When Andy Middleton started a tiny windsurfing school in the 1980s, all he wanted was to spend as much time on the beach as possible. But his enthusiasm just couldn't be contained. Today, Middleton's company, Wales-based TYF, is a full-blown, international adventure and education business that works with everyone from school children to CEOs. Meanwhile, Middleton himself has also become a popular eco-motivational speaker.
Today, he lives in a self-built, eco-friendly house on a Welsh cliff overlooking the sea. Taking groups into the natural beauty of the Welsh coastline to heighten their sense of awareness of and connectedness to the environment is his true passion. But this enthusiasm for positive change also translates to the classroom (he leads biomimicry workshops) and the boardroom, where Middleton also leads professional development workshops.
How did you get into this line of work?
My grandparents and parents were adventurers and change-makers, and leaning towards action feels like part of my DNA. My professional background for 20 years has been working as an organisation development coach and consultant, and it's become clear to me that the biggest barrier to accelerating our move towards sustainability is emotional rather than technical—and this is where I now focus my time.
When did the green bug strike?
I remember planting daffodils on hedges in our community when I was about 10 years old, and working on projects in the National Park in my teens. There have been green bugs around me most of my life, and they seem to be doing well. It's also interesting to reflect on how much impact that the environment—both natural and social—has had on who I am, and what I aspire to do; growing up and living in a wild and beautiful landscape leaves an indelible mark, and spending time with people on a similar journey is a sure way to learn fast and aim high.
Who is your green hero?
Satish Kumar, editor of Resurgence Magazine and director of Schumacher College, has a wonderful blend of wisdom, passion, and mischief, and that is the most invigorating green tonic imaginable. His ability to make change happen with little or no resources is staggering.
What is your ultimate green goal?
To create a country-level change plan for Wales that shows how it is possible to reduce our CO2 emissions and oil dependency by 9 percent per year to create the opportunity for a return to sense and sustainability. Start small, aim high.
What is your motivation?
The buzz of working on something that's important and worthwhile is pretty hard to beat, with knowledge that the bigger the goal we go for, the more fun there is to be had. It's also important to me to show that it's both possible and profitable to run a business that's green, clean and fun. Using approaches such as biomimicry and Cradle to Cradle to help people work differently, and taking thousands of people out to play, work, and learn in nature has been a fine way to do this.
What is most important to you, ecologically speaking?
Ensuring that business, government, and society quickly recognise the need to create a new economic model that ceases to depend on ever-increasing growth. There's a saying attributed to Confucius from about 2,500 years ago that says "only a man who knows the meaning of the word `enough' can ever be rich." Working out what "enough" means for TYF has been a critically important and educational step.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Stopping to play. I love surfing, kayaking, cycling, and mountain biking, and of late, there have been a few too many times that I've missed taking a couple of hours of adrenaline from being too busy.
What is the most rewarding?
The continuous stream of outstanding people that I meet through my work is a source of inspiration, amazement, and camaraderie.
Of the people you have worked with, who impresses you most?
Facilitating and teaching at Schumacher College gave me the opportunity to spend time with some very impressive people. Amory Lovins and Janine Benyus impressed me most. Closer to home, I love the way that David Hieatt brings clear messages and action to life through his work at Howies.
What green thing do you do everyday?
Living in a low-carbon eco-house. On my daily travels, near or far, I aim to travel lightly on this fine planet of ours. I've been veggie for nearly 30 years, too, which helps.
What do you wish you could do?
If I had a magic wand, I'd wave it over the heads of elected members of national and local government so that they instantly recognise the scale of change that is needed to create environmental and societal security.
What is your biggest eco-sin?
As a 22 year old, I worked as a geological assistant in an open-cast gold mine in the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia, with use of horrific chemicals and processes. I discovered a new mine, named the Golden Web, to make things even worse.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
Transform the absurd level of investment in making weapons for wars against people into funding for reforesting the planet and restoring agricultural and community to Africa.
What is your best green advice?
Get clear about what the greatest imaginable difference is that you could make through your work and business then set out to do it and never look back.
Change Makers is series of interviews with people famous and obscure who are creating a more sustainable world through their work. Meet more Change Makers here.