Origin Story Interview W/ Anne Therese Gennari, The Climate Optimist

Origin Story Interview W/ Anne Therese Gennari, The Climate Optimist

Brighter Future

 / 

Jun 14, 2023

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #ClimateOptimism #Empowerment #PositiveChange #ClimateAction

Brighter Future

We’re here with Anne Therese Gennari, founder of The Climate Optimist, a company whose mission is to inspire and help people shift the fear narrative on climate change to a more empowering, encouraging, and exciting one.

Thank you so much for joining us, Anne Therese. Do you think you could tell us a little about yourself and your business?

My name is Anne Therese Gennari. I live in New York City, and I’m extremely passionate about shifting the narrative on climate change. I do this through speaking, writing, hosting workshops, collaborating with brands, and teaching in general. I'm constantly figuring out how we can inspire and motivate people to take positive action toward the world we want to see.

I have a weekly newsletter, “The Climate Optimist,” available on Substack, and I’ve just written a book about hope in the era of climate change.

Could you give us a little information about your book?

The book is called “The Climate Optimist Handbook.” It’s a self-help book on climate change, written for individuals who want to participate in the exciting journey toward a better world.

The book is divided into five parts. The first part is about shifting the narrative by telling different stories and empowering ourselves; the second deals with learning to heal ourselves by addressing negative climate news in a way that inspires us to take action.

The third part is about learning how to embrace change in all areas of our lives and society. The fourth is about optimism, and explores how we can cultivate it to create a more positive outlook.

Finally, the last part is about empowerment, which teaches us how to become leaders for ourselves, our families, and our communities and navigate chaotic times. By becoming empowered, grounded, and healed individuals, we can survive, thrive through these times, and help create a better world.

That sounds very interesting. Could you share your roots, and the first spark that ignited your journey toward becoming a climate optimist?

I have definitely been on a journey. I was an angry activist in my teens and early twenties about everything, including the state of the world and myself. I was highly aware of climate change and global injustices but struggled to find a balance. I thought that to make a difference, I had to remain angry about everything that was wrong in the world. But of course I realised that this approach didn’t work. People do not like to listen to angry people, and it’s an exhausting way to live.

I had a kind of awakening, and learned that being an optimist on climate change is a better approach. In this book, I wrote about how I did not exactly choose to become a climate optimist; it was more of a realisation that came to me one night when I broke down and released all my fear and anger. After that, something told me I had to become a climate optimist. I did not know what that meant at the time, but it sounded amazing. So, I embraced it and started my journey.

Finding balance is crucial, and I want to help others take this journey and become empowered, grounded, and healed individuals.

How did it impact your career when the message came through? Did you immediately follow through with your message, or what journey did your career take?

That's an interesting question. Only in the past few years have I been able to make a career out of being a climate optimist.

At first, I wanted to work in marketing, so I moved to New York to pursue a degree and marketing career. But I also wanted to do things my own way, so I tried to figure out how to create a platform to shift the narrative and speak up for the positive change I wanted to see in the world.

This led me to co-found a positive-impact-focused modelling agency which could serve as a platform where talents, such as athletes, musicians, models, and influencers, could feel empowered to speak up about what they wanted to see in the world. In the process of doing that, I realised how many talented people out there wanted to speak up for positive change. This started my pivot toward a career in empowerment.

During COVID, I started teaching some online courses for free to see if the message resonated with anyone, and I received a lot of positive feedback. My journey has been ongoing from there, and I’m grateful for the universe sending me opportunities to navigate what it could look like to educate the world on climate optimism.

It hasn’t been a straightforward journey and it’s frustrating at times, but I kept returning to my core mission of being a climate optimist and figuring out what all that means.

When did you decide to start your own business and believe you would succeed?

You could say it was a long road. First, I began my work as a public optimist on climate change, doing speaking engagements and workshops. Occasionally I partnered with brands. It wasn’t until 2022, though, that I realised I had a need for a business name so that I could focus on my mission. Thus, Climate Optimist LLC was created.

