30 Under 30: Catriona Patterson

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Catriona Patterson, 26, Edinburgh

Catriona is Green Arts Project Manager at Creative Carbon Scotland, Environmental Officer for Festivals Edinburgh, and board member for 2050 Climate Group.

She was, by her own account, “involved in everything” from a young age. At Portobello High School she was part of a history club, book group, art club, and environmental club – but it was that last one which really stuck. When the school set up an eco committee, Catriona became the first chair, and during that time they were the first high school in Scotland to get three green flags, which led to Catriona and the group presenting at the Scottish Parliament.

This stood her in good stead as she went on to study sustainable development at St Andrews University. As luck would have it, as part of her dissertation she set up an interview with Creative Carbon Scotland – which supports environmental sustainability in the arts – just as they were hiring for a project, and the rest is history!

Since then, Catriona has continued her work with Creative Carbon Scotland, but not before spending three months in Cambodia as part of the voluntary service with the Department for International Development, working on sustaining economic livelihood with a focus on cultural heritage.

Alongside her work, Catriona volunteers for the 2050 Climate Group which aims to educate, engage and empower young people to tackle climate change – an opportunity she says involved an intense interview process, so this is clearly a woman with dedication to helping the planet! Catriona has worked tirelessly to support the group as it recently made the transition to become a registered charity, and she personally arranged and maintains SEPA’s second ever Sustainable Growth Agreement with 2050.

Sounds like she never quite gave up on being involved with everything – and according to her she even has time to watch TV! Well, I think we can all agree she deserves some Netflixation after all these sheroic shenanigans.


What’s your proudest achievement?

I find this so hard – I think it’s always easier to feel proud of other people than it is to feel proud of yourself!

If I was to pick a moment that was exciting it would be the 2050 Climate Group’s Youth Summit in November last year. We had around 400 people at the Technology & Innovation Centre at Strathclyde University in Glasgow on a Saturday morning at 9am. I was on the registration desk, and it was incredible to see all the smiling and enthusiastic young people, committed to working on issues of climate change! I’m so proud of the work we achieve as the 2050 Climate Group, and all those involved and participating in a more sustainable Scotland.

What women inspire you?

I’m going to say my mum, which feels like a classic answer, but also because I feel like there are a lot of similarities between us: our careers are aligning more as I get older! I think my mum is pretty incredible because she’s always up for trying new things and learning new things. She’s a teacher so she always has to change what she’s doing every year, particularly as things develop, and she’s really brave in always trying things and taking every opportunity offered to her. And she’s also really good at having fun – she’s the person you want coming to you party!

My grandmothers also inspire me: They are both called Margaret, they were both born in 1927, and both had husbands named John, so in one way they are really connected, but in other ways their lives have been really different. They both lived through the twentieth century – through World War Two and up to the internet – that’s such a huge space of time and rate of change. One supported her husband through 11 years of night school so he could become a lawyer – which, well, my boyfriend would be lucky! My other granny did a PhD in her seventies on primary healthcare in Pakistan. They are amazingly strong women.

In my day-to-day, my friends are just amazing. My friend Mrija is incredibly charismatic: she can just talk anyone into anything, and you just want to be with her. My friend Jess, who is the most committed person I have ever met in my life (if Jess says she’s going to do something, she’ll do it; even if it’ll take years to manage it, she’ll do it). And then my friend Beth, she runs her own business, she’s a jewellery designer, and she was in the finalists for the Etsy awards. She does amazing ceramic necklaces and she’s built it up by her self.

What change would you like to see for girls and young women in Scotland in next 10 years?

The thing that we talk a lot about in the 2050 Climate Group is leadership roles. That’s very pertinent for youth but also very pertinent for women. I work both in the culture sector and the sustainability sector in different ways, and in both of them there are so many women, but the higher you go up, the fewer female role models there are.

I want more women to feel more confident to apply for all those roles, and I also want them to create them for themselves. The young and female CEOs that I know, they are where they are because they created the organisation, not because they applied for it, so I think there is a balance between more people applying and creating opportunities.

I want it to be okay for women to be ambitious, not referred to as “too ambitious” – I want that to stop being the narrative. A man going for a job he’s not qualified for is not seen as “too ambitious”, it’s just ambitious. I I want the language to change around it too, and I think that’s definitely achievable in the next ten years.

What can we do to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all?

Stop considering having children as something that only affects women! It takes a village to raise a child: family, friends, colleagues and partners, and we need to stop considering child-raising as something that only women do, or that only affects women.

As an example, at an event recently I was discussing young people, leadership and climate change, and quite a senior male member of an organisation complained to me that one of our biggest problems (as a society) is our ageing population, because “women like you are having children later”.

I was really offended by this ”women like me” statement, and the implication that (as I young woman), I should have been spending my time working on having children: as someone who is trying to affect climate change on a day to day basis, I feel I am having an impact on society, and I think he was implying that my worth was only in my ability to reproduce! There was also no mention the other societal factors affecting population, nor the decisions of men to have children later in life.

Until we stop thinking of parental leave and having children as something only women ‘do’, we’re not actually going to smash the glass ceiling.

What 3 women (past or present, real or fictional) would you invite to your dream dinner party/picnic?

Well, I’m not sure they’re all going to get on…I’ve got one past, one present and one fictional, but all leaders in their fields.

The past one is quite common: Rosa Parks. I didn’t generally know much about her (key Outkast song references), but I was in Alabama in the summer and I went to Montgomery in the spot where Rosa Parks didn’t give up her seat. I didn’t realise she had been involved in the civil rights movement for 12 or 13 years before that moment. People just think one day she made one key decision, but I think it’s not quite appreciated how calculated and consistent it was. I was crying in the Montgomery museum!

I would also want Christiana Figueres who is the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), she worked for six years in the lead up to the Paris Agreement, and was pivotal in actually making such a huge agreement happen. I respect her views of getting everyone from different aspects of society involved in the climate change movement. She missed out on the UN Secretary General job, which I’m devastated about, but she’d would probably still have some good dinner party conversation!. She’s said some really positive things about the Climate 2050 group as well; a couple of our members met her last year, so she would be incredible.

The fictional one (I love TV– it’s a bit of a shameful secret) in character in ‘The Good Wife’: Diane Lockhart. She’s the head of a law firm, she’s at one point approached to be a Supreme Court judge…there is one bit where she’s a staunch liberal, a Democrat, and she gets approached by the Republican pressure groups to be a devil’s advocate, and she agrees to do it, to fight their cause for them in a way, and I think that to be that open-minded, particularly in a society when everything is traditionally very hard-line. I think it’s a really interesting thing to write into a character. She always passes the Bechdel test, and she’s a great dresser.

So that’s my intense dinner, but I haven’t decided what we’re having on the menu yet – I’ll think about that later.

What would your message be for girls and young women in Scotland?

Don’t think you have to be an expert at everything to have a go at something. So much can be achieved by just the thought and the knowledge and the skills you already have, so just jump into something. And use Google a lot – I use the internet to discover new knowledge every single day, and I don’t know what I’d do without it.

Pictures courtesy of Catriona Patterson; the third picture shows Catriona at the 2050 Climate Group and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA)’s ‘Future Leaders Now’, the interactive launch of their Sustainable Growth Agreement this year.

You can see the full list of our amazing 30 Under 30 2017 finalists here, and keep a look out on the blog as we feature  a different finalist every day throughout November.

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