Dr Sally Uren OBE

Dr Sally Uren OBE joined Forum for the Future in 2002, as Head of Forum’s Business Programme, and is now Chief Executive.

Forum for the Future, is a registered charity and international non-profit organisation that works in partnership with business, government and civil society to accelerate the shift towards a just and regenerative future in which both people and the planet thrive.

Sally has overseen the non-profit’s expansion from its UK roots to running thriving programmes across the U.S, Southeast Asia, and India. She is actively involved in sector-wide collaborations and in one-to-one work with leading businesses, including Target, M&S, and more.

Sally was awarded with an OBE in 2017 for her efforts in making business more sustainable.

“I am passionate about the potential and reality of regenerative business. This passion started when I was a student in Manchester, where my final year project was focused on the regeneration of Salford Quays and the Manchester Ship Canal. The project required me to go out on a boat every Friday, dredging the bottom of the canal and the docks, which was so polluted, all you would get is roach – the fish that just eats rubbish. After many months, we cleaned up the waterways, with the water quality being so improved that trout could be introduced. It was amazing to see the possibilities of rejuvenation. After Manchester, I continued my studies with a PHD in environmental sciences at Imperial College of London.

After my PhD, my research took me to the Borneo rainforests, where I saw large areas being burnt down to clear land for palm oil plantations. I knew at that point, that I needed to get myself back to the UK and apply what I had learnt, because I couldn’t allow this to carry on. Returning to the UK, I worked as an environmental consultant advising businesses. Then I met, Jonathon Porritt, founder of Forum for the Future. Forum’s ambitions were very close to mine. So, in 2002, I decided to leave consultancy and join the team.

Having worked for over 30 years to drive sustainable development with businesses, NGOs and governments, I’ve seen us accomplish a lot. We’ve seen sustainability move from the periphery of business to the centre. When I started you would be lucky if you got a meeting, and if you did, it would be less than 10 minutes! Now, we have brands with a purpose, the setup of sustainability funds, and the circular economy beginning to happen. But it isn’t enough and there is so much still to do. The challenges of the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and structural inequality, mean we need to move urgently.

Forum for the Future is focused on transforming food and energy systems and reimaging the purpose of business in our society, with the following aims:

  • Food: by 2030 we aim to have enabled a systemic, urgent transition in our food system to fulfil the needs of diets, livelihoods and land.
  • Energy: By 2030 we want to have enabled a socially just and ecologically safe transition to a renewable energy system that works for people and the planet.
  • Purpose of business: By 2030 we aim to have contributed towards a decisive shift away from short-term profit maximisation, toward business as a driver of long-term prosperity and wellbeing for people and planet.

One of our core approaches is understanding the world as a set of interconnected systems. For a business, this means understanding the critical links between your core business and the world around you. For governments, this is how your policy instruments deliver catalytic change, as opposed to change of the short-term incremental type. For individuals. It is how we use our voice, our purchasing power to reward the heroes striving for a sustainable future, as opposed to not really thinking about who has made our stuff.

There is so much to do, but there are signs of hope especially in the younger generation, who are becoming very vocal in calling out that the current systems and trends are not acceptable, and we have to do things differently.”

What 3 words best describe you?
Tenacious, ambitious, and passionate

If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be? Keep an eye on the big stuff, don’t get bogged down in the weeds (incremental change is tonnes easier than transformational change).

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Honestly, I don’t really think in those terms. This work is continuous. But if you were to push me, then it’s probably shifting the hearts and minds of senior leaders who then went on to do things very differently.

Which person (dead or alive) would you most like to invite to dinner?
David Bowie. Without any hesitation.

How has age strengthened your advantage?
I’m not sure I have an advantage at all. Age has given me some wisdom, a bucket-load of resilience, and the ability to laugh at myself. I still find myself asking ‘why on earth did I think that would work?’

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