Rubbish Interview: With Danny Carnegie, creator of UK Aware

Creator of UK AWARE, Danny Carnegie
Creator of UK AWARE, Danny Carnegie

As the founder of UK AWARE, 33-year old Danny Carnegie takes comfort in his perception that he’s just an average Joe. He plays football once a week, he loves snowboarding, he never wears matching socks, he doesn’t enjoy going to weddings, he comes from a one parent family, he lives in a three bed semi in west London and he still works full time as a fire fighter.

He’s just a regular bloke who realises that we, ‘normal’ people/consumers are the ones who hold one of the keys to fighting climate change. He passionately believes that the masses need easy, green options to be as available and acceptable as conventional ones, ‘If they were made accessible, then which sane person wouldn’t choose them?’

What does ‘eco’ mean to you and why are you so motivated to spread the word about living more sustainably?

To me, being eco means living in a way that you can morally justify to yourself whilst considering the impact that your choices have on the world. I also feel it includes gently encouraging people to think a little more about the options they have and the impact that their choices have.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t still enjoy a comfortable modern lifestyle; it just means that you should consider for a moment longer what is really important to you.

When did you set up UK AWARE and what were your objectives?

UK AWARE was officially founded by myself as a social enterprise in February 2007. The events we run aim to be ‘ok’ for regular people to come to.  I realise that there is a certain stigma surrounding being green. (I am reminded of it every time I go to work at the fire station.)

Amongst other things, the shows include exhibitors, speakers, competitions, a cinema, business start-up advice and support, networking and interactive areas.

The two core objectives of UK AWARE are firstly, to stage regular consumer facing green lifestyle shows which the masses can attend in order to be inspired. They need to appeal to the mainstream both by being staged in venues which are acceptable and by having brand association with familiar names.

However, it is equally important that they also have an integrity and authenticity which is found at grass roots green fairs. The products and services on offer must be stand alone quality products which just happen to also be green.

Secondly, we want to offer a platform from which green and ethical business can reach consumers at an affordable price. The companies which offer quality green products and services in the UK tend to be relatively small with little or no marketing budgets. UK AWARE aims to support the ‘good guys’ by subsidising the cost of exhibiting through selling event sponsorship; the price charged to the exhibitors doesn’t cover the cost of staging the events.

We need the corporates with the consciences to step up to the mark and support UK green enterprise by sponsoring UK AWARE. There is no other event of its kind happening here at the moment, because the conventional event model does not apply to the green sector. Although the green sector is definitely bucking the current economic trend, the money is not there yet and green enterprise can’t afford the conventional £5k entry-level exhibition cost charged at other events.

Why do you think there’s a need for a specific focus on green consumables and services?

There’s so much confusion about what people should or should not be doing that it often becomes an overwhelming confusion of opinions; are bio fuels good or bad? Is it (financially) worth forking out the expense of insulating your loft or installing solar panels? Does climate change even exist? (Yes, I am still told on a regular basis that it’s cyclical.)

My feelings are that in order for climate change to be tackled, we all need to do our bit and to make the correct lifestyle choices. People are inherently lazy though. If sourcing a sustainable option means trawling the net or visiting distant suppliers, then it just creates another justification for procrastination and lethargy, but if there is one event which can offer an array of answers and inspiration, then it makes it just that little bit easier and more accessible. UK AWARE is a ‘one stop shop’ for people looking to make considerate lifestyle choices.

How did the first event go and what was the public reaction to having a green expo?

For a bunch of self confessed amateurs (albeit intensely passionate ones) with just a few grand from my cashed in pension and a shoebox office with a hole in the roof, we produced an absolute miracle. The responses from the after event survey were so positive and encouraging, that although we lost a lot of money on the first event (something which I have since discovered is absolutely normal) it left us in no doubt that we needed to do another, and another, and another.

Visitors and exhibitors seemed to love the fact that we are just a small group of people who ‘get’ how important it is that we make the right choices accessible.

We are not eco-gurus, nor have we ever claimed to be. We are now event managers, but we certainly weren’t when we embarked on this voyage. The jargon which so many of the ‘experts’ blind us with in order to boost their self importance and social standing in the sustainability sector, simply doesn’t wash with me. I’m not a stupid person, but I just don’t get a lot of the green spiel banded around.

If we are going to inspire people to make the right choices then they need to be included, not alienated. People seemed to flourish in the accessibility of UK AWARE.

