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Steven aka @shylands is based in Cologne and spends much of his time building his Impact Makers environmental tech community.
Scrabo Tower, Northern Ireland
Tell us a bit about yourself, what are you doing right now?
For most of my career, my main focus has been on product design and development, but from working in startups, I’ve been able to wear many other hats. Everything from filmmaking to content writing.
Today, I’m working for a fintech startup called Yomo. Beyond that, I’m focused on building a community of tech workers who want to help prevent climate breakdown called Impact Makers, and launching the world’s first online hackathon for makers to help #FixTheClimate – The Climate Fixathon.
What first got you interested in tech?
I still remember the day my dad installed a 56K modem in our home PC. From that day, I was mesmerised by the endless world of information now at my fingertips. I had already developed a keen interest in the creative arts, so it didn’t take me long before I decided to try and create my own website.
When did you first start taking an interest in the environment?
I’ve always loved nature and used to do quite a bit of landscape photography, but it wasn’t until recently when I read the Uninhabitable Earth book that I took note of just how serious and pressing the climate crisis is. It really does require all hands on deck taking immediate action. If we choose to rely on the status quo to sort it, I think we’ll be making a big mistake. Time and the political landscape is not on our side.
Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland
How did you end up moving to Germany?
My girlfriend accepted a job in Cologne so I decided to tag along. I’ve been working with remote friendly companies for years and always wanted to try living in another country. Combine that with how simple it is to move around Europe as an EU citizen, it wasn’t a hard decision to make.
Do you feel Germany is more progressive than the UK and Ireland when it comes to reducing our impact on the environment?
I can’t speak for all of the UK, but it certainly is more progressive than my home country of Northern Ireland. In Germany, rail is usually the most accessible transport option. You can get pretty much anywhere with it quickly, which is certainly not the case in Ireland.
There are also stricter policies on recycling. For example, you can be fined thousands of euros if you recycle incorrectly.
Do you have any tips for people to understand more about their impact on the environment?
Yep! I actually created a website for people to learn how they can do this called ClimateChoice. Most people now know that by choosing to use public transport, fly less and cut out meat and dairy, you reduce your carbon footprint significantly.
However, something I don’t think a lot of people consider is how every item they buy has a carbon footprint. It helps to buy food items or products that haven’t flown half the way around the world to get to you. Waste is also a big problem, try to only buy what you need. We live in a society where we’re constantly compelled to buy stuff we simply don’t need. If we live with less, we’ll be helping the environment.
It’s also easy and inexpensive to change your renewable energy supplier. Doing these things is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and vote with your actions to speed up change — but these changes alone aren’t enough.
The most important thing you can do today for the environment is to help politicians who are going to take drastic action to help the world reach net zero emissions get to power. That means voting for those people and finding ways of communicating the seriousness of the issue to others. That way they are at least informed enough to consider doing the same.
Climate Event - Belfast, Northern Ireland
Let’s talk about investing. When and why did you start, and what are your goals?
I was a typical millennial with next to no savings. It took joining a fintech startup for me to realise how important it is to be saving and investing today to ensure a positive financial future. That was back in 2015. I started by changing to a bank account, which did more for me than just hold my cash. From there, I dipped my toes in different investment options with little bits of money to learn more and find what worked for me.
How did you first discover the Freetrade app?
Via Twitter. I’d been looking forward to an app coming along which would make buying stocks and shares more accessible in the UK, so it definitely piqued my interest!
What kinds of industries and companies are you interested in?
Tech mainly. It’s easier to feel comfortable about investing in a company if you understand their industry.
In particular, I’m interested in companies which are aiming to replace traditional high-carbon footprint products with environment-friendly alternatives which stand a real chance of becoming widely adopted. I believe for these businesses to achieve this, they need to create products that are comparable in both cost and quality — Tesla and Beyond Meat being a couple of examples.
What’s your best-performing investment and why did you decide to invest in it?
I invested in Greggs just before they launched their Vegan Sausage Rolls. Not because I had any insider knowledge but because they had recently launched in Northern Ireland with plans for further expansion in the country. Bread and pastry products are very popular in Northern Ireland, and I noticed Gregg’s Belfast branches were queued out the door from day one. It seemed like a growing company worth backing. I just wish I had bought more shares!
How can people find out more about what you’re doing?
You can follow on me on Twitter @shylands. I’m usually talking about tech and the climate emergency. I’ve made it my personal mission to help prevent earth’s climate breaking down. For me, that means utilising my skill set as a designer and maker to raise awareness of the issue and help others to take action. My hope is that projects such as Impact Makers and The Climate Fixathon can motivate the tech community to act. We have the collective ability to reach millions of people around the world. If we can focus our efforts to try and help fix the climate then I believe we can make a difference that leads to a better future for all.
Thanks again to @shylands for taking part in this interview