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Natasha Boulding

Natasha Boulding (MChem Chemistry with Professional Experience, 2015) is Co-Founder and CEO of Sphera, an award-winning speciality materials startup, providing the construction industry with solutions to reaching their carbon negative and carbon zero goals.

We caught up with Natasha before she attended the 2021 United Nations Climate Change COP26 in Glasgow, to find out her hopes for the event, discuss her career and explore why Warwick students should pursue a career in the green economy.

How are you feeling about attending COP26?

I’m so excited. It’s the most important platform to showcase innovation and connect with other people that share similar aims and interests. I’m also eager for global leaders to come together and hopefully agree some challenging targets to achieve net zero emissions.

What role will you be playing at COP26 and what do you hope to achieve?

During the day, I’ll be alongside my Sphera team exhibiting at a nearby event called Forget 2050, a Net Zero Now event - as Sphera is part of Tech Nation’s Net Zero 2.0 cohort Afterwards, I’ll head to the COP26 Green Zone to be a panellist on the Countdown to Planet Zero: Climate change with chemistry event delivered by the Society of Chemical Industry. The panel is a next-gen debate focusing on solutions being developed/carried out by young career researchers. I’ll be specifically focusing on how we can utilise waste in a better way for the planet.

I hope to showcase our work at Sphera and convey that on our current trajectory we have just 11 years before the 1.5C warming target is reached so it’s vital that we all act now and support new innovations.

Tell us more about your current role and how sustainability fits into it.

I’m Co-Founder and CEO of a start-up called Sphera based in Durham, UK. We’re developing a carbon negative lightweight aggregate which utilises waste plastic which would otherwise be incinerated – releasing cast amounts of GHG’s into the atmosphere. This plastic is particularly difficult to recycle, so we use it in a completely different industry and make an aggregate from it for use in concrete blocks i.e. breeze blocks used in housebuilding and offices. We can add value to the construction industry using a valueless waste product from another.

To reach net zero, we’ll need to stop the mass incineration of our waste , which is one of the most polluting ways we generate energy. Therefore, recycling and reusing materials as much as possible is at the heart of what we do as a company.

What motivated you to pursue a career in sustainability?

I don’t feel like it was ever a choice for me. Sustainability needs to be woven into everything we do if we want to reach net zero. My time at Warwick fostered a sense of curiosity, which is essential to being a scientist – understanding how and why things work in the way they do. From that curiosity, I realised that I wanted to use the skills I’d learned to have a positive impact on the world.

How do you see the role of universities and research in combating climate change?

Universities are so well placed