Interestingly, opportunities exploded after I became a business entity. It's almost as if the universe had listened and said, “Okay, you're ready for this; let's go.”

If you're at a point in your life where you’re considering taking a leap of faith, doing something as serious as creating a business around your mission validates your dreams and, really, kind of forces you to take things more seriously.

Although I started working in climate optimism earlier, I am now fully committed to focusing on my mission through my new business.

To whom are you speaking? Who would you say is the key audience for your business?

This is a question that everyone struggles with because the message in my book is for anyone concerned about climate change, who feels lost on what to do with that information, and may be losing sleep or feeling anxious about it. It's for anyone who wants to live sustainably.

As a business person, I need to identify my audience. I’m currently focused on companies, particularly helping them engage their employees. The workplace has a lot of potential to inspire and empower employees to impact company structure positively. This is something I want to focus on moving forward.

Apart from that, my next audience is schools. Students, especially those about to enter the workforce, may need inspiration and guidance on how to live sustainably. I want to work with colleges to infuse climate optimism in these students. That would be amazing.

Is a breakdown necessary to gain this awareness? Can climate optimism alone achieve this, or do you think it's necessary to lead people to a point where they truly struggle?

I know many thoughts are circulating these days, but the fact that The Climate Optimist is gaining attention is amazing to me. You can’t be a climate optimist unless you act from a grounded awareness.

My intention in writing this book was to help people avoid crying on the floor about climate change (as I did), and to prevent them from going through a real breakdown. I would like to help people find the light before they reach that point. But there is work to be done, of course.

By participating in the change you want to see in the world, you can nurture your optimism and start believing in it because you have taken action yourself. So my book is really about self-help to become an empowered, grounded, and aware climate optimist.

I hope people do not have to have a breakdown to reach that point. It’s just not necessary. My own experience has taught me what I needed to learn, and I hope to share that with others to help them find that space.

What part of your work do you find most fulfilling?

The most fulfilling aspect of my work is working with people. It's interesting because I have always been an eco-nerd, deeply passionate about nature and animals, but I’ve realised working with people is the way I can have the greatest impact on nature. It is incredibly fulfilling to ignite a spark in someone else, to help them see the positive impact they can have on the environment.

It feels so nice to receive feedback from people saying that my newsletter inspired and motivated them. Knowing that I can help someone else awaken their leadership abilities is my work's most fulfilling aspect.

When people become inspired and motivated to take action, they become new leaders. This ripple effect creates a chain reaction of empowerment and positivity that can profoundly impact the world.

As the saying goes, “Leaders do not create more followers; they create more leaders.” My goal is to be a leader who helps others awaken their leadership potential. For those with whom my message and values resonate— people who might be tree huggers, people who love nature and conscious living— it may be easy to get on board.

How do you handle people who criticise you, if that’s ever happened?

First, it's important to consider who you're talking to. Some people won't be receptive to what you're saying, so it's not worth wasting your energy on them. However, I understand where they're coming from— how can we help awaken people who may have lost faith in the future or feel that change is pointless?

These individuals exist, and this is where the most important work lies. When talking to people, it's crucial to understand your audience. Sometimes, even mentioning the term “climate change” is enough to trigger negative emotions and cause them to shut down.

Many climate change conversations are infused with shame and fear. There’s a real fear of change, which is okay: we’re creatures of habit, after all, who like things to stay the same.

It can be incredibly challenging to embrace change and try new things, especially when someone tells you that you must change.

As for the shame involved in these conversations? As a society, we have to forgive ourselves for this. The world we have created is broken in many ways, and though we have all contributed to that damage, many of us have done so unknowingly. Once we acknowledge that things aren't working, we can focus on improving.

The best way to help someone resistant to change is to get them excited and tap into their emotional side. Then, lead with questions, and try to find out what could be good for them. It isn’t always best to talk about climate change directly. Instead, you can talk about how the weather is changing, which everyone can agree on. You can also focus on the financial benefits of solar panels, which provide cheaper and more independent energy sources.

