earth Hour beyond the hour. Notably, the WWF Earth Hour team in Russia started an IWIYW campaign to pass legislation to increase marine protection in Russian waters. More than 120,000 Russians signed up to the cause, the issue was debated and passed in the Duma 6 months later. We started to see different communities, countries and individuals launching challenges big and small for the environment as part of a broader Earth Hour movement. It was very inspiring to see and something we had hoped for right from the early days of Earth Hour. For me, it was a coming of age moment for the campaign. Now, we were seeing big, tangible impacts for the planet as a result of what had once been just a ‘lights out’ symbolic event.


Earth Hour 2013 – This was our first year as a global team in Singapore. Three of us moved from Sydney so we had to build a new team almost from scratch – quite a challenge – but the stage had been set.  Earth Hour now had a life of its own and was achieving huge outcomes for conservation across the planet. In 2014, Earth Hour movements across the world delivered more outcomes than ever before: from a moratorium on deforestation of the Atlantic Forest in Paraguay to hundreds of thousands of trees planted in the first Earth Hour Forest in Uganda to a 3.4 million hectare marine protected area off Argentina, to so much more. Vancouver became the world’s first Earth Hour City as part of WWF’s Earth Hour City Challenge competition.

Andy Ridley, CEO and Co-Founder of Earth Hour

Earth Hour 2014 – It is a fairly wild experience to watch as countries and cities from around the world start to share their plans for the night and beyond the hour.  Each story builds momentum and inspires other teams to share and do more. For me, 2014 is the most important year in the project’s history as we see so many campaigns multiplying the effect of everyone’s efforts – the power of the crowd is now the driving force behind Earth Hour.  This year, we launched Earth Hour Blue, harnessing the power of the crowd through crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, which supports projects and campaigns from all over the world – essentially helping the movement help itself. What also makes 2014 so special is that we have Spider-Man at our side, Earth Hour’s first Super Hero ambassador. Spider-Man is the perfect Superhero for Earth Hour as he stands for hope and action. He’s an average kid driving home the message that really everyone can be a superhero for the planet. Earth Hour 2014 proved to be the biggest yet.  More than 160 countries took part, but best of all is the incredible amount of activity happening beyond the hour, from campaigns to protect help communities in the Amazon, to save the Great Barrier Reef, change high carbon emission heaters in Argentina and the list goes on.

It really has been the most inspiring experience and I very much look forward to celebrating Earth Hour with my family in 2015 and watching and participating as the movement, inspired by millions of people across the planet grows to its full potential.  As for me, I am taking a bit of time to decide on what’s next.  One thing I have learnt from the Earth Hour journey is that whilst we face extraordinary challenges, today we also have the means to connect millions, to use our voices in an ever greater way and find hope and inspiration in the must unusual places.


I want to leave a world for my kids that is a better place than the one I was gifted.  If I’m to achieve that goal, there’s a lot more work to be done.



An open-source project basically means that anybody can take your concept and run with it. The plus is that your idea can spread like wildfire and grow in unimaginable ways. However, running any sort of open-source project takes managing things in a very non-traditional way.

Here are my 10 tips on how to make an open source movement highly successful.

  1. Start with a great product.
  2. Build a small social organizing community. 100 dedicated people are worth more than a million Facebook ‘likes’ any day of the week.
  3. Freedom to adapt. If you have limited resources, don’t design a campaign that is too prescriptive. Choose a name, define the look and feel – and then let the crowd go wild.
  4. Get used to having no control. If resources are limited, you cannot manage the campaign like you have the budget of a multinational corporation. You are going to have to have faith in the crowd let them own it and patrol it. It’s scary at first, but you grow and get used to it.
  5. Empower people. The idea of an open-source campaign is to let the best content and ideas flourish. That means they may not be yours. Embrace and adopt the best ones.
  6. Keep the faith and hope. Right at the beginning of Earth Hour, my boss was a guy named Greg Bourne. He made a giant leap of faith by letting me go ahead with the idea (against the advice of many on his board and in the marketing team). I didn’t get how big a deal this was at the time – but he had both faith in his people and hope for the future. He was a truly, cool bloke.
  7. Dream big. It feels good when very occasionally the dream comes true.
  8. Have persistence. For all the rhetoric, the toughest thing is not to give up.
  9. Surround yourself with good people. Last – but most importantly – I have been lucky enough to work with some superstars (by which I mean the Earth Hour teams over the years), including many interesting, complex and hilarious characters. Every year has had a different vibe.
  10. Realize things don’t always go your way. There will be failures. Accept them and learn from them. They can teach you more than your successes.

And here’s a little clip from this year’s Earth Hour

Continue reading