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Luke Douglas-Home Founder's Story

What can we do to secure our children’s future? We need to understand that everything is interlinked. At the present rate, not only will humanity perish but our beautiful planet’s biodiversity will be wiped out, too. Helping to arrest this decline and achieve sustainability is my life’s purpose, but it will take more than the hopes and aspirations of one person. I have founded Clear Public Space as a vehicle for working with companies that wish to do their bit by developing sustainable ways to conduct their businesses, and now I wish to scale it. But why me, and why Clear Public Space? I’m so glad you asked.

Everything is interlinked.

Despite dedicating myself to sustainable development today, I haven’t always been an environmentalist. I was born into a household that cannot really be described as ‘normal’. During my boyhood, I saw my father suffering from leukaemia. As the Editor of The Times, he had a formidable public reputation – his memorial service was in St Paul’s Cathedral, for goodness’ sake!

Before my eyes, his impeccable social profile gave way to a vulnerable figure whose life drained away from him at a young age, until his death when I was just 14 years old. I never really managed to process the emotions as a child and, from the age of 13, boarding school served as an escape from the deadening life around my father’s decline. At that time, one was seemingly expected to just ‘get on with it’. So instead of focusing inwards, I learned to look outwards.

Luke tells his children about the 'fossil-fuelled' part of his journey.

Maybe that’s why I developed a very international outlook, and after leaving university I headed first to Hong Kong. There, I worked for a large multinational organisation and eventually became Duty Manager at Kai Tak Airport. This fossil-fuelled part of my journey – working at a place with a huge carbon footprint – seems especially ironic now! At that point, climate change sounded pretty much like the weather forecast to me. I remember going sailing one afternoon and getting stuck at sea for an hour because there was no wind. When I looked at the still water, a shoal of tiny plastic pieces floated about. That’s when a light bulb moment went off in my head. I immediately thought of industrial Guangzhou nearby. Too often, we fail to appreciate how interconnected we all are. Environmental problems are far from an isolated issue that only trouble certain areas.

In 2005, while doing charitable work in Romania, I experienced a life-changing event. One day, during a casual Sunday horse ride, I suffered an accident that put me in a coma for around three months. Brain injury clouded my memory, so I still can’t remember much about the accident. My recovery and rehabilitation took years. Coming back to a near-normal life was against the odds and took tremendous grit and determination. I feel an enduring gratitude that I managed this, as most don’t get a second shot. So I’ve decided to use my ‘bonus time’ wisely.

My father’s untimely death and my recovery from traumatic brain injury have helped me put life into perspective. I can now see the impact of most actions from an environmental impact standpoint. I reflect on my choices and how they affect the planet that cradles us. With time, I learned how to apply this personal eco-therapy to the business world.

Luke now looks for every possible opportunity to lower his carbon footprint.

In 2018, I developed a method for systematically measuring environmental sustainability in workplaces. I achieved this after feedback and iterations with schools that we’ve worked with, and thanks to ongoing education through Cambridge University’s Institute of Sustainability. That’s how our Environmental Impact Review (EIR) was born. It’s a dynamic three-step process of change: data-gathering and analysis, suggestions and reorganisation. The company I’ve built engages clients that wish to reduce their carbon footprints by assessing their work practices. By identifying high-carbon hotspots, we come up with practical suggestions for improvements. We then help them receive recognition for implementing our advice through accreditation from certified institutions. My small team and I had the luxury of leveraging the bright side of the COVID-19 pandemic. Having more time on our hands, we improved our system. It now includes the CO2e metric of carbon dioxide equivalence, which provides a common scale for measuring the global warming potential of different gases.

Left: The CPS team. Right: Luke walks a client through the Environmental Impact Review (EIR) process.
Comparing reusable water bottle options for schoolchildren.

One of the reasons why I refer to the EIR as a ‘dynamic process’ is because it constantly receives feedback from a second project, a community interest company (CIC) I established called A Future Without Rubbish. Currently, we are working with schools in Romania, India and the UK. In addition to teaching children about the Sustainable Development Goals, the circular economy and waste management, we encourage students to engage in organised debates about the environment. These brainstorming sessions not only improve their knowledge but also provide useful ideas and feedback that can be integrated into the EIR process.

EIRs are powerful tools, as a single review can ignite a chain reaction. Campaigns that emerge from EIR suggestions serve as a critical means of spreading awareness and bringing about behaviour change in the business space and among the broader public. For example, single-use plastic stirrers used to be ubiquitous throughout British cafés. A few seconds of stirring is followed by centuries of environmental impact. Clear Public Space started the ‘Stir Crazy’ campaign, which played a significant role in getting plastic stirrers banned in the UK. Once we secure the investment we need to scale the company, I’m sure the opportunities for such chain reactions will be literally limitless.

Our livelihoods, and particularly those of our children and future generations, depend on how efficiently we can respond to climate change and other environmental issues. As Mike Berners-Lee recently said, “the biodiversity crisis is as important as the climate emergency.” Similarly, if companies are to survive in the future, they will have no choice but to find more sustainable ways of doing business. This is an existential crisis for us all. In this context, Clear Public Space has incredible potential. That’s because we know how to apply what we learn at the microcosmic level to create change at the macro level.

Luke says his 'danger of death' ankle tattoo serves as a wake up call each morning to get living.

My recovery from a traumatic brain injury taught me that we as human beings can shape our destinies no matter what obstacles we encounter. At one time, doctors said that they didn’t know whether I would ever walk or talk again. Now, I run half marathons and speak as much as I want. Just as we can do this for ourselves, we can collectively do the same for our planet through actions guided by intent. Clear Public Space is a pioneering low-emission vehicle for turning such intent into action. It now has proof of concept and is ready to grow. To companies, my starting point is to ask, “what is your purpose?” And then the conversations begin.

If you would like to invest in Clear Public Space, contact Luke now at ldh@clearpublicspace.org.
Created By
Robin Wyatt
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© Robin Wyatt