Emma is a senior member of the OnePlanet management team handling client service. Her role focuses on using the platform to help clients to identify and define their purpose in order to inform strategic plans and embed this throughout their organisation and entire value chain.
Emma holds a PhD from Lancaster University; her thesis explored the Chinese government’s concept of an Ecological Civilisation. She analysed their use of emotion and how environmental politics has become key to identity, power and status. Emma is passionate about exploring the relationship between people and the planet, and her work with OnePlanet helps to bring people together in such a way that will best support regenerating the earth.
Milton Group are investors and founding partners in OnePlanet, a state-of-the-art graph based technology platform, working closely with Emma to create open-source sustainability plans that can be shared and collaborated with stakeholders and the wider sustainability community.
“Together, we can prevent the coming disasters of climate change and environmental destruction. Together, we can Restore Our Earth.”
– Earth Day, 2021
I, for one, made a huge sigh of relief on reading this year’s Earth Day theme. Let me tell you why.
Over recent years the climate crisis narrative has taken a worryingly debasing turn, placing too much emphasis on the individual as an autonomous agent of change. This has become known as the individual action frame. Sure, swapping to a bamboo toothbrush or taking your hessian re-usable shopping bags to the stores are easy and accessible actions for most of us in the Western World. However, individual action framing has fragmented and diluted the climate crisis, oversimplifying solutions, leaving activists unclear on how everything connects. Focusing on single actions has distracted us from the bigger interconnected picture. The result of years of individual action framing has been to label individuals as nothing more than consumers, consumers of eco-washed products removed from their wider impacts. We need to re-frame how individual actions are part of a greater ecosystem of people, places, and outcomes to understand the complexity of the climate crisis, to make better decisions, with greater impact.
Not only has the individual action frame isolated us; it has also led to a staggering increase in depression. More – and increasingly younger – people have been suffering from existential dread. We call this climate grief . Using a bamboo toothbrush, at home, alone, is not the collective action that the climate crisis needs; it is not the political nor corporate action that is necessary if we want to stand a chance in regenerating the planet. This narrative is leaving some of our most enthusiastic and ready individuals unable to continue the fight, because they know that, alone, they cannot do enough. The narrative must change.
Thankfully, Earth Day 2021 is doing just this. The theme for 2021 is reframing the climate crisis and the actions we can take, and it is so refreshing. “Together, we can prevent the coming disasters of climate change and environmental destruction. Together, we can Restore Our Earth.” How our leading educators and activists frame their communication is exceptionally important as it influences how we understand, digest, and then act on their advice. Solving the climate crisis is not just about swapping out a product for an ‘eco’ version; we need to understand why. By (re)introducing into the climate crisis narrative ecosystem-based explanations, we can reduce climate grief and improve our understanding of the ecosystems within which we operate.
Ecosystems-thinking is better suited to regenerating the planet. The climate crisis does not exist in siloes of actions or places; it is a complicated and interconnected process. What we do as individuals is part of an ecosystem of actions and reactions. Understanding how our individual actions are part of a chain-reaction empowers us as individuals and makes us better equipped to undertake actions that will go on to have exponential impact. For example, the places we build, impacts how dependent we remain on cars. Combustion engine cars pollute the earth, damage our health, and are causing climate change. The use of combustion engines supports the oil industry, which also manufactures plastics. Plastic is ending up in the oceans and is killing marine life. If we eat seafood, the plastics end up in us and is a contributing factor to many cancers. And it is also killing penguins. So, how can using a bamboo toothbrush help restore the planet?
As an individual, using a bamboo toothbrush – from an ecosystem perspective – takes production power away from the oil industry by consuming less of their plastics. This reduces the amount of plastic in the sea, which helps to restore marine life, improves the health of humans, and ultimately, will save penguins. The less power given to the oil industry, the fewer combustion engine cars will be produced, allowing alternative transport to be more easily supported by consumers and governments. If this allows greater funding towards cycling, then this further empowers the individual to help restore the planet. Hence, using a bamboo toothbrush is an example of the collective, political, and corporate action needed to restore the planet. Ecosystems-thinking helps us to join the dots, make the connections, and find the actions of greatest impact to restore the planet.
This Earth Day, I encourage you to map out your individual actions. Join those dots, see how you fit into the greater ecosystems, and empower yourself by understanding the exponential impact of your individual actions. Thank you, Earth Day 2021, for bringing the narrative back to focus on the importance of collective action. Together we CAN restore our Earth.
Dr. Emma Williams, OnePlanet
 Earth Day 2021: https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2021/
 Benford, R. D. (2013). Master Frame. In D. A. Snow, D. Della Porta, B. Klandermans and D. McAdam (Eds.). The Wiley‐Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Benford, R. D., Snow, D. A. (2000). Framing Processes and Social Movements: An overview and Assessment. Annual Review of Sociology. Cox, R. J., Pezzulo, P. C. (2016). Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. SAGE Publications. Murray, S. (2020) Framing a climate crisis: A descriptive framing analysis of how Greta Thunberg inspired the masses to take to the streets. Uppsala University.
 Taylor, M. and Murray J. (2020) ‘Overwhelming and terrifying’: the rise of climate anxiety: Experts concerned young people’s mental health particularly hit by reality of the climate crisis. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/10/overwhelming-and-terrifying-impact-of-climate-crisis-on-mental-health
 Earth Day 2021: https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2021/