Sustainability First Writing Prize 2021
Sustainability First Writing Prize 2021

For the 2021 Writing Prize, we invited writers to submit their imaginative visions, creative ideas and practical steps for societal change, with pieces of writing that responded to the question:

“How do we achieve meaningful social changes in the UK to tackle the climate crisis and develop a fairer society?“

Written entries were asked to look at both climate change and fairness in society. We were interested in suggestions for how to challenge existing structures and achieve wider behavioural, social, cultural and/or systems changes in a constructive and practical way.

The writing prize was open to all living British writers and international writers living, working, or studying in the UK, over the age of 18 years. The winning writer received a prize of £1000, with £500 for second prize and £300 for third prize.


We brought together a high profile panel of judges spanning writing and sustainability, including:

James Cameron – Climate Advisor and Friend of COP
Baneska Kayembe – Freelance Writer and Founder and Director of Naked Politics
Serayna Solanki - Climate and Environmental Justice Advocate
Selina Nwulu – Writer, Former Young Poet Laureate for London and Independent Consultant in Social and Climate Justice
Nicola Shaw – President, UK Networks, National Grid

The judging criteria included: relevance to the theme; creativity, style and clarity; key issues; action; and evidence. The competition rules are available here for reference.

Eight essays were selected for the shortlist of the Sustainability First Writing Prize 2021

Shortlisted Writers 2021

Jacob Ashton, Eels and Reeds (First Prize) - Eels and Reeds is a creative, short story set in the future from the perspective of a narrator who fishes for eels in the Fens. The narrator recounts changes in the environment, biodiversity, and community that have resulted from a carbon sequestration project that has changed the local landscape and livelihoods from farming to fishing. The narrator appraises the project and accompanying models of collective land ownership and the impacts for local people, nature, and land.
Read here


Lola Grundmann, A Case For Community (Second Prize) - A Case for Community is an essay advocating that building strong and purposeful communities is core to achieving meaningful social changes in the UK to tackle the climate crisis and develop a fairer society. The essay proposes solutions and ideas including: the introduction of a nation-wide community service scheme, strengthening welfare systems and tax reform, community-centred planning and urban design, and greater involvement of communities in decision making and policy formation.
Read here


Sally Cairns, The Wrong Solution (Third Prize) - The Wrong Solution is a short story set in a courtroom in the future. It is a cautionary tale in which Established Economies are being tried on three counts: that they were fully aware of the potential threat of climate change; that there was sufficient evidence that they should have taken more action; and that they could have prevented what has happened by doing so. The story imagines a future facing severe impacts from climate change and suggests actions that should have been taken to mitigate those impacts, from green jobs to nature-based solutions.
Read here


Claire Pickard, Hydromancy (Highly commended) - Hydromancy is a personal account of the lived experience of flooding in the UK. The account starts with the rain falling and after the destruction of the flood it follows the story of those affected - from coming together as a community to support one another, to responding to the flood plans of local authorities and environment agencies, to the building of new flood defences, and ending in more flooding. Enriching the account are references to indigenous cultures and philosophies, folklore, and how rain is regarded in cultures around the world.
Read here


Kate Pellegrini, Twelve (It's About Time) (Highly commended) - This is a poem of 12 verses, of 12 lines each, listing selected global and weather events in terms of ecological and climate collapse. Each verse refers to a year when named storms, wildfires, record heatwaves etc hit parts of the globe between 2015, when the Paris agreement was signed, and 2020. For the years 2021 to 2027 an alternative scenario unrolls when sustainable and regenerative practices replace carbon intensive industries, creating a new global economy of mitigation through cooperation and hope for the future.
Read here


Susie Fox May, Feeling Flat - Feeling Flat is a short story that imagines a conversation from the perspective of two cars and a bicycle in a car park. Through the vehicles' conversation, the story touches on multiples issues concerning transport, carbon emissions and fairness, such as who should pay to subsidise measures like electric cars, and whether adaptations to individual behaviour change should be the focus compared to wider systemic and infrastructural change.
Read here


Rachel Gorry, Small Change - Small Change is short story about two old friends meeting over coffee. The story introduces the two characters, their lifestyles, and their different financial situations. From the perspective of the character Cathy, the story looks at the different ways both characters are changing their behaviours to be 'greener', their motivations for doing so, and the types of changes that are accessible to both characters e.g. 'expensive reusable cups may be out of reach of her time and budget, [but] she could still try to make some smaller changes'.
Read here


Janice Ng, How do we achieve meaningful social changes in the UK to tackle the climate crisis and develop a fairer society? - This essay delves into the two issues of (1) transport decarbonisation and (2) the unequal impacts of heat to answer the prize question about achieving meaningful changes in the UK to tackle the climate crisis and develop a fairer society. In the area of transport, the essay puts forward ideas for emissions reductions, including behaviour and social changes to support the transition to electric vehicles and promoting active travel. In the area of heat, the essay sets out why heat is a fairness issue, proposing policy measures to support those disproportionately impacted by the consequences of extreme heat.
Read here

Project partners

national grid