Profile: Adeela Warley, head of communications, Friends of the Earth

Adeela Warley has spent 20 years using her passion and personal skills to make Friends of the Earth a force for change, finds Kate Magee.

Adeela Warley
Adeela Warley

Twenty years is a long time to spend at one organisation. But Friends of the Earth's (FoE) comms director Adeela Warley has done just that. Since 1989, the charity has continued to excite her passion for the environment and politics. Now, with the crucial UN Copenhagen climate talks beginning next week, and a general election scheduled for next year, Warley has plenty to keep her enthused.

Next week the charity will send a delegation to Copenhagen to hand in a petition signed by nearly 30,000 people urging world leaders to 'do the right thing'. More than 2,000 activists dressed in blue ponchos will march in the streets, and staff will lobby behind the scenes. Next year, the organisation will run a series of campaigns to secure pre-election promises from politicians in the run up to the general election.

Amid the chorus of green voices, FoE differentiates itself by focusing on creating political change. 'Personal behaviour is important but we need big change,' explains Warley, who has been in charge of the charity's 26-strong comms function for the past five years. 'The power to make the leap to a low carbon economy lies with government.'

FoE has already achieved political change. Its four-year campaign The Big Ask was instrumental in getting the Climate Change Act 2008 passed - the world's first national climate legislation. Warley believes the campaign was successful because it presented the public with solutions that helped demystify the issue and empowered them to act. 'The campaign helped us to be seen as dynamic, involving and an organisation that had answers, not just saying "we're doomed",' she says.

Now green issues have become mainstream, Warley believes the challenge is to make the issue personal and relevant: 'We have to move people on from seeing green issues as something for environmentalists. We need them to see it's not just about the planet, it's about people.'

She advocates a more emotional approach, using imagery and video to capture real people's stories, explain what is behind the rhetoric of politicians and how climate change affects each person.

She is also using entertainment to update the brand, attract new audiences and shed 'hippy' stereotypes, by setting up events such as its recent comedy night LIVEstock and increasing its presence at gigs and festivals. 'I think it can be transformational for people when they meet you and think - wow, that's FoE,' she says.

Warley is quick to dismiss the idea direct action groups such as Plane Stupid and Climate Rush can harm FoE's more reasoned approach. 'Many people who support FoE support other green groups. I have shaken many a can for Greenpeace,' she smiles.

Warley gained a taste for comms at her first job in a public library. Her interest in world affairs began earlier, a product of having South African parents who lived under apartheid, but who came to the UK so their children did not grow up under that system.

That is where she may have learned to be 'determined', a word WWF's comms director Winnie D'Ath uses to describe her. But the word that is echoed unanimously by ex-colleagues, senior industry executives and other peers is 'charming'.

Futerra Sustainability co-founder Solitaire Townsend, who has worked with Warley for ten years, believes this has been critical to FoE. 'It takes very strident positions on issues, and her charm is one of the reasons it has been so successful. She's a consummate professional whose personal passion gives her integrity,' she says. 'It's fair to say FoE made her, and she made FoE.'

According to Simon Bernstein, FoE's former comms chief and current charity marketing consultant, this charm is certainly put to use. 'FoE can be a tough place to work. There are lots of extremely bright, motivated people there, who all have an idea of how comms should be done. She has the interpersonal skills to tell campaigners to adapt their messages,' he says.

Warley is complimentary about her 'knowledgeable and very committed' colleagues, but admits her role can be challenging: 'Sometimes it is like being a diplomat. You have to influence, persuade, work in partnership and demonstrate by results. You need resilience and an ability to bring people with you.'

When not at the office, 48-year-old Warley can be found in her 'corridor garden' in south east London tending to her tropical plants - 'we all need our own oasis' - or working up a sweat on the dance floor, with her tango and latin skills.

So why, 20 years on, does FoE continue to hold allure for Warley? The response comes quickly: 'We're trying to save the world. That is such a big job you're never going to go home at the end of the evening and say, "well that's done, what's next?".'

 

ADEELA WARLEY'S TURNING POINTS

- What was your biggest career break?

Joining Friends of the Earth as public information officer just as green issues became popular in the late 1980s. My first task was to edit a report on pesticides. I also organised exhibitions, the photo library and was sent to speak at the CBI Conference. It has become a rewarding career with an organisation in which I believe.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

Andrew Lees, a legendary environmental campaigner, taught me how to work in a highly charged setting with people motivated by the cause. My recent work with Neil Goodlad of CHI & Partners on The Big Ask climate change campaign has taken our work to a new level, giving us a better understanding of our target audiences and creating innovative ways to engage them.

- What advice would you give to anyone climbing the career ladder?

Think hard about what you really enjoy doing; stick at it and be prepared to make your own luck.

- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Creativity, enthusiasm to find new ways of doing things and a sense of humour.

 

CV

2004: Head of communications, Friends of the Earth

2001: Public information manager, Friends of the Earth

1989: Public information officer, Friends of the Earth

1986: Information officer, British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection

1985: Children's librarian, London Borough of Lewisham

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