Women in Sustainability: Clare McDermott, Soil Association

In recognition and celebration of the wide variety of sectors and roles women cover within our network, we’re delighted to feature our next ‘Woman in Sustainability’.

Meet Clare McDermott – Business Development Director at Soil Association Certification


1.     Tell us a little about who you are and what you do.

Soil Association Certification is the UK’s leading organic certifier and we work with all the major brands and retailers that produce organic food, beauty and clothing.  I’ve got an amazing role as I get to work with all these fantastic businesses that take a leading role in organic and with all the outlets, be they multiple retailers, cafes, independents that sell organic.  We try and grow the market demand through marketing, availability, innovation and policy so I also work with Government and a lot of other sustainability organisations and NGO’s.


2.     What do you enjoy most about your job?

As you can guess, no two days (or no two hours) are ever the same!  I love being able to make a real difference to businesses and to change the consumer perception of organic away from being something niche to being every day and normal.  You don’t have to buy everything organic, buy what’s important to you.  We’ve done a lot of work trying to make it more understandable.  I love being able to make real change and more people buying and using organic, means more change to our farming systems, land use and the environment.


3.     How did you come to be in this role?

I don’t have any background in food or farming other than a real interest in food and what we eat so it’s been a massive learning curve!  I originally studied textiles and worked as a Buyer before moving into Third Sector at the RNLI which really brought home to me the importance of doing something where you can see the difference you make; there it’s very easy, there are big blue and orange Lifeboats outside the window.  The person that led me to my current role would be Jeanette Orrey OBE, the leading Dinner Lady behind the Jamie Oliver School Meals campaigns and the co-founder of our own Food for Life programme.  I heard Jeanette on the radio when my own children were small and I was struggling with what and how to cook.  She was so inspiring I went straight out and bought her book and that started my journey into food!


4.     What opportunities and challenges do you see emerging for sustainability professionals in your field over the next couple of years?

Shoppers are concerned about where their food (and everything they buy really) comes from and how it is produced, we did some research last year that really highlighted a feeling of mis trust and so the expectation on companies and organisations to be doing the right thing is growing.  It’s also not enough to talk it, shoppers want to be able to see it and they are researching it.  We were part of the Sustainable Textiles Initiative which brought 13 major brands together including M&S and Tesco F&F and everyone in the room recognised and committed to the fact that this commitment to sustainability and action to make it happen had to happen and had to happen from the top of companies.  The opportunity (and the challenge) is making it happen and for sustainability professionals to be centre to that piece not allowing CSR to be a bolt on / nice to have.


5.     Tell us a little on how you’ve experienced being a woman in your sector?

It’s only with hindsight that I sometimes think “was my voice heard”? I think sometimes being women we can be more creative and see different solutions to problems and challenges that just because people don’t get it the first time, doesn’t mean you should not push it; we’re just ahead of the thinking.  I think that is also why there are a lot of women doing amazing things in sustainability and pushing the boundaries because we can see the problem and solutions more clearly.


6.     What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?


Be authentic which I know is the buzzword of the moment but be you.  At times, I have felt I maybe didn’t fit the mould but actually that is what I was bringing to the role and conversation and we should all embrace who we are and be confident.  Sometimes it just takes a bit of help to embrace that confidence in what you think and your view.


7.     What advice do you have for women looking to move into your type of role?

Do what you feel passionate about, you’ll be your most brilliant at it.  If you are interested, enthusiastic and genuine you will do a great job even if at first you lack some of the knowledge and skills.  Learn as much as you can, every day.  Be a sponge and soak up every conversation and go to every meeting or event even if you don’t have much to add to start with.  That way you learn.


8.     What has helped you the most to get you where you are today?

Lots of things but mainly trying to do the above and do the things I am passionate about as that drives me.  I’ve had some amazing bosses both male and female that have given me the freedom to explore and try things and I’ve always tried to meet as many people as possible as that way you learn and it gives you a fantastic network to go to.  Having a wonderful team in all my roles and letting them be inspired and do what they do best makes it easy and to see people go on and achieve amazing things keeps me inspired! Keep in touch with people and always treat people as you would want to be treated.


9.     Where do you want to go from here?

I joke that I want to be Mike Barry (Director of CSR, M&S and architect of Plan A) as I think he is just amazing and has changed sustainability and how companies approach it so much but as that isn’t a direct possibility, I want to continue to do things that inspire me and lead to change in how people think about sustainability both as consumers and in companies; it’s not a nice to do, it is part of doing business today.


10. How do you keep your work and the rest of your life balanced?

I run a lot and I also try to make sure that I do things that I enjoy and personally find interesting as part of work, whether that’s going for a dinner or a talk or just reading across a wide variety of articles.  There’s always something else to do though so I also switch off literally (I do turn my phone off) when I’m on holiday and as I live by the sea, I try and go in as much as I can in the Summer – it really is the best de-stressor!



If you would like to be featured here (or can recommend someone) please email us and state in no more that 200 words why she should be featured.  Key criteria for being selected:

  • Offers insightful commentary on the above questions.
  • Has a breadth/ depth of experience to share.
  • Allows us to cover new areas/ sectors/ roles of ‘women in sustainability’.
  • Can provide high quality recent head shot.