About Me

  • Principle Associate, The Sustainable Literacy Project.
  • Founder Director and Trustee Forum for the Future (co-founded with Jonathon Porritt and Paul Ekins)
  • For Forum for the Future designed and taught for 20 years on a pioneering MA in Leadership for Sustainable Development, and ran major projects with, for example, universities, the post-school sector and professional bodies including Engineers for the 21st Century.
  • Last book published in 2010 The Positive Deviant: Sustainability leadership in a perverse world is used as a course book around the world
  • Wrote Green Parties: An international guide in 1989; (ed) Green Light on Europe in 1991; Green Futures, and Life and Death of Petra Kelly in 1994
  • Serves on the Boards of the Higher Education Academy and the Carnegie Trust for universities in Scotland, advises the National Union of Students and Chairs the Board of the Richard Sandbrook Trust. Other relevant past board experience includes European Training Foundation, Natural Environment Research Council, Leadership Foundation for HE, Environment Agency of E&W.
  • In the past held high-profile leadership roles in the UK Green Party and brokered and led The European Green Coordination, now the European Green Party www.europeangreens.eu (no current political affiliations).
  • Early working life in the nursing profession, mostly in Edinburgh and including research and family planning
  • Born 1946 in Aberdeen, née McEwan. Married, two sons. Lives between Island of Islay and London
Born in Aberdeen (née McEwan) in 1946, my father’s work took the family to Coventry in the 1950s where I went to school.  I returned to Scotland to train and work as a nurse in Edinburgh, and it was there that my sustainability campaigning life started.  I was much influenced by the whole 1960s/1970s ‘limits to growth’ debate and the first views of planet Earth from space – you could actually see the boundary of the Earth. So beautiful, but so obviously in contradiction of the prevailing political view that growth of human numbers and activity had no bounds.

Married, with two sons, a move to Leeds in 1976 found me in the then most northerly outpost of the Green Party precursor – the Ecology Party. There I learnt it was a political choice whether or not we adopted a way of living – including an economic system – that thrived on building natural and human capital rather than sacrificing it.  If we wanted that we could choose to do it.  During the next 15 years I worked in several roles for the UK Green Party and helped to found The European Greens – a ‘coordination’ of parties based in Europe and wrote a book Green Parties: An international guide. During the 1980s, with colleagues from the French, German and Belgian Green Parties I worked with some of the brave dissident movements in East Europe, including smuggling scientific papers and bits of photocopiers to them.  Green Parties includes overviews of those movements at the time, but because it was written about a year before the Berlin Wall was breached, much could not be included for fear of compromising our dissident friends.

In 1992, I left the Green Party, disillusioned with party politics in general and with the Green Party’s chronic state of disorganisation and lack of realistic strategy in particular.  I had been one of three speakers during the 1989 European Elections when the party won nearly 15% of the vote but became deeply frustrated by the party’s instinct for self-harm after that.  Even though the very wonderful Caroline Lucas became the first Green Parkin MP in 2010, the party struggles to make significant political gains.

In the meantime, I tried to capitalise usefully on the high profile I gained in 1989.  The broader Green movement was brilliant in supporting me with briefings so I prioritised speaking to women, young people and to the sort of audiences which, in those days, rarely invited people like me: Senior Nato Officers, for example, and the engineering profession.   I also wrote articles and more books – including a biography of my beloved friend Petra Kelly, a founder of the German Green Party who died tragically and young.

Then with Paul Ekins and Jonathon Porritt (all, coincidentally of course, former Chairs of the Green Party Executive), we launched Forum for the Future in 1996. We wanted a not for profit organisation that took a positive, solutions-oriented approach to tackling the increasingly obvious problems caused by decades of unsustainable development.  That would mean recognising the interconnections between damaging the environment, increasing inequality of all sorts of opportunity for people and the way we run the economy.  It would also mean working in partnership.  While the three of us and the gifted people who joined us in Forum down the years ought to know a bit about what sustainable outcomes might look like, it would only be through working in partnership with others – in business, in government, the public sector and other types of organisation – that solutions would be found.   The perversity of the systems we humans have constructed for ourselves means that – unlike nature – we’ve now got so many inflexible or wrong structures and processes that adaptation and change have become hugely difficult.

This thinking was behind the Masters in Leadership for Sustainable Development I designed for the Forum.  The first year graduated in 1997 and the course continued to be popular until the Forum decided to replace it with a modular approach to learning about systems innovation in 2016.  With my main interest being change in the formal education sector, this seemed like a good time to step to one side.  The Forum Masters has been very influential and has graduated nearly 250 amazing young people, many now applying their learning in some seriously influential leadership roles.

And so to where I am now.  From July I shall work mostly as a Senior Associate of The Sustainability Literacy Project, devoted to helping others integrate sustainability into course on any subject, working mainly in the post-school sector..  The sense of urgency I had in the late 1960s when I first understood what ‘limits to growth’ meant has not abated – indeed it has become more acute.  And now, as then, I am sure the key intervention point is leadership – confident, sustainability literate leadership.

At the moment I am also on the board of the Higher Education Academy and the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, advise the National Union of Students and Chair the Richard Sandbrook Trust.  You can read about these and my other affiliations on this website.

  • 1965 – 1970
  • Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
    Registered General Nurse (Prize for Surgical Nursing)
  • 1964 – 1965
  • Bromsgrove College, Birmingham
  • 1957 – 1963
  • Barr’s Hill Grammar School, Coventry
Before Forum for the Future, I mostly worked in Green politics.  With the UK Green Party, which I joined in 1976, I served as International Liaison Secretary, Chair of the Executive, speaker and manifesto writer.  From 1985 to 1990 I helped to establish the Coordination of European Greens (latterly the European Green Party) and served as Co-Secretary and Spokesperson.  During this time I helped support emerging Green Parties around the world, especially in East Europe.

My early working life was as a nurse: as Ward Sister in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, as researcher and tutor in Edinburgh University, in family planning and sex education, including the earliest days of the Brook Advisory Service.

  • 2009 –
  • European Training Foundation, Board member as European Parliamentary Expert
  • 2008 – 2009
  • UK Research Councils’ Science in Society Advisory Panel, Member
  • 2003 – 2009
  • Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, Board Member
  • 2000 – 2006
  • Natural Environment Research Council, Council Member

    Environment Agency of England and Wales, Board Member

  • 2016 –
  • Carnegie Trust for Universities in Scotland, Board Member
  • 2014 –
  • Higher Education Academy, Board Member
  • 2013 –
  • Advisory Board for NUS
  • 2009 –
  • Richard Sandbrook Trust, Chair
  • 2008 –
  • Forum for the Future, Trustee
  • 2006 –
  • Population Matters, Patron
  • 2006 – 2013
  • Higher Education Funding Council of England Sustainability Advisory Committee
  • 2003 – 2005
  • 21st Century Science, Advisory Committee Member
  • 1998 –
  • St Andrews Prize, Trustee
  • 1997 – 1999
  • Groundwork Foundation, Trustee
  • 1996 – 2002
  • Friends of the Earth, Trustee
  • 1995 – 2009
  • InterAct (Population Concern) Member Member
  • 1995 – 1996
  • New Economics Foundation, Trustee
  • 2010
  • The Positive Deviant: Sustainability leadership in a perverse world – Earthscan:London
  • 2001
  • From Here to Sustainability – Earthscan:London (commissioning editor for the Real World Coalition) Ian Christie & Diane Warburton
  • 1994
  • The Life and Death of Petra Kelly – Pandora:London
  • 1994
  • Green Futures – Fount:London
  • 1991
  • Green Light on Europe – Heretic:London (contributing editor)
  • 1989
  • Green Parties: An international guide – Heretic:London
  • 2011
  • Institution of Environmental Sciences, Honorary Fellow
  • 2010
  • Engineering Council UK, Founder Associate
  • 2006
  • Society for the Environment, Honorary Fellow
  • 2006 –
  • Institute of Energy, Companion
  • 2001
  • OBE for services to education and sustainable development
  • 1996
  • Institution of Civil Engineers, Companion
  • 1990
  • Schumacher Society, Fellow
  • Honorary doctorates from eleven UK and US universities
  • Forum For the Future
  • I helped to found Forum for the Future, in partnership with <Paul Ekins> and <Jonathon Porritt>.  It continues to be the main base for my activities and, as well as being a Founder Director, I am also a Trustee.  See <about me> for more information and the website for the full story.
  • Richard Sandbrook Trust
  • Richard was with us at the very beginning of Forum for the Future and a pioneer of the partnership approach to changing how organisations – especially businesses – think and act in relation to sustainability challenges and opportunities. Some of his family and friends set up a trust and are now developing a website that ‘tells the story of sustainability’ down the years. I am the current Chair.
  • Population Matters
  • As the author of the Green Party’s first policy paper on population (1981) I am under no illusion about the importance of the numbers of people, as well as what they do, on Earth. I am a Patron of Population Matters and speak and campaign regularly on the need for everyone – including environmental and development organisations to take the topic seriously.
  • Population and Sustainable Development Network
  • This global organisation is a tireless campaigner for getting the population/sustainability perspective into international and national government and organisation thinking and acting. I am an Advisory Board member.
  • Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland
  • A charity that supports post-graduate research students and less well off undergraduates.  I am a new member of its Board, so more about the CTUS in due course.
  • Engineering Council
  • In 1990 I was invited to address the annual conference of the Engineering Council. This was brave of it as I had a prominent profile at the time after fronting the Green Party‘s 15% vote in the 1989 Elections to the European Parliament (no seats won nevertheless). Subsequently, I became very involved with engineers one way and another, including helping the EC bring in sustainability competencies to the standards governing registration of Chartered Engineers in 2003. The Engineering Council also supported the Forum Engineers of the 21st Century initiative. I was invited to be a Founding Associate of the EC in 2011.
  • Institution of Civil Engineering
  • Of the many professional engineering institutions the ‘civils’ are more aware than most of their very visible impact on the environment – they build on it. Early mission statements that compromised attempts to position the ICE as a friend of the environment have been replaced by: ‘we believe that civil engineers are at the heart of society, delivering sustainable development through knowledge, skills and professional expertise’. I have been an honorary ‘Companion’ of the ICE since 1993.
  • Institute of Energy
  • After my address to the Engineering Council in 1990 (in which I challenged the profession rather robustly about the role (or then lack of it) in promoting even the basic physics that underpinned sustainability, I was invited to do a lot of talks to engineers about the country. This led to the EI inviting me to become an honorary 2001.
  • Institution of Environmental Scientists
  • The IES has existed for 40 years, and I became an honorary fellow in 2011.
  • Society for the Environment
  • The SocEnv  is a new Chartered Institution for professionals.  As one of the people who contributed to the drafting of the documents I was invited to become an honorary fellow in 2006.
  • St Andrew’s Prize for the Environment
  • Started in 1998 as a collaboration between the University of St Andrews and ConocoPhillips, the prize is awarded each year not to the environment but to an initiative that contributes to reducing or rectifying negative human impacts upon it. The prize has attracted entrants from over 50 countries with a wide range of exciting winners. I have been a Trustee since the inception of the prize.
  • London Orchard Project
  • Set up in 2009 by two graduates of the Forum’s Masters in Leadership for Sustainable Development, Carina Millstone and Rowena Ganguli, the project aims to engage local communities in London in planting, nurturing fruit trees. And of course enjoying the produce. An enthusiastic supporter at the start -p stage, I am still a Senior Champion for it.
  • Isle of Islay
  • Port Charlotte, Island of Islay is where my parents lived for over 40 years. From 1980 onwards my husband and I have had a house in the same village – giving our family roots as work took us to different countries. In various ways we support the Museum of Islay Life (of which I am a patron) and the Islay Natural History Trust, as well as Port Mòr, the Finlaggan Trust and the Islay Energy Trust. Port Mòr is a facility on the outskirts of Port Charlotte thought of, fundraised for and developed by local villagers. In one swoop a great football pitch, top quality camping, a play area for children and social facilities, including a great café, were built – all to the high environmental standards. The more recently established Islay Energy Trust has formed the Islay Energy Community Benefit Society to ensure the windmill, operating since 2014, brings benefit to local people through share ownership. The Finlaggan Trust was established 1984 to stabilise and preserve the ruins of the ancient seat of the Lords of the Isles, including spectacular carved stones. Another impressive local initiative, the Trust has built and extended a popular centre near the site.
  • National Union of Students
  • Paying large fees for their university education has increased student activism with regards to sustainability. Not just on campus but in the curriculum too. They, if not the government, are aware that the job market now, never mind the future, is keen on broadly skilled and sustainability literate (often the same thing) recruits. So, after more than a decade of working with the higher education sector in one way or another, I was thrilled to join the NUS Direction and Oversight Board for Environment and Sustainability. With more leadership coming from the students now, I expect things to change a lot faster!
Sara Parkin
Forum for the Future
Enterprise House
19-23 Ironmonger Row
London EC1V 3QN
T 0207 324 3676
E s.parkin@forumforthefuture.org