Changemakers for the future

May Mei, Climate Breakthrough

The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: May Mei, founder and director of GoalBlue and awardee of the Climate Breakthrough Project.

‘We don’t want our children or nature to pay for our ignorance’

I used to work as a producer and director for a television station. Being in the entertainment business for ten years was something I enjoyed and was used to, as my family’s business is film and TV. My media knowledge and background give me tools that I use today to really engage people and share important information with them about the Earth’s wellbeing. In my experience, people can make better choices when they truly understand things. Ignorance can be tackled by sharing information. And we don’t want our children or nature to pay for our ignorance.

In 2016, when I set up GoalBlue, China’s whole media landscape had changed. Social media was booming, so television stations could no longer be the sole influencers of millions of people. We needed to find a different way to interest the younger generation to pursue a sustainable lifestyle. The usual engagement strategies no longer worked. The biggest challenge for us was to keep very alert, because social media trends change fast and we didn’t want to lose connection to our audience.

Step-by-step everyday action
So far, we’ve seen that younger people understand sustainability problems. What’s still lacking is getting them to take climate action. We try to bridge that gap by letting the younger generation act in a way that feels natural. We use social media as a platform to engage them online as well as to organise events offline.

For instance, we invited our followers to design a campaign with us about everyday habits. It got young people reflecting on question such as: what are you eating every day? Needing more veggies or fruits? Less red meat? Ever consider bicycling or jogging to work instead of driving? If you’d prefer not to use plastics, do you really want to buy all that stuff? GoalBlue does promote bicycle use for personal transportation across China’s major cities and seeks to cut the country’s red meat consumption by 40%, but working on this campaign together, we took a more subtle approach. We led the younger generation towards the greater goal through a very easy step-by-step everyday action programme.

In the past four years, we’ve reached 200 million people through our online and offline billboard campaign. Last year, our “Good for Earth, good for me” campaign encouraged leadership in sustainability. The topic went viral. In six months, we reached up to 120 million people. We were so proud. We saw how the younger generation, especially Generation Z, also wanted to devote their time and influence to things that are better for the environment and human beings. They were truly trying to engage and promoted the campaign for us. That got us very excited. I remember walking outside and people saying: “Oh, I know who you are because that’s your slogan!” When we’d wear a GoalBlue T-shirt, people would say: “Oh, I saw your campaign on a bus stop or at the airport!” That really encouraged me.

Hopes for the future
The year I moved with my son back to Beijing the pollution was so bad. I couldn’t believe it. The air outside smelled really weird, like a gas. That worried me. I asked myself: did I make the right choice in bringing my son back to my country? What we are leaving behind for our children and the next generations?

If I had 10 minutes to address leaders at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, I would say: the future belongs to the next generation, so teach them to take control over that future. Guide yet trust through letting them focus more on environmental issues but in their own way. We need to support them. We have to change our old thinking. Younger people aren’t held back by boundaries like we are, so why not encourage them to push boundaries?

I hope everyone is already doing a great job protecting the environment. I would be very happy just sitting back, reading a book and drinking wine—that’s a dream. But what I’d really want to see is more creative minds, including from the business world, protecting the environment. We should encourage start-ups to think not just of making money, but also making something that profits nature. We could use more new businesses to solve environmental issues. We need interesting sustainable lifestyle solutions to fix our climate change problems.

May Mei is the founder and CEO of GoalBlue, an NGO that promotes sustainable lifestyle practices in China through responsible consumership, low-carbon commuting and a healthy diet. Before starting GoalBlue, May worked at WildAid China and was its chief representative. Prior to that, she was a director and producer for mainstream Chinese television. As a Climate Breakthrough Awardee, she is taking on two of the fastest-growing sources of emissions in China: meat consumption and private car ownership.

The Climate Breakthrough Project supports visionary people that can help us reach a tipping point. They find extraordinary strategists and gives them the time, space, and resources to create and implement the boldest strategies they can conceive to mitigate climate change. Each year, the Climate Breakthrough Project finds and supports three to four exceptional leaders in the field of climate action.  These environmental champions all have a track record of creating new solutions that overcome seemingly intractable barriers.

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