10 Questions for Sustained Fun/EcoSplat Co-Founder Helen Townsend

Tell us a bit about yourself

I’m from Te Puke and came to Christchurch for uni where I studied ecology and history. Since then I’ve lived in Scotland, Nepal and Bangladesh before coming back to Christchurch.

Helen Townsend

What did you do before Sustained Fun/EcoSplat?

After uni I worked in entomology and then botany. I had an amazing job in the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh that combined my love of plants and history, and it took me around the world to work in Cameroon, Argentina, Nepal, Australia and New Zealand. Back in Christchurch, in the days before reusable bags were a thing, I founded The Rubbish Whisperer to provide easy alternatives to single-use plastics.

What in sustainability gets you most excited?

Conservation success stories! Especially when they involve increasing numbers of trees and habitat being restored. Where I live there are lots of tī kōuka/cabbage trees and when the berries are ripe they’re practically weighed down by kererū - I love seeing how if we give nature space it just revives.

Which environmental problem are you most concerned about?

Biodiversity and habitat loss breaks my heart. The fact that wild mammals only make up 4% of the world’s mammals while domestic stock accounts for 60% is a real kicker for me. I want to live in a world that’s totally alive with wildlife - in NZ this has a pretty easy solution: protect and restore habitat and trap pests.

What do you do to relax?

I find running relaxing because I just let my mind wander. Walking the dog and swimming are also relaxing. And I like to read novels about bakeries.

Helen and her dog

Favourite book/movie/song/food

My favourite fiction books are Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin. For non-fiction, my favourites are Wild Hope by Andrew Balmford, which is about conservation successes, and Meetings with Remarkable Trees by Thomas Pakenham, which is a beautiful book about ancient trees and the stories of their lives.

Do you feel positive or negative about the future?

Generally I feel positive because most of the pressing environmental issues we face, like plastic pollution and loss of biodiversity, have only worsened in the last couple of generations so surely we can turn the clock back and give nature the space to revive. Also environmental concerns are top of mind for lots of people so we have the will as well as the intelligence and ability to solve these problems. When I feel negative it’s generally about big corporates and slow-moving governments, but I console myself by thinking in really long time frames: in a million years the earth will be back in balance.

What fun thing do you like to do with your child?

My daughter and I both get up early so we like to go on breakfast adventures. We take a breakfast picnic and go somewhere new. We’ve had early morning swims, climbed mountains, driven on narrow dirt roads and drunk hot chocolate while watching the sun come up!

Emma and Helen

What’s your favourite thing about Sustained Fun/EcoSplat?

I think that it’s so solutions focused. To make a difference in the world we have to change our habits but with EcoSplat this is as simple as swapping one thing for another - you can still have amazing water fights with your kids but without creating so much waste - easy!

Top tip

Play to your strengths. I started off working in science but don’t have the personality to be a researcher and now have found I can make the biggest impact through business. If you’ve got time but not money, you could volunteer; if you’ve got money but not time you could donate to support other people. If you’re good at lobbying, use that; if you’re good at teaching, use that; if you’re good at organising, use that: we need everyone’s skills to make a meaningful difference to the environment.

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