Ed Gillespie: Futerra co-founder

2 Dec

Everyone has a story. Are cities a good place to live? Norfolk-raised Ed Gillespie is helping make urban centres and businesses meet the needs of the 21st century thanks to his work at Futerra in Clerkenwell, and his own passion for flight-free long haul travel. Interview by Nicola Baird

Ed Gillespie’s love of travel inspired him to take a year’s sabbatical from the organisation he co-founded, Futerra, to travel the world over land and sea. His book Only Planet is just out and he’s established a unique concept to help people find ways to travel the world without even leaving London, see http://www.worldinlondon.co.uk/ All crowdfunding info at the bottom of the page.

Ed Gillespie’s love of travel inspired him to take a year’s sabbatical from the organisation he co-founded, Futerra, to travel the world over land and sea. His book Only Planet is just out and he’s established a unique concept to help people find ways to travel the world without even leaving London thanks to a very clever app which needs crowdfunding soon, see http://www.worldinlondon.co.uk/ .

“Cities are much more sustainable than rural areas in many ways. The sharing, togetherness, toleration, activities and creativity generated in a city make for a very successful experience. It’s vital that we get it right,” says Ed Gillespie. “We need to live a little leaner” – he hasn’t flown on a vacation for the past 10 years, gave up his car 17 years ago and has no kids – “it’s a lot more creative…”

You might not have heard of Futerra, or its co-founder Ed Gillespie, but the impact this media business has had on the way people do sustainability communications is immense. Over the past 14 years Futerra has helped refine the way businesses – such as Kingfisher, Sky TV, Nandos – and organisations – such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Friends of the Earth and even the UN – talk to you and me.

Now installed in an office meeting room the confession booth was used by Futerra on the festival circuit as a place for people to confess their eco crimes (4WDs, long showers) and perhaps start afresh with other greener habits.

Now installed in an office meeting room the confession booth was used by Futerra on the festival circuit as a place for people to confess their eco crimes (4WDs, long showers) and perhaps start afresh with other greener habits.

“We’re a positive change agency,” says the ever upbeat co-founder Ed Gillespie who employs 2Add New5 staff In London (and another 20+ in their international offices in New York and Stockholm). The books on the shelves alongside him may be a tad negative (eg, Green Gone Wrong), but Ed’s eco-charged energy is inspiring; perhaps because he’s sitting on one of a pair of Chesterfield sofas positioned under a carved wooden sign that suggests we’re in an ‘Earthly Sins Confessional Booth’?

“About 10 years ago we used to take the booth to festivals, including Glastonbury, “ says Ed grinning. “We found guilt was a barrier to action, so let people confess their sins so they could progress to more sustainable behaviours.” So far so serious, but then Ed admits, “It was an excuse to dress up as a vicar, which I found fun. People treat you really differently. There’s still an earthly sins Facebook page…”

Originally trained as a marine biologist, with experience working in the Orkneys, New Caledonia and Australia, Ed is the sort of person futurologists say we should be watching because he’s helping us create a more environmentally in tune way of living.

Now 42, and ready to prove Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author, Douglas Adams, right re the meaning of life, Ed’s agency has coped well despite the government cut backs. “When the coalition came in our Government work disappeared and we still work a fair amount with NGOs (charities) but about 75 per cent of our work is now from business. There is what his friend and fellow futurist Mark Stevenson calls “institutional bewilderment” about their organisation’s ability to change. “Business knows that if they don’t change there will be no choice – the big six energy companies are a good example…”

His argument is quite complex, but if business people continue thinking that unlimited growth at any cost is good, they are going to hit a problem thanks to our Earth’s finite resources. What they need to do now is move to services rather than products (think car sharing not owning) and secure sustainable supplies – hence the surge of interest in accredited forest management products marked with the FSC logo.

Ed clearly adores his work. He gives a great talk – always funny – and has a real skill at helping people “get it”. I’ve wanted to interview him for a long time and so made use of Futerra’s EC1 address to engineer a meeting. But like it’s previous home in Charterhouse Square Futerra has always just been on the Islington borders, not actually in this borough. And maybe it’s pushing the Islington link just too much when I discover that talented Islington typographer Derek Birdsall did Futerra’s first designs?

Exmouth Market permanent eateries and pop ups are a joy for nearby office workers like the Futerra staff.

Even in the rain Exmouth Market’s restaurants, cafes and pop up food stalls are a joy for nearby office workers like the Futerra staff.

Places Ed Gillespie & Futerra staff enjoy going to in Islington

  • The Gunmakers' pub.

    The Gunmakers’ pub.

    The Gunmakers is our local pub on Eyre Street Hill. It was a gunmakers’ shop in Dickens’ time. It’s small, cosy and serves real ale. We can see it out of the back of the office – and there’s a really friendly landlord. @thegunmakers

  • We love Paesan and Caravan at the end of Exmouth Street Market. Paesan, 2 Exmouth Market, Caravan, 11-13 Exmouth Market
  • We’re blessed to have Leather Lane, in Clerkenwell, and a lot of pop ups. There’s a Japanese place that sells pork katsu sandwiches – they’re addictive! We love Chick for the falafel on 17-19 Leather Lane. That started off as a stall.
  • In the summer we sneak into the lawyers’ gardens in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. It’s a magical place. You feel like you’ve broken in for lunch. They’re very magnanimous that they let people in.

Excitingly Ed’s new project is working with another Ed to crowdfund £15,000 for a new app, world in London that helps you engage with global communities who’ve settled in London. On the promotional video, see www.crowdfunder.co.uk/worldinlondon, you can keep your feet in London but take your soul for seriously speedy travelling. Try:

9am in Europe (having a cup of coffee)

10.30am in Africa (shopping in Brixton market)

12 noon flatbreads in Turkey

2pm in India via Neasdon Temple

4pm over to Asia with another gorgeous temple

6.30pm football cheering for Colombia

8pm grabbing a drink in Mexico

10pm partying the night away in Brazil.

Like Ed I have chosen not to use planes (our family’s last big trip was in 2011 for a three month sojourn in the South Pacific, and before that in 2000). Instead I’ve tried travelling the world without leaving the UK with my family (see the blog http://aroundbritiannoplane.blogspot.com ) so I’m thrilled to find that the two Eds are working on an app to make London an even better place to live and travel. But to make it work they need to have the full funding in place by 18 December, so do help them – especially if you’ve never given crowdfunding a go before.

  • You can help crowdfund World In London, have a look at http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/worldinlondon The plan is to raise £15,000 by 18 December 2014. Could it be us Islington folk that make the difference?
  • 20141130_102726Use this 33% discount code on purchase price for UK or overseas (F33RERA) to buy a cheaper copy of Ed Gillespie’s new book, Only Planet: a flight free adventure around the world (rrp £14.99). To claim your discount follow the link here. Originally a well-loved Guardian column, this is a fabulous way to armchair travel or plan your own low carbon adventures.
  • More about Futerra at http://www.futerra.co.uk/

Over to you

If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right), @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

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2 Responses to “Ed Gillespie: Futerra co-founder”

  1. Kitchen-Counter-Culture December 2, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    I like the eco-crimes confessional.

    • nicolabairdgreen December 2, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

      Yes, we should all have one of those! Thanks for dropping by. Nicola

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