Interview with Lawrence Sudlow (Amigos de la Tierra)

Interview with Lawrence Sudlow (Amigos de la Tierra)

"When you talk about an ecological transition you must also talk about a just transition, not only for those who have resources”

There are perfect talks to liven up an afternoon of confinement. And having Lawrence Sudlow is a guarantee of having one. Linked to environmental movements since the early 2000s, Sudlow is the President of the Madrid Group of Amigos de la Tierra (Friends of the Earth), one of the world's largest NGOs, with a presence in 77 countries.

With Lawrence, we open our #logictalks, interviews to give voice to all those who are acting now for a better planet.


Almost 31 years in Spain, why did you leave Manchester?

As it happens, coincidences. I was young and I started to travel; first I was in Edinburgh, where I met many Spaniards. I made many friends, and at one point I decided to come. It was 1987 and there was a lot of talk about Spain because of the 1992 Olympics. My field, the media, was changing a lot and very fast; it was very interesting. I came, spent three years in Barcelona and then I got to know Madrid, and I stayed there.


At what point did you start to link up with environmental movements?

It was also a bit of a coincidence. In life we're making decisions all the time: sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong, and sometimes you're just in the right place at the right time. I have always been interested in communication and everything around it. And in 2005, during a party, a member of Amigos de la Tierra asked me if I could help them. She explained her purpose to me and it sounded familiar because in England Amigos de la Tierra is very well known.

I said to myself: "This could be fun". I remember that in the beginning there was a small team of people with a very technical profile and the possibilities were limited. In these 15 years, the Internet has helped us to improve communication with our partners.


What has been your background with Amigos de la Tierra? How do you organize such a large NGO?

For eight years I was the General Secretary at the Spanish level and then four years as European President. Because it was needed to devote some time I was able to do it. And well, I was delighted (smiles).

Now I am the President of the Community of Madrid Group and I work in the steering group for Biodiversity at the European level. You have to take into account that Amigos de la Tierra is in 77 countries in the world, 33 in Europe. In Spain, we are organized by groups that are in the autonomous communities, in this way we can influence at different political levels, from the local to the state level.


What are the main focuses of the action of Amigos de la Tierra?

The main difference between us and other environmental groups is that we don't just think about nature, but also about people. Not only because it is part of the solution, but because there are many disadvantaged people: when you talk about an ecological transition you also have to talk about a just transition, not only for those who have the resources to afford it.

In Madrid we work in different areas: climate and energy, food and biodiversity, natural resources and waste (where we work in many municipalities with composting projects and we have also launched the alargascencia initiative), mobility, which in Madrid is very powerful, although there is a lot of work that we have done that has been reduced recently; economic justice and international collaboration.


What is the main difficulty that an association like Amigos de la Tierra faces?

The easy thing to say is climate change because it is the biggest challenge we all have to face. But I would say that our biggest challenge is to be able to mobilize people. Many times we are halfway there: people agree with what we are trying to do, but in the end, they do not act. And we have to work together to achieve that.


"Think global, act local", does real change happen over there?

This phrase appeared in the 70s and I think it originated from a member of Amigos de la Tierra. We are a grassroots association, and we think that with what you do in your own home you can start to change the world. But that's not enough. What is important is that the habits and concerns we have serve to influence our environment. We have to act individually and collectively. Only in this way will our voices reach the people who, with their decisions, mark our way of life.


To a person who wants to contribute to improving the planet, what advice would you give?

Before that, you have to understand that not everyone is in the situation. Some people are better able to do things, but some people are not. So the first thing to keep in mind is that a real society that wants to change things has to be inclusive. And those of us who can do something have the duty to find the best in each person and how they can help by contributing what they can.


Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the positive impact of the coronavirus crisis on nature. Do you think this crisis can bring about a change in the trend?

The coronavirus is testing us and it is a good time to reflect. We have changed our habits, of course. But this is not a planned change. I think we could make positive advances for nature with planning. If we want to improve the air in Madrid, it should be something conscious, not casual. I hope that now we reflect and realize that we must continue like this, but in a conscious way. And I also hope that people realize that their decisions count.