Women in Sustainability: Livvy Drake

Livvy Drake (Sustainable Sidekicks) works with businesses, events and green champions to achieve their sustainability goals. She uses the principles of behavioural science to empower campaigners, communicators and businesses to achieve greater behaviour change outside of the green echo chamber. She has practical sustainability and behaviour change experience spanning events, businesses and non-profit campaigning organisations.


1.     Tell us a little about what you do and how you came to be doing this work.

I was working in the events industry and I had an a-ha moment when I saw a full-solar eclipse in Far North Queensland and realised that I should be working to support Mother Nature, not giving all my enthusiasm, energy and hours to an industry that was so wasteful and single-use. When I came back to the UK, after another 9 months of corporate event work, I took a leap of faith and threw myself into the areas I was passionate about: Food waste, single-use plastics and making events more sustainable. I had an amazing summer of working and volunteering at events with Fareshare (food waste), RAW foundation (single-use plastics) and getting training in sustainable event management. And out of the blue I got a call from one of the greenest festivals in the UK, Shambala, to work with them and deliver training as part of Bristol’s year as European Green Capital. 2015 was an incredible year for me, as I also started supporting Natalie Fee and her plastics mission; which lead to the launch of the Refill campaign and the birth of City to Sea in Bristol.

How did you get into Behaviour Change?

Shambala, brought in a behavioural change consultant to work on waste engagement initiatives and the explanations about our brain and using behavioural economics to overcome it sent more lightbulbs flashing. I then went to UWE to study behaviour change so I could apply these principles to the issues of single-use plastics and other wicked environmental issues.


2.     As a behaviour change specialist, where do people often go wrong in trying to encourage more sustainable behaviours? What should they do instead?

The key mistakes I see are the assumptions that: :
a)    Behaviours are conscious and rational. Behavioural economics demonstrates how irrational and unconscious we are most of the time. 60% of shopping is done based on habits and impulse shopping rather than rational choices. And even our decision making is based on funny biases e.g. People will buy German wine if they hear German music in a wine shop or will bid more at an auction if they saw a large number at the entrance of the building.
b)    People just lack knowledge and that education will change their mind. Behaviours are motivated by our peers and social norms as well as the structures around us. Plus our brains which are wired for convenience and the easy option, as well as these funny biases (there are hundreds of them, check them out here).
c)     Environmentalists use their own values and belief systems to convince people rather than understanding what drives and motivates their target audience.  For the last 2 years, more people have tried Veganuary for health reasons over animal rights or the environment. So using health as a motivator can engage a wider audience.


3.      Sustainability policies can sometimes be seen as something only ‘big’ businesses ought to be doing. What are your thoughts on that?

A 2017 report by professional services company PwC found that 65% of people across China, Germany, India, the UK and the US want to work for an organisation with a strong social conscience
In a 2019, a Fast Company report found nearly 70% of millennials said that if a company had a strong sustainability plan, it would affect their decision to stay with that company long term.
A Futera and One Pulse survey found that, 65% of consumers expect companies to clearly explain environmental benefits on product labels or websites.

So regardless of size, if a company wants to attract and retain staff having a policy is essential for both their clients and staff.


4.     What are your top tips for a small business starting to consider embedding sustainability into what they do?

·       Don’t get overwhelmed and think you have to tackle everything at once.
·       If you can’t afford to have a dedicated member of staff, form a green team with representatives covering different areas of your organisation.
·       Identify the big impacts as well as the low hanging fruit that will get everyone motivated e.g. single-use plastics and focus on these to gather momentum whilst the bigger issues take longer to solve.
·       Create an action plan (you can download a free one here) with a timeline breaking down the actions.
·       Meet regularly with your green team to keep momentum up
·       As you make changes acknowledge and celebrate them to keep people engaged – our brains need short-term rewards to stay motivated. Long-term goals won’t keep us engaged as we are wired for the more immediate future.

If you are a micro-organisation a solo-preneur or a freelancer you still can have a policy and an action plan. Whilst I am not doing any business travel at the moment I am focusing on my online carbon footprint. This involves reducing my online storage, changing my website to be low carbon. I am also donating 10% of all online trainings to grassroot charities and 20% of all consultancy income to rewilding. For my social impact, I am offering 50 spaces to environmental campaigners from underrepresented communities. See my policy here.


5.     What have been the biggest shifts in your own journey as a sustainability consultant?

Discovering that I could work remotely and travel. In 2018, I cycled across Spain and Portugal with my laptop and a tent working at cafes in the heat of the day and cycling in the mornings and the afternoon.

Inspired by reading the book Rewilding, and learning how much farmland and villages are deserted on the continent, I decided that I would set a business goal to buy some deserted farmland for a rewilding project as it has a huge potential for carbon sequestion. I am currently allocating 20% of all consultancy income towards this, as well as some mortgage savings.


6.     What do you know now that you wish you had known when you first started out?

Expressing boundaries and my own needs rather than going along with other people’s. More recently I have told people my needs and dreams and invariably they have found ways to accommodate these. Including more time spent working remotely (although the pandemic has also changed this too).


7.     What is the question you wish people would ask you, and what would your answer be?

Is behaviour change just about changing individuals minds?

No, we shouldn’t think about behaviour change as individuals making more conscious choices to change. I don’t think the radical behaviour change we need will come about without strategic systemic changes to our infrastructures. It is just frustrating that we have neo-liberal governments that prefer not to intervene (except around pandemics and freedom of movement) to implement the radical systemic change that would make ethical choices the default.


Livvy has an upcoming ‘Creating an Engaging Sustainability Policy’ workshop; as well as on-demand behaviour change workshops. Find details on the Sustainable Sidekicks workshops page.