We don't have to focus on making people care about climate change on a moral level. That approach is ineffective; we don't have time to waste. Instead, we need to find different ways to communicate the same message. We must consider who we are speaking to and what they will be receptive to.

By letting go of shame and blame on ourselves and others, we can help people find a sense of curiosity, excitement, and courage. This is where our focus needs to lie, no matter who we’re talking to. It's about finding the right way to frame the message and inspiring people to take action toward a better future.

In your career journey, what specific events or experiences shaped you into who you are or how do you approach work today? Were there any significant moments in your past?

As I reflect, I can recall certain events that have profoundly impacted me and helped shape my career. At one point, like I said earlier, I was an angry activist trying to find opportunities to communicate my message and make people care about the environment. But experience taught me that confrontational approaches are not effective.

Starting with shame and blame only makes people defensive. At various events in public places I could tell my message was not getting through because of this.

I’ve struggled with climate anxiety for about 15 years, and it’s manifested as eating disorders, lingering stress, and sleepless nights. In the face of this, I realised that I needed to prioritise my self-care, learn to set boundaries, say no when tired, and understand that there is only so much one person can do.

Recognising that has helped me understand that I’m now where I can make the most significant impact. I need to help others understand this as well.

What would you say has been the biggest challenge to your career in the climate space?

In my early days, the biggest challenge was to get people to acknowledge and even talk about climate change. But, thankfully, activists like Greta Thunberg and increased media coverage of unusual weather patterns have made people more accepting of the reality of climate change.

Now, my challenge is communicating climate optimism to people and helping companies understand the benefits of nurturing a climate-positive mindset and culture. With this, companies can help their employees to think creatively and maybe even make the business more successful.

It's an ever-shifting target, but I'm glad that the world is more aware and alarmed about climate change today. This is the foundation from which we can start working toward making a difference.

What were the most significant lessons you learned from your failures throughout your career?

Keeping a support network is crucial. Don't try to do everything on your own, as my previous business taught me. Finding the right business partner is essential. Although I am alone in the Climate Optimist, I am improving by outsourcing tasks to focus on my goals.

Financial help is often limited when starting out, so it is essential to be selective with what you do and how you allocate your time and energy. Only some opportunities are good, and being picky is necessary. As one quote says, “unless it's a hell yes, it's a hell no.”

In any business, there will be moments when you will feel stuck, dealing with technical issues or finances or having to attend to necessary tasks. These moments are part of running a business; not every moment will be enjoyable. Instead, find a job where your passion leads to impact and you feel fulfilled in your work. This is how you continue to succeed, even when faced with challenges.

Running a business is hard, and you must feel like your work contributes to something for yourself, the people around you, or the world. That is why I will continue to show up for this work.

Have you had any other significant “Aha!” moments?

The realisation about work driven by passion was my most profound “Aha!” moment, as it shifted everything. A few things happened in that same timeframe. I remember reading a quote online that hit me pretty hard: “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” I was a university student on campus in Sweden. The universe seemed to freeze when I read that. I knew there was something I had to learn.

I realised I’d been trying to control everything in my world, and I felt lost and stuck in that reality. The quote made me understand that we’re still determining what the future will look like. One decision leads to another, and meeting someone at an event can open a door that leads to something else.

Our entire lives are just a string of pivotal moments. We can’t know what those moments will be, or what they will open up for us.

I realised that I was holding myself back, and that I needed to take a chill pill and just trust that things would work out. My life could be better than anything I knew then. At the time, I was a student in Sweden with my ex-boyfriend. Now I live in New York with my husband and do work I never could’ve imagined back then.

I proved to myself that by applying this new mindset of trusting the journey, being open-minded, being curious, and seeing what else could happen, I could change the trajectory of my life.

I started taking bold actions and being more curious about everything. My life began to shift. I thought about applying this to climate work.