Who did you have in the speaker line up and could you tell us about some of their most poignant points?

We had over 50 world-class speakers during the course of the weekend. They were not allowed any power point presentation aids to distract the attention. This ensured that they engaged and interacted with the audience who became part of the symposium sessions.

They included Trevor Baylis OBE – the designer of the wind up radio. He was overwhelmed by how many people turned up at the show. ‘It says a hell of a lot for society that there are so many people feeling so eco-friendly’ were his exact words I believe. You can see his interview on the short film of the event on the homepage of our website.

We also were honoured to have Nathan Allen (an Arctic explorer), The Energy Saving Trust, Friends of the Earth, Centre for Sustainable Design, WWF, Futerra, London 21, Forum for the Future, Centre for Food Policy, The Vegetarian Society, The Vegan Society, The Fairtrade Foundation, Together, WWOOF, COIN, The Green Party, Transition Towns, UKSIF, People and Planet and Greenpeace. As the symposium sessions followed an interactive formula, the points were made during discussion, rather than as distinguishable points.

How much rubbish did your event create and what recycling facilities did you offer visitors and exhibitors?

As with such event venues, we were unfortunately obliged to use the in-house caterers. This meant that we had virtually no say in what they offered our visitors in the way of refreshments. We did manage to convince them that it was important to sell bottled water sourced from the UK rather than the Alps, but the food and drinks sold were sold in conventional disposable containers.

I’m not sure what the total quantity of rubbish was, but we had twenty recycling wheelie bins on site which more than catered for the weekend. It is worth mentioning at this point that Olympia has recently won two awards for their sustainability policies. This was a significant factor in choosing the venue for our next event.

How easy do you think it is to integrate rubbish reduction in the workplace and what recommendations would you make for any office managers who are trying to lighten their corporate footprint?

Obviously, there can be an issue with physical space in a work environment, so providing separate bins to offer appropriate recycling facilities can sometimes be tricky. I do think though that with a little ingenuity, any workplace can accommodate appropriate facilities. In our shoebox office I mentioned earlier we had up to six people working at any one time in a 3m x 4m space. We had recycling bags hung on the back of the door. They were only carrier bags which we reused time and time again, but they did the trick.

In terms of lightening the corporate footprint, I have recently come across a website which all office managers should know about. It’s called and it is a green conscious, money saving company manager’s dream come true. It offers all kinds of grants to any business which is looking to green up it’s credentials. It has a comprehensive search system which allows you to search in your particular area and it details the most random and unexpected grants you could ever imagine. The best thing about it, it that it’s entirely free – wahey!

What do you have in the line up for 2009 and beyond?

We have taken the huge decision to go bigger. It is a case of putting our necks on the block and going for broke. What we are doing is vitally important and it seems that our visitors and exhibitors realise that too.

Amongst other things, we are looking to add 50% more exhibitors to the 09 event, we have taken on Olympia, we are currently in talks with a very exciting organisation to organise a huge green-tech pavilion which will showcase the most cutting edge green technologies available in the UK today, we want to add more and bigger speaker sessions, have a fashion show integrated into the event,  show thought provoking films like The Age of Stupid (watch out for that one in the new year – it’s big and important), support budding eco-tech product designers and encourage innovation. Phew!

If I am allowed to go off into my usual fantasy world for a moment, there are a million other ideas which I am subconsciously working on too. These include racing in my own UK AWARE rally team which runs electric cars in competition with conventional petrol ones; the technology is there and the performance is far superior to the petrol motor. It’s something which would show people that green is both sexy and superior.

I could go on and on with my ideas, but I don’t have the resources to make them happen yet and I’ll only find myself falling over my own enthusiasm and passion (just like the three very cute four week old kittens in my front room, who don’t seem to be able to stop their back legs overtaking their front ones as they almost pop with excitement as they speed across the living room floor). Focus on the now Danny!

Essentially, we want to grow with the UK conscience and offer an event which we can pick up and drop into four or five UK cities annually. The integrity of our brand is of paramount importance and whilst it is imperative that we do get funding from sponsorship, it is equally important that it comes from a suitable source

Danny really is a genuinely passionate soul, striving for excellence in a difficult sector.

Their next event will be held at Olympia on Friday 17 and Saturday 18 April; visit their website for details and to book tickets.

Sponsorship holds the key to further success at UK AWARE and if you would like to get in touch with his team in this regard, I’m sure they’ll be delighted to hear from you.

Rubbishly yours,

TS x