19/11/2014 10:00 GMT | Updated 18/01/2015 05:59 GMT

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Salt, sea, sun, heather, light, the sound of nature and its precious, fragile vitality are embedded deeply into my DNA and steer the work I do each day. A love of nature is rooted in my soul from a lifetime of play, exploration, learning and adventure in the world's most powerful classroom, where the granite cliffs of Wales meet the Atlantic Ocean in St.Davids, my birthplace and home. My work on sustainability, whether for government or business, multi-national or community group, is grounded with cynefin, a Welsh word describing a sense of place that spans generations, bringing with it a purpose and belonging that connects us to the world. Cynefin is my energy source and compass.


Image: St.Davids Head, a historic landscape coloured by wild heather and gorse

Finding purpose goes back generations to grandparents and parents who were hill bounding, nature-loving activists, changing their working worlds of health and community with canny decision-making and persistence. I grew up seeing that making a difference was possible, practical and enjoyable, and it's a delight to see my own children living and learning those qualities as they step as adults into their own changing world.

From early of travel, I carry penance for work as a geological assistant at a gold mine in Australia's Great Sandy Desert. For my sins, I discovered a new mine that would despoil the desert with explosives, cyanide and mercury - not the kind of activity that fits with the low impact life I live now. Although the work there was brutal and destructive, it took me into some of the most pristine nature on earth, where a single tyre track could last 10 years - and made the need to find radically different ways of working and managing our resources compellingly clear.


Image: evening clouds above Ramsey Island, on the west coast of Wales.

I've seen discussions about climate and resources move from being 'gently tolerated' at best 15 years ago, to a level of active engagement and imagination that was unimaginable back then. My inspiration on darker days comes from knowledge that the best businesses are putting their sustainability journey centre stage, prepared to discuss all options as part of business resilience. The biggest personal bonus from work is not money, but making plans and actions for radical change with the best people that I've ever had the privilege of meeting - passionate, visionary professionals with a desire to make good things happen faster. That beats 9-5 thinking, any time.

There's no dividing line between personal and professional sustainability, and the best work feels like the purest play, not drudge. I live lightly in an eco-house, heated by wood and sunlight, and have not flown on holiday for 9 years, and through TYF, continue to support 1% for the Planet, offset our carbon, and set out to make radical change happen through our work in education, retail, adventure and business. Next year's Sustainability Adventures excite me, with a new programme of sea kayaking, surfing, walking and coasteering events designed for activists, researchers and professionals working in our field - the wild hours we spend on the ocean with inspired actions plotted over food in the pub and around late night bonfires will be hard to beat.

Looking back, I realise that it's too easy to underestimate what we're really capable of, and get suckered into believing the folks who think that epic achievements are beyond our reach. With the privilege of starting again, the one thing that I'd change would be to dream wild change a few years earlier, and laugh more loudly at the folk who say it can't be done. They were never going to try in the first place.

Andy Middleton will be speaking at the Natural Leaders NOW conference, Friends House, Euston, London - Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd November 2014.

Tickets are available here: