WorkforClimate Ambassador Kirstin Hunter is a leader in both business and sustainability, as a co-founder and Chief Executive Officer at Future Super and in executive positions at a number of purpose-led start-ups. Here, she dives into her climate origin story.
I grew up in Tweed Heads, and my childhood was largely spent outdoors swimming and doing surf lifesaving. I was always conscious of things like litter and plastic in the ocean. Advocating for the environment and minimising my own footprint became second nature, but I never thought about what it would look like to align my career behind those values.
After school, I studied medicine with the aim to eventually become a GP. Then in my 20s, I was elected to my university’s student union board, an organisation that hugely influenced the student body. It made me realise that as a doctor, I could have an impact on a single community – but through business, I could impact the world.
I changed my trajectory and studied law with a view to get into business. I worked as a junior lawyer at corporations for a few years, and then made my way into management consulting. This was in the early days of corporate environmental awareness. At one of them, I remember putting in a proposal to get some KeepCups for the kitchen to reduce the waste from takeaway coffees. It wasn’t approved. (In better news, this same company has recently announced it has achieved net-negative carbon status.)
In both my legal and consulting roles I found I got most of my energy from the pro bono work I was doing on the side – this gave me a chance to apply my corporate and strategic skills to help solve community problems.
A period of upheaval
Everything changed when I had my daughter. For starters, I was working part time and parenting full time, so I was stretched too thin for my usual volunteering work. Without that, I found my energy for my corporate day job starting to dwindle. Then, in those hazy newborn days with my daughter on my lap, my late night scrolling led me to start reading IPCC reports. The immediacy of the climate crisis felt so urgent in the context of my newborn child’s life. She would be 26 in 2040 when some of these horrific events were predicted to occur. I knew I needed to act.
I was spending 5% of my time on community projects, and 95% of my time helping corporations make money at the expense of the world my daughter was going to live in. I wanted to flip that around and make community impact work my focus.
Future Super and beyond
Around that same time, I was introduced to the co-founders of Future Super. I volunteered some consulting work, which led to a six-month contract and eventually a permanent role initially as their Chief Operating Officer. We realised that most people didn’t know their superannuation was funding fossil fuels, and that they could put their money behind a movement that propels climate action instead. My focus was on crafting a strategy with purpose at its core, encouraging everyday Australians to use the power of money to invest, advocate and campaign for a future worth retiring into.
In 2019, Future Super ended up forming the Not Business As Usual coalition to support employees to demand climate action. We started out looking for around 20 businesses who might give their employees time off work to go to the School Strikes for Climate. We ended up with around 3,500 businesses on board, and the Financial Review credited the adult workers as doubling support for the strike. It became international news. It also drove a huge increase in recognition for what Future Super was trying to do.
After four years, I moved across to Brighte to help create equal access to the clean energy revolution and, ultimately, make every home sustainable. I’ve just finished up in that role and am about to start my new position as Chief of Staff at Human, a health tech start-up that aims to give everyone access to personalised healthcare. Pulling together business and health feels like a full circle back to my days studying medicine. I’m excited to help create a new kind of business that will shape the way the economy works and benefit many people through its output.
Driving action in your workplace
I’ve now had a lengthy career working both alongside and directly for purpose-driven companies. One thing I’ve learned is that not everyone can immediately get a job in a business that’s addressing the impacts of climate change – but every employee can address the impact that their business has on the climate.
If driving climate action at work is something you’re passionate about, I encourage you to make room for this in your working life and to explore the ways you can influence your company to behave differently – from using KeepCups all the way up to full decarbonisation. As a WorkforClimate ambassador, I look forward to sharing more advice, resources and tools to help you do this over the coming months.
Could you be your workplace's changemaker? WorkforClimate is here to help, with all the news, advice and inspiration to get you started on your journey to taking meaningful climate action.