This article was written by Jennifer McKeon who has an interest in the field of social justice and hopes to work in the community and youth sector one day. Until then Jennifer continues to enjoy travelling the world, once it opens again!
Vicky Brown is a motivated individual who is stimulated by social change. She has spent the last twenty years working in the corporate and non-profit sector with roles in advertising, marketing, funding and strategic planning. Vicky explains how her wealth of experience in the non-profit and private sector built the skills and knowledge she needed to become CEO at The Cool Planet Experience. The Cool Planet Experience is the brainchild of both Vicky and Norman Crowley who created the organisation in 2018.
Vicky recognised that the narrative on climate change was very negative, not inspiring nor one that would lead people to feel motivated to make changes in their lives. Vicky also felt as though, the discourse tended to focus on big macro issues but not on what we as individuals can do. The Cool Planet Experience is unique in the fact that it’s Irelands first and only interactive and immersive climate change experience. The Cool Planet Experience is located in the stunning location of the lush hillsides of Powerscourt House & Gardens in County Wicklow. (i) The experience offers a one-hour tour that involves an immersing sensory experience, in order to completely captivate the effect our changing climate is presenting. The experience aims to engage individuals, by looking at their own lives, their footprint, enabling them to see the opportunities that exist and the small changes that they can make individually or collectively and the difference that can get. Vicky commented that they wanted people to come, to learn but also have fun.
I contacted Vicky in the hopes of having her involved in the “Celebration and Recognition project” which resulted in Vicky kindly agreeing to give me some of her precious time for an interview. I was delighted to get the opportunity to personally speak with Vicky and get a real feel for this powerful female CEO, who is approaching climate change in such an innovative way. I don’t know about you but the first thing I wanted to know was, what exactly was in the job description of a CEO in a company like Cool Planet. Vicky explained that
“My role as CEO means I am responsible for every aspect of the company”,(ii) she stated in a straightforward manner. Vicky elaborated on the birth of the company and her role, “At the start I was in charge of shaping the vision of the company, finding the right people to create a successful team and finding a source of funding was also very important”.(iii) Vicky went on to tell me that these days her role is focused on building relationships with outside organizations and leading the strategic development by working closely with the board and the chair of the company and continuously striving to keep the company's vision aligned with what it's achieving. I have to interject and admit that just even listening to Vicky describe her day to day made me feel tired, so I have no doubt that she is kept on her toes whilst not only being a CEO but also a Mother.
Admiring the drive, she has one in which we all desire, I asked Vicky what it was about this line of work that ignited that spark that inspired her to co-create The Cool Planet Experience. Vicky took me of the professional voyage she had been on throughout the years. She spoke about starting out as a young ambitious woman working in New York city in the area of advertising, where she had an amazing female mentor who supported and guided her to progress on her career path. After some time, Vicky decided to make the big move back to Ireland where she acquired a job in a bank, Vicky looks back at this point in time in retrospect and reveals how uninspired and demotivated she felt working there. This uninspiring job wasn’t going to be it for a young driven woman like Vicky, so she decided she wasn’t going to do it for the rest of her life. Courageously, she took a leap of faith and shifted sectors. When Vicky arrived back in Ireland, she met Niamh Cleary, former CEO of JC Decaux. Who gave her time and her advice it was at this point Vicky seen the social sector and felt inspired again when she worked with Barnardos. Although inspired, Vicky often felt limited by what she could offer Individual’s in the social sector and this sparked a whole new adventure for Vicky who revealed at this particular point in time she knew she wanted to “look at the big problems and address them by finding different solutions, instead of sticking a plaster over the issue”.(iv) After having her second child, she stepped sideways into a role that wasn’t for her. It was at this point that she really wanted to take a leap forward, possibly at a crazy time with two kids under the age of 5, and that’s how I ended up following Deirdre Mortell to the One Foundation.
