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We have found our Future Young Sustainability Leader!

Earlier this spring, together with our partners in Sustainia, we asked for your help in the search for a Future Young Sustainability Leader: someone who has taken inspiring action for sustainability, and who is young, vocal and passionately engaged in the fight against climate change.

We received a number of great nominees – candidates we are sure will set their mark on the journey towards a safe and sustainable future. Still, we had to pick one candidate. Our future leader has understood that action is key, and at a young age she is already a visionary in terms of how to build a safe and sustainable future. Moreover, she understands that a true leader is one that leads by example.

Our chosen future sustainability leader is Kajsa Li Paludan (27), co-founder of Cultura21Nordic (C21N). She was nominated by her C21N co-founder Oleg Koefoed.


In mid-June, Kajsa Li will be joining our Roundtable “The Road Less Travelled”, where a number of leading global sustainability thinkers a will come together to discuss pathways to transformation towards a safe and sustainable future.

Both Kajsa Li and her nominator Oleg will join us at our Headquarters at Høvik outside Oslo for the Sustaina 100 launch on the 16th of June. There, they will get the chance to present Cultura21Nordic to a broad audience composed of business leaders, policy makers, investors, talented students, entrepreneurs and startups.

Our team had a chat with Kajsa Li about sustainability, the importance of acting now and the need for a new sustainability narrative.

How did C21N start and what keeps it going?

I co-founded Cultura21 with Oleg Koefoed in 2009.  Then COP15 happened.  Or didn’t happen – it was embarrassing to see so many companies turning it into a lucrative opportunity for advertisement, with their giant CO2-filled generator-lit globe in the middle of an environmental summit!  All the real activism that was going on in the streets was shut down by security, and by the overwhelmingly negative press coverage of a few poorly-behaved activists who ruined a lot for the cause, much like they did in Seattle in 1998.  This in itself emphasizes our need to change the way we present and speak about activism, sustainability and international cooperation.

What keeps me going is the fact that there is still so much to be done and so little time to do it in. But the majority of the developed world hasn’t been able to change old habits and mindsets. We have engineers to meet the technical challenges, but they can’t change our globalized culture of “not my problem”.  It is the problem of all of us, and up to all of us to solve it.

What is the story behind your dedication to sustainability?

As a native with family from Lapland, it’s a natural course of action for me.  I grew up in the mountains, surrounded by myth and reindeer, with an intimate understanding of how our actions directly affect the natural world around us.

To me the notion of doing harm to one’s habitat was unthinkable.  And yet here I am, in 2014, staring the consequences of generations of environmental abuse in the face.  That being said, we can’t be angry with previous generations and their actions.  We all make mistakes – and this generation will surely make mistakes as we find our own way – because failure is part of life. The difference here is that, when we fail, we won’t just say “oh well, we tried but now let’s just keep doing this, even though it’s an imperfect system” but instead take a new course when we go wrong.


What does it mean to be a future sustainability leader?

“Everything you can imagine is real,” said Pablo Picasso.  Or, at least Albert Einstein said that Picasso said it. Picasso is a great example of what innovation means. He painted abstracted things that looked distorted, but was perfectly capable of making traditionally acceptable art. He just chose not to.  The transition to sustainability seems, to so many, just as abstract and just as important for history and the world. Picasso painted what could have just stayed in his head – weird ideas – but instead made something that people could look at and engage with on tangible, observable terms. Being a Future Sustainability Leader means doing. Leading by example is such a simple sounding thing, but that’s the difference between abstract and concrete.

You say “In order to shape future sustainable societies that are not self-destructive, we must also seek the solutions in our habits and cultures, not only in graphs and charts.” How do you envision this change?

I’m not going to “envision” anything – I’m going to act it out.  That’s change.  You asked the right question here because it proves my point: it’s already a reality. We have to live change and stop asking how to change, because asking “how?” means we haven’t done it.  And that would be self-destructive.

In your opinion, what is the key to finding a new sustainability narrative?

We need to use another tense when we speak about sustainability – we can’t be held back by our passive terminology.  We need to say “is happening” not “will happen”. “Will” is still wishful thinking. There is no sustainability fairy godmother, but there’s definitely a clock ticking down to midnight where we all will change into poorer, more helpless versions of ourselves, rooting around in the ashes.

It’s a fairly simple mind-trick. Talk about the future as if it’s already the present. If you know the ending of your story it’s easier to work backwards, because you’re forced to immediately operate to make your plot come true. A strong story starts in the middle of action – our job is to narrate a better ending.

How do you see business taking leadership on Sustainability Issues?

People love success – it’s compelling when people see that they CAN achieve something, or make something. At Cultura21 Nordic we’ve learned to make things simple and approachable so that most people who engage can succeed. Businesses can do likewise. There are several successful business models that combine informed consumerism with direct action for a sustainable future – Toms, Warby Parker, Charity:Water – you’ve got to get skin in the sustainability game as a business.  Make the success of the people you serve your own success.  Make the financial gain and human ROI part of the social investment you make.

I am looking forward to follow Kajsa Li over the next years, and to actively involve her in our sustainability projects going forward.

You can follow Kajsa Li on Twitter here: @kajsapaludan

I also recommend our interviews with last year’s Future Sustainability Leaders Alec Loorz and Grace Mwuara


Kajsa Li Paludan and Oleg Koefoed, her colleague from Cultura21Nordic who nominated her as a future young sustainability leader, writing: “I have no hesitation in nominating Kajsa since I rest assured that she will unfold her creativity, original thinking and commitment, as well as her obvious talent for reflection and facilitation for the benefit of our future and the society, wherever she is.“

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