By applying new ways of living and new inventions, we could shift our thoughts about how we live in this world, and the future may be healthier, better, and safer. We could have more time to do things we love instead of always working. What if we could build an even better world than what we know today? That is the mindset we need to continue to spark in ourselves.

What inspired you the most to pursue climate work? Did you read any books, watch movies or listen to speeches?

It was probably when I moved to New York. I’ve always been very ecologically-conscious, and when I started my marketing internship there I was horrified by the disposable culture of to-go coffee cups, single-use plastics, and styrofoam for take-away food.

Clearly this problem was bigger than me. A cultural shift needed to happen, and I wanted to figure out how to make a career out of it.

Later, I focused more on my journey and how I could help others go on a similar journey. That's when I pursued my biggest dream of becoming an author and a speaker. I told myself to keep taking action on things I wanted to do, and this seemed to resonate with people.

I don't feel fulfilled if I don't work for the environment. No matter what I’m doing. I always ask myself: “Does this make sense from my work? Is it a hell yes, or hell no?”

I love that quote. What were the most significant compromises or sacrifices you made to get to where you are today?

I've never had a job with the safety net of insurance and other benefits. I owe a lot to my husband because I live under his safety umbrella, in a way. There's something to be said about partnership, and I don't know if I would have been able to do this on my own. I would have figured something out, but I'm grateful to have a husband supporting my work. Some compromises are that I could have gotten a real job somewhere with co-workers, an office to go to every day, and benefits. I've never had that.

Sometimes I battle the thought of getting a job, and my husband has been pushing me to, but every time I start applying I realise that I just don't want to do this. I want to continue figuring out how to make things happen on my own.

So that's probably the biggest compromise, aside from the fact that I left my family and moved away from Sweden to New York. Missing them is definitely a big sacrifice as well.

What is your vision, and what is the future you are trying to create?

It's crucial to envision a better future. Around 50% of the world's population lives in cities, which is expected to increase to two-thirds by 2050. People will only move to cities, not from cities. We have to consider cities as the future.

In the future, I would like the city to look very different from what it looks like today— with more greenery everywhere, fresh air, birds singing, and different species of flowers, trees, and bushes. It would be a different experience from the gassy, noisy environment we are used to today.

We’ll have figured out mobility in cities, using efficient electrical trains or bikes; we won’t have to sit in traffic all day or try to find parking, and we won’t have to add carbon into the atmosphere. It may take a mindset shift for people to give up the freedom of mobility, but once we do, we’ll realise it's better not to have a car. The future city will be calmer and help people be more balanced and grounded.

In this future, we’ll have removed most of the plastic from our oceans and have a circular system where things do not go to landfill as fast as they do now. I’d like there to be a sharing community where resources are used by more than a single person or entity, powered by regenerative and renewable energies.

Speaking about the future is challenging since we’re still trying to determine what we're up against. But as long as we have a vision that we continue to work toward and strive to make things better, the city of the future can be something beautiful that we've never seen before. It's an exciting prospect and an interesting challenge to envision it— without trying to use language that’s too dramatic, you know.

If you could share one lasting message with the whole world, what would it be?

I urge everyone to take a deep breath and recognise that it is not their sole responsibility to fix climate change. The burden is too heavy for one person to bear, and we should let go of the idea that it is our responsibility.

Instead, let us acknowledge that we are all on this journey together, and we have a wonderful opportunity to participate in creating a better world. Every day, let us wake up and realise this opportunity and ask ourselves how we can use our power and leadership to show up for it.

Let us also help others find opportunities to contribute. Shifting our mindset from responsibility to opportunity is the key to putting everything on the right path.

Thank you so much for sharing these fascinating thoughts with us, Anne Therese. We sincerely hope more and more people will embrace climate positivity and take positive action, in whichever form, to create a better, brighter future.

If you would like to learn more about The Climate Optimist, please visit www.theclimateoptimist.com.

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