The U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce recently interviewed Traci Lewis, Catalyse Change Director, for their Q&A series, Global Sustainability Leaders #globalsustainabilityleaders

Traci Lewis headshot

Traci Lewis

Name: Traci Lewis
Company/NGO Name: Director, Catalyse Change CIC

1. What is the mission of your company/NGO?

To empower girls and young women to develop sustainability skills and knowledge for ‘healthy, happy and green’ communities, careers and planet.

2. What is the most innovative or environmentally/socially impactful project/practice your company/NGO has implemented?

After 18 years working for an environmental NGO, I set up my own sustainability change agency Sustain-Live in 2015, to match corporate companies with good causes and to drive sustainable solutions.

The project I am most passionate about is Catalyse Change CIC, a new social enterprise to empower young women for sustainable futures, I launched last year with three other women.


3. How have those projects positively impacted the local community and/ or your country?

It is still a new programme, however, the evaluation of our pilot last year revealed: 72% increase (to 100%) in the number of participants who were aware of potential careers in sustainability; 54.6% increase (to 100%) who agreed they had the potential to make a positive difference in the world; 36.4% increase (to 100%) who felt confident working in a team and making decisions in a group and 32.1% increase (to 100%) who agreed they had the tools to manage their happiness and wellbeing.

4. Please share any new projects you will be implementing in the near future.

We are developing a transformational mentoring network between professional women working in sustainability and GYW. The mentoring programme will connect young women (16-19 years) with women working in sustainability. Mentors will support mentees to access professional networks, challenge stereotypes, identify opportunities and build confidence to pursue pathways into futures in the sustainability sector.

5. What are your top 3 career accomplishments?

I worked for The Soil Association for 18 years, working to support and increase organic food and farming in the UK and globally. We were part of a whole new food movement, raising awareness and helping to provide solutions to the most pressing sustainability issues e.g climate change, soil loss, biodiversity and human health.

The last programme which I helped to establish was The Sustainable Food Cities network, now a network of around 50 cities and regions who are taking a joined-up approach to transform their food culture and food systems. I set up an initial pilot partnership ‘Food Plymouth’ in the English city of that name, which brought together a cross-sector collaboration of public, private and third sector partners.

My top accomplishment though is working and developing my career whilst raising my daughter as a single parent. We moved from the city of Bristol to a remote rural area, where I was managing the Soil Association regional south-west programme. After a stressful divorce, I found out how hard it is to raise a child on your own, whilst working full time and with no support networks. I managed to work from home in order to spend as much time as possible with my daughter, whilst still juggling a challenging career. My daughter is an interesting, beautiful teenage girl and we have a great relationship, so this to me is my top achievement!

6. What inspired you to choose your career path?

My own journey in sustainability started on a gap year which turned into 5 1/2 years of travelling, living and working in Oz, NZ & Asia.

It opened my eyes to the amazing environmental diversity and beauty of the world, but also the mass-scale destruction taking place. I witnessed first-hand the deforestation in Tasmania and plastic bags clogging up rivers in Malaysia.

So I started to learn about Permaculture – studying with Bill Mollison himself – and working on organic farms and projects – which lead to a long fruitful career with the Soil Association developing organic food and farming across SW England. Something I probably wouldn’t have done if I’d followed my previous plan to study history at University.

7. Personally—Why do you care about sustainability? What is your story?

I care passionately about our amazing beautiful planet.

young women with mentors

I also really care about the education and well-being of girls and young women and their rights, it is an issue which I am increasingly drawn to.

I have my own teenage daughter- so I am very aware of the crisis amongst our teens. According to the Dept of Education, one in three teenage girls suffer from anxiety or depression. So a big part of our programme is about building self-belief and confidence.
Gender Equality is a key sustainability issue, in fact educating Girls would have the 6th biggest positive impact on climate change, with Family Planning the next biggest.

8. What is/are the biggest incentive(s) for businesses in your country to adopt sustainable practices?

Given the urgency of the situation, I’d say the biggest incentive is the survival of humankind – both people and planet!

Also there are now significant global partnerships and targets in place for us to guide this process e.g UN Sustainable Development Goals or SDG’s – a global agenda to 2030 to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure all people enjoy peace and prosperity and of course the landmark Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 which responds to the global climate change threat by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius.

9. What is/are the biggest environmental or social challenge(s) facing your country today?

We are currently relatively protected from the impacts of climate change in the UK compared to many parts of the world. However, as an island, we are vulnerable to sea level rises and have been facing increased severity and regularity of flooding, often even in the summer now.

Some of the biggest problems we face in the UK are social ones around our health and wellbeing, from growing wealth and health inequalities. Food poverty is on the increase with one in four low-income families now struggling to eat regularly whilst obesity, now affects 17% of children with an additional 14% of children overweight Just as important is our mental health, now affecting more people every year than cancer or heart disease – every year, one in four of us in the UK is affected by a mental health problem.

10. What is the most positive action your country has taken to positively impact its environment or social well-being?

It is now widely accepted that business has to do more than make a profit – it must also drive social and environmental change.

Also the fact that mental health is now being more openly discussed and is less stigmatised.

With regard to the environment, 10 years ago the UK passed one of its most remarkable laws, the Climate Change Act, to make an 80% cut overall by 2050 in greenhouse gases. It was remarkable as the first piece of legislation anywhere in the world to set legally binding carbon emission reduction targets for successive governments and also the fact that it was passed almost unanimously, with only five MPs voting against.

We now need to ask whether the targets contained in the Climate Change Act are strong enough?

It is time to be even more ambitious!

To learn more, please visit Traci, Catalyse Change, and Sustain-Live on their website and social media:

Traci Lewis, @TraciLewis79

Catalyse Change CIC @CatalyseCh FB/I catalysechange

Sustain-Live Consulting Ltd   @Sustain_Live FB sustainlive

Traci Lewis: Catalyse Change CIC