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AJ Footprint exclusive: BioRegional’s Sue Riddlestone on her OBE

From Guangzhou where she is working with BioRegional’s Chinese partner China Merchants Property Development, Riddlestone reflects onher OBE and BedZed in China

What does  the OBE mean for you and for BioRegional?

It’s lovely for me and for all the team at BioRegional to be recognised in this way. It has had a magic effect of making everyone happy and lots of people getting in touch, some of whom I’ve worked with down the years but maybe not heard from for a while. I am really touched and grateful.

What particular achievements in 2012 won this recognition?

The citation is for co-founding BioRegional, for services to sustainable business and to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. But of course this year like (nearly) everyone else, I loved London 2012 and was so proud that we at BioRegional played a part in its success through the entire eight year build up: from co-writing the sustainability strategy at bid stage (and getting food in there amongst other things), to reducing and reclaiming construction waste, to being a sustainability integrator for Carillion on the massive media hub, to commenting on all those planning applications and documents and more, right up to organising and running a Defra-supported ‘One Planet Centre’ in the Athletes Village during the Games.  

What are your current active projects?

We are now following through to do our bit around legacy in East London and for sport, but also in Rio de Janeiro where we have established a presence following our engagement in the UN Rio+20 sustainability conference. An entrepreneurial BioRegional-er has started working with the local community on One Planet Living in the favela, and as we are there we are naturally now talking to the Rio 2016 team and seeing if they need a hand.

BioRegional will continue working with existing and new partners to find ways to deliver One Planet Living in ever new scenarios - like the favela or in a supermarket - and pass on what we learn to support changes for better policy and industry practice. Currently in the UK this is being delivered through our work with local authorities like the London Borough of Sutton, where we are based. In Sutton we are starting to deliver zero carbon retrofits of thousands of homes and creating a district heat network, supplying local food, making the case for a one planet supermarket and community housing project, doing a Mary Portas-style makeover of corner shops and creating local jobs. Similar activity is going on in Bicester where we have been working on site on the eco-town, in Middlesbrough and in Brighton & Hove who are lining up to become the first One Planet City.

We also have a big programme of work with B&Q and Kingfisher on eco products and sustainability across their entire operations which is starting to really pay dividends e.g. with 30% reduction in the embodied CO2 of operations in 5 years. Other companies we are partnering with or supporting to deliver on sustainability include Cundall, John Lewis and Imbera - a giant Mexican refrigeration company.

Our overseas partnerships and projects have been a welcome respite from some of the UK gloom: from the Grow community in beautiful Seattle to Jinshan in Guangzhou, China where I am right now and where the happy residents bowl me over every time. It’s like BedZED in China. We are planning to create a training centre there and give guided tours so Chinese built environment professionals can “get it”.

What are the key aspirations closest to your heart for 2013? 

The aspiration closest to my heart is to really show in a coherent and irrefutable way what sustainable living and sustainable business looks like backed up with the social and economic case, so that everyone gives up being difficult and says OK, let’s get on with it.

Apart from getting the OBE, what drives me on - despite the recession knock-backs we are all suffering - is that we have worked on enough sustainable community and business initiatives and projects now and measured them and costed them for me to know that it’s true. We can be truly sustainable, it doesn’t have to cost more, it will create a stable economy and we can have better lives as a result.  

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