From astronaut ambitions and working as an atmospheric scientist to joining the event industry’s battle to minimise its impact on our planet, sustainable event management consultant Abena Fairweather has become one of the stars of her field.
You have been involved in sustainability for many years, what led you to that career path?
I wanted to be an astronaut, so I trained as a space scientist. I’ve always been passionate about the planet, the environment and the balance that’s existed for millions of years but that we’ve disrupted so much in the last 200 or 300.
I went off to university and did the degree to be a space scientist, and worked as an atmospheric scientist but I realised that I really do like people and wasn’t the kind of person who wanted to be in a lab or at my computer looking at reams of data – I wanted to learn as much as I could about preserving the planet.
What sparked the move into events, and the launch of Legacy in 2016?
I worked as a sustainability consultant for local authorities, Government, public and the private sector, advising companies on how they could be more sustainable; particularly in the built environment. I also worked in-house as a sustainability manager, mainly for social organisation, so that gave me insight into the social side of the picture, which is often left out of the conversation. I was working in sustainability, and loved it, but still didn’t really feel like it was speaking to what I wanted to do personally. I was working in a job that required me to organise lots of events, lots of conferences and workshops. I really loved organising those and thought the events industry could benefit from some of the sustainability knowledge I’ve picked up over the years both in terms of environmentally and socially.
“I find that really inspiring; to be such a strong leader but in a quiet, influential way.”
How do you feel the events industry is doing in terms of its sustainability progress?
It was a little bit behind other sectors in getting to grips with some of the issues around carbon emissions and waste. So it’s good that the industry is now off the starting block and starting to grapple with the issues. The big benefit for the live events industry is it’s an industry full of very enthusiastic, very creative, people who are used to getting things done. Anyone who works in the events industry knows it attracts people who are really innovative and that’s exactly what this problem needs. I feel that from a slow start, the live events industry could take the lead.
Who has inspired you the most in your career?
I feel very fortunate to have interacted with so many really inspirational people because I’ve worked across a broad spectrum of industries within sustainability. Someone who I haven’t worked with but who has really inspired me is Gwynne Shotwell, COO of SpaceX. Everyone knows Elon Musk as being the face of Space X but arguably Gwynne Shotwell is the one who’s kept the show on the road for the last 20 years and made it the ground-breaking world leading company it is today. She’s quite quiet, she’s not over social media, she just does what she does, but she does it extremely well and I find that really inspiring – to be such a strong leader but in a quiet, influential way.