As a part of the Office of Sustainability’s on-going effort to highlight the work of alumni doing work in support of a healthier environment, we are excited to share the story of Anneli Tostar, AB ’15. Anneli lives and works in London where she is a Sustainability Knowledge Manager at the Better Buildings Partnership and just launched a sustainable fashion blog, Miljö, last month. Anneli has previously worked for social impact and environmental consulting firms focused on implementing sustainable values across the strategy and structure of private sector firms.
How did you become passionate about environmental issues?
I have always felt very connected to nature, which probably has something to do with the fact that I grew up in the beautiful state of Oregon and am half Swedish. While I was involved in some environmental organizations at Harvard, the idea of being an “activist” in a traditional sense didn’t feel like the right fit for me, and I knew I wanted to come at sustainability issues from the angle of environmental justice, as well. During my junior year I became involved in a project at the GSD on transportation policy (under the fabulous Diane Davis), and became pretty obsessed with the idea of sustainable, equitable cities. I later went on to get a master’s degree in Sustainable Urban Planning & Design, which led me to work more explicitly on issues of social and environmental sustainability.
What have you learned about the way sustainability can be implemented across different industries that might surprise us (or surprised you when you discovered it)?
So many things! I think one of the biggest takeaways is that it pays to be a true leader in your field, an idea backed up by research by Professor George Serafeim at HBS. In my opinion, the most inspiring startups are those which seek to build a more circular economy, and this strikes a chord with younger generations. More and more large companies are beginning to understand the value of gathering and reporting on environmental and social data, but progress is still too slow. The important thing is to act, and this can mean things as diverse as sourcing energy from renewable sources or investing in sustainable pension funds. There are so many facets of sustainability that all businesses interact with on a daily basis—we just have to do a bit of research to make the right choices.
We know you just moved over to the Better Buildings Partnership. Tell us- what does being a Sustainability Knowledge Manager entail?
The Better Buildings Partnership is a coalition of UK-based commercial property owners working to improve the sustainability of their building stock. Our members have made some pretty impressive progress in the years that the BBP has been around, and just recently 23 of our members signed onto our Climate Change Commitment, wherein they commit to going carbon neutral by 2050.
As the Knowledge Manager I am responsible for feeding back a lot of the information from members to members, as well as educating the public about the work of the BBP through communications. As our Climate Commitment takes off I expect I’ll be heavily involved in setting the agenda and producing documentation of what members are doing and working towards. It’s an exciting time, and I’m thrilled to be working directly with decision makers to push climate change to the top of the agenda for the built environment.
We know that you do Sustainability Sundays on your Instagram. What inspired you to start this and how do you keep yourself abreast of sustainability issues? Do you have a favorite news source?
I started doing ‘Sustainability Sundays’ on a whim, mostly because I felt like I wanted a dedicated space to talk about sustainability issues that people could “tune in” to if they so desired. Each week has a dedicated theme (for simplicity’s sake). Some weeks I talk about issues that have come up at work, whereas other weeks I simply want to voice more nuanced arguments that I haven’t seen covered in the 24-hr news cycle—for example, the reasons why sustainable products often cost more. I don’t have a favorite news source, but I have noticed that once you start paying attention to environmental issues it’s not hard to find information on them. Environmental non-profits, the UN, and the science sections of publications like The New York Times and the BBC are good resources. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation also does great work on the circular economy.
What types of stories/news that you have shared had resonated well with your followers?
I’ve been so thrilled with the response I’ve gotten from my followers, even though I am a far cry from an “influencer.” I really do think people care and want to learn, but there is so much information out there that we need this to be distilled into practical actions. The themes that I’ve gotten the most responses on have been those which touch on the psychological aspects of consumption and sustainability (see aforementioned point re: nuanced arguments). Some of these include shaming, our attachment to ‘things,' and sustainable fashion. On this last topic, I’ll be launching a sustainable fashion blog with my co-founder, Anna Stapleton, later this fall. The site will be called Miljö—meaning “environment” in Swedish—because we want to think about the man-made and natural worlds as fundamentally interlinked. We hope this provides a useful and relatable resource for those of us who care about fashion and the planet.
You can follow Anneli’s blog here. https://www.miljostyle.com/home