Overcoming challenges and growing a team of sustainability champions

Headshots of Vina and Zoe from Ninety One

There’s a famous quote that says ‘Two heads are better than one’. And that couldn’t be more true for the dynamic duo of Chief Greenies at Ninety One.

Vina and Zoe have been working together on the Giki programme at Ninety One for two years. Ninety One is a global asset manager that develops specialist investment teams and provides active and sustainable investing.

For Zoe, being a Chief Greenie goes hand in hand with her ever evolving commitment to protect the environment.

“I didn’t wake up one day and think, I’ll do these 20 things and then I’ll be an ultra greenie! For me it has been more incremental, starting with a change of mindset and learning and trying new things along the way.”

Zoe moved to the UK from South Africa seven years ago, and while she knew about the power of recycling, Zoe was determined to take bigger leaps to cut her environmental footprint. Without any research or prior knowledge, she purchased an electric car. “I just made the decision and did it. It ended up being a lot easier than I thought!”

Soon after, her stepson came home from school and expressed his desire to go vegan. “I was quite hesitant at first. I had the usual questions and concerns like, was he going to get enough vitamins? Nutrients? How will he get enough protein? Will he have a healthy balanced diet.” So, they made a deal. They would both try being vegetarian for three months and Zoe took it upon herself to research and create meals that were nutrient dense and exciting! His side of the deal was to try everything she made.

“After the three months, we didn’t stop. The path from vegetarianism to ‘mostly’ veganism isn’t that hard.”

But for Vina, living sustainably was always part of her lifestyle growing up, even if it wasn’t labelled as such.

“I grew up in an Indian household where waste just wasn’t permitted! Wasting food or electricity was always such a big thing for us as a family.”

It was only as she grew up and her knowledge on sustainable action and the environment broadened that she began to understand her impact even more. Vina’s daily meditation practice helps her think and live more consciously and with intention, so she sees her environmental action as a natural progression of this.

“I put more thought into my daily decisions now, but it’s very natural. It’s now just a part of me, it’s so natural that living sustainably isn’t something I even think about. It just is.”

By working together over the last two years, Vina and Zoe made Giki Zero a seamless part of their process and overcame internal challenges to help their fellow colleagues take steps for the climate.

You’ve been seeing great growth in Giki members over the last few months! Tell us your secret.

Zoe: We’ve been focusing on new starters at Ninety One! We already have an onboarding process for new employees so we added signing up to Giki to the process. When anyone joins Ninety One, there’s already other things they need to sign up to, so we thought we’d add Giki to that list.

Seeing as people are already signing up for things, it made perfect sense. We also mentioned that our CEO is really supportive of the programme as extra motivation. New people are eager to get involved, so the uptake has been amazing, it seems much easier to get new starters on board than to convert existing staff.

And once they’re immersed, have you had any feedback? What do they take from it?

Vina: Yes, some people certainly have taken a huge amount from it! We already have a big ESG drive as an organisation and some people have said that it’s great, they get to live the things they do in the workplace in their personal lives. It’s great we also have the app to monitor and track behaviour and take those all important steps.

We know you recently ran into some hesitation from your team for the plant-based lunch you ran to kick off the Giki Take A Bite food challenge. Why do you think this was and what was the impact?

Zoe: We have over 300 staff in our London office, so we thought we’d be inundated with demand for the event. We put on an amazing vegan lunch, our chef created these incredible dishes and James and Helen from Giki came to speak about the impact of our food and choices on the environment. We sent the invite and expected over 100 to line up and that we’d be turning them away, but the event only attracted around 40 people. I think some people feel nervous about eating vegetarian food, thinking they may not enjoy it, and then there is the misconception over the lack of protein.

But for those who did come, it was hugely successful! They were surprised about what they heard from James and Helen, were massively informed, and found the vegan food delicious.

Vina: We also displayed menus informing everyone about the protein in each meal as I think there is a misconception that vegetarian food doesn’t have that much protein, so it was good to give people a visual element.

Zoe: It would be interesting to run the event again and see if there’s a higher turnout rate. We want people to take small sustainable changes, we’re not asking everyone to change to be a vegan overnight. Perhaps try some oat milk in their coffee, or a vegetarian lunch for example.

Change takes time! But keeping the message going is what’s important. Speaking of which, you’ll be launching a Save The Planet in Style Challenge soon. Can you talk us through that?

Zoe: To coincide with Women’s Month and International Women’s Day, we’re doing a clothing drive in aid of the charity Smart Works. They help people who don’t have access to funds with coaching and interview training, they also help dress women in corporate attire. We’ll be asking Ninety One employees to bring in corporate clothes that are gently worn but for various reasons they no longer wear and donate them to this amazing cause.

Vina: We launched the drive yesterday actually and I’ve already had a colleague bring in two huge bags of clothes! We’ve set aside a small room for the donations, so everyone knows where to bring their items and we will put up posters in the office to remind people.

Zoe: At the event itself, we will invite donors for drinks & snacks upstairs in the Terrace, do a short presentation and then we’ll hand over the clothing to the Smart Works team. The drive helps us think more about recycling and putting our clothes to better use which is always great.

And finally, what would be your biggest piece of advice for fellow Chief Greenies?

Vina: I can’t save the world, you can’t save the world. We can only do what is in our control. What I eat, what clothes I buy and how I view it. I can see it as a chore, or I can open up to a new way of thinking.

Zoe: I’m aspiring and I’m flexible which I think is powerful. If you’re curious and interested, you will try new things and make small changes over time. We often think we need to bring a new idea or challenge every time, but really, it’s about consistency. If we have a food challenge, or clothing challenge every quarter, then maybe people will begin to understand what to expect and if they didn’t take part last quarter, they will give it a try next time.

A huge thank you to Vina and Zoe for sharing their stories and helping us learn about their experience at Ninety One.

If you are interested in sharing your story with us to help other Chief Greenies, please contact your Impact Director.