With the determination displayed by Vicky's crusade to combat climate change, it posed the question does she ever doubt the work that she does on a daily basis? Vicky Enlighted me, “Simple answer no, I never have any doubts about the goal I strive towards”.(v) She paused, “however I do sometimes have doubts throughout the decision-making process, sometimes you just have to take a chance and pray it pays off”. Doubt can come and creep up on us when we face challenges either in our personal or professional life, with this in mind I decided to delve into what continues to push Vicky when challenges rear their ugly head. “I face challenges all the time, take March of last year (2019) where our center was forced to close, this meant about eight full-time staff and all the part-time staff faced job loss,”(v she said “Through this difficult time we found opportunity, reluctant to let the center fully close and with the belief in what we were doing, we took some time in the summer and spent it looking at the purpose we were trying to achieve’. Vicky stated, “Challenges create space for change”,(vi) which couldn't be more true for Vicky and the team at The Cool Planet Experience. Interestingly Vicky disclosed that whilst others rushed into the online space, she didn’t as she felt it was so crowded that they couldn’t differentiate ourselves, nor we were not confident we could stand over a good product or offering. Launching an online program for Transition year students is at the forefront of Vicky’s work today titled “Rewrite Climate”, which is a selfdirected program that aims to tackle climate change in the classroom.
“Sometimes I often feel like and imposter”(vii) Vicky admits. She says that sometimes she almost has to pinch herself to bring her back to the reality of being a CEO. An often-unimaginable concept is, the immeasurable impact organisations like Cool Planet, are having on our society today. Vicky agreed that it’s incredibly hard to measure the direct impact of their unique and wonderful work. Keeping with the conversation on the impact Vicky’s work has had on Irish society, I queried if the Sustainable Development Goals were a big influence on her work around climate action. Vicky acknowledged that Cool Planet supports several SDGs and that they work in harmony with people and the planet. The initial concept of Cool Planet she denies the SDGs playing a major role in, but surprisingly she does recognize the importance of these goals as she has featured them within her new program for TY students. The topic of sustainability can often more times than not be an exhausting conversation for people, making them less likely to be interested in learning about the topic. I desired to understand how Vicky makes an active effort to emotionally engage with people. Vicky explained that “It was when I attended Al Gore’s Climate Reality Training Programme in Pittsburgh. It was amazing, however much of the information and focus was on the US or very global, so together with Dr Cara Augustenborg we created an Irish version, supported by the EPA called Cool Planet Champions ”(viii). Vicky believes that the way to engage people around the topic of sustainability is through the power of storytelling. Vicky mentions that these stories need to be very specific and individually based that look at the life of the Individuals and contributing factors.
As our conversation went further it took a different turn. Vicky and I spoke about how her professional journey has helped to shape her as a person. She divulged that it was over time subtle changes that happen. She confesses that working in climate action makes you more aware. Vicky chooses to inspire others instead of “wagging the finger”,(ix) as she believes this is a more effective way of getting the message across. An important point Vicky made, was, that some are in a place of financial privilege to become more sustainable than others, a point which is extremely important to understand as other options may be limited through no choice of their own. Currently, Vicky is considering changing her car to an electric model when the time of necessity comes, but until then she plans on progressing forward by making her own changes at home. With the rise of young people becoming more aware and active in their roles of fighting for climate justice and with Vicky’s work directly aimed at school-aged children and young adults, I wanted to ask Vicky if she had anything to say to future agents of change. Vicky said “keep an open mindset. You can choose to accept the course of climate change or you can choose to change it and be part of that change”(x). Vicky hypothesized that our young people are suffering greatly from climate change anxiety and she states that she doesn’t believe all responsibility should be placed on the shoulders of young people and that it's not their problem to solve it alone. “We are not solely a product of our own environment, but in fact, our environment can be a product of us” (xi)
1. https://www.coolplanetexperience.org/vicky-brown-our-team Accessed [27th March 2021]
2. Phone Interview conducted with Vicky Brown [26th March 2021]
3. Phone Interview conducted with Vicky Brown [26th March 2021]
4. Phone Interview conducted with Vicky Brown [26th March 2021]
5. Phone Interview conducted with Vicky Brown [26th March 2021]
6. Phone Interview conducted with Vicky Brown [26th March 2021]
7. Phone Interview conducted with Vicky Brown [26th March 2021]
8. Phone Interview conducted with Vicky Brown [26th March 2021]
9. Phone Interview conducted with Vicky Brown [26th March 2021]
10. Phone Interview conducted with Vicky Brown [26th March 2021]
11. Phone Interview conducted with Vicky Brown [26th March 2021]