Finn Harries on how environmentalism impacts his daily life

Finn Harries on how environmentalism impacts his daily life
The designer and filmmaker tells Olivia Petter how sustainability influences his daily life

The Independent’s My Sustainable Life is a Q&A series in which famous faces reveal their personal approach to the climate crisis

This week, for My Sustainable Life, we hear from British designer and filmmaker Finn Harries.

Previous guests on My Sustainable Life include model Daisy Lowe and musician Professor Green.

Born in London, Harries, 28, is a qualified architect with a special interest in environmental studies. He has delivered talks at both TEDx and the United Nations in New York on the urgency for action on climate change and biodiversity loss.

Last year, he launched Earthrise with his twin brother Jack Harries, and his girlfriend, Alice Aedy. The company operates as a full service creative studio with a dedicated team of designers, filmmakers, and writers, all united by an aim to communicate the urgency of the climate crisis. Its first series, The Breakdown, launched earlier this year on the environmental streaming service WaterBear.

Here Harries explains why he’d like to create a national curriculum that includes spiritual practices, how an autonomous flying vehicle could revolutionise air travel, and why he believes he is, to an extent, a hypocritical climate activist.

The most sustainable decision I made in the past year was…

Prioritising my mental health. There are so many issues that threaten to overwhelm us: a climate crisis, crashing biodiversity rates, a global pandemic, political polarization and growing social inequality.

We’re not talking about small individual changes here, we’re talking about deep systemic shifts. The first step is to build resilience. For me that means daily meditation and exercise and finding a supportive group of likeminded people to share my fears and dreams with.

My least sustainable guilty habit is…

Well firstly, I feels important to say, I don’t consider the way I live my life as remotely sustainable. I’m the first to put my hands up as a hypocritical climate activist. My guilty habit is air travel. I travel often for work and ironically my awareness of climate change has come from being able to travel to the front lines of the climate crisis, however I’m painfully aware of the impact of those flights.

One silver lining of the pandemic has been the realisation of how much I can do from home. We produced an entire series on the climate crisis using Zoom interviews and a remote production team… So I hereby commit to dramatically decreasing my air travel. Forgive me father, for I have sinned.

If I ruled the world, I would make it more sustainable by…

I would roll out the Green New Deal. What is this I hear you ask? It’s a set of sweeping policy changes designed specifically to address the critical social and environmental challenges we face. In other words it works to rapidly de-carbonise our economies and restore nature while transforming the economy and providing secure jobs for those left behind in the transition. I recommend checking out for more.

I’d also create a national curriculum that introduces spiritual practice into our increasingly secular lives. Meditation, breathwork, yoga and plant medicines all available in beautiful, verdant, community spaces. There’s a reason practices like meditation have survived thousands of years of human evolution.

When I want to feel in touch with the natural world I…

I love cycling, running and swimming as ways to get out in nature and deepen my breathing. If I don’t have access to those activities, I meditate and try to take a look at my inner nature… which is a surprisingly hard thing to do!

If I could invent one thing that would make my life more sustainable it would be…

An electrically powered, autonomous flying vehicle that can go anywhere in the world on a single charge. I love seeing new places and learning about new cultures, so a future where travel is restricted feels very daunting to me.

My sustainability hero is…

There are so many… I’m going to name three. Can I do that?

The first is James Lovelock. He’s a British scientist and environmentalist who coined the Gaia theory. A hypothesis that proposes that Earth is a complex self-regulating organism. I’m fascinated by whole systems thinking and James is one of the early pioneers.

Another great systems thinker is Buckminster Fuller. He shared a similar perspective as Lovelock and tried to imagine how humans can become regenerative stewards of the planet through systems design.  I recommend his book ‘An Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth’.

Finally, Johan Rockstrom who’s the director at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He pioneered the planetary boundaries framework which helps us understand where we have pushed past the safe limit of the self regulating systems that allow humans to live on this planet.

The one thing everyone should watch or read about the climate crisis is…

If you’re interested in Rockstrom, watch the new film that just came out called Breaking Boundaries: The Science of Our Planet. David Attenborough is in it too. You can find it on Netflix.

If you want a good book to read I recommend Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmermer. It explores indigeous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants!

My favourite vegan or vegetarian restaurant is…

Well here’s the thing. To be vegan you don’t need to eat at special vegan restaurants. Loads of restaurants now offer really decent plant-based meals. I discovered the meatless meatball rice bowl at Itsu recently. It’s delicious and doesn’t cost a bomb.

My top recommendation for vegan food is Mindful Chef. It’s one of those companies that send you the ingredients in a box and you cook for yourself. They have a great selection of vegan options and since we’re all at home more often, you get the joy of cooking it yourself and learning more about the food you’re eating.

My one piece of advice to people trying to be more sustainable is…

I think it is really important to emphasise that while individual change is necessary and useful, we should really be focusing on the systems that shape our lives. We live in an economy and a culture that makes it nearly impossible to choose truly sustainable options. It’s often a privilege that most people don’t have access to.

On an individual level you can start by changing your diet. That’s a choice we make three times a day. But I would encourage everyone to hold the real climate polluters to account. Large corporations and reluctant politicans. We need sweeping, systemic changes and this means we need to put on the pressure. We’re running out of time.

Three sustainable brands everyone should know about

Asket: It’s a Swedish start-up that’s dedicated to 100 per cent transparency on every item of clothing they sell. I’m getting obsessed with linen which is made with the fibres of the flax plant. It draws down loads of good carbon among other benefits. Although admittedly it is not the cheapest material to make clothes with.

Mindful Chef: Most of the food I cook comes from this delivery company, which is vegan (if you select it), zero waste and locally sourced.

Soma: I drink water everyday from a beautiful glass bottle by this company. This obviously reduces plastic but the company also actively supports projects through one of my favourite charities, Charity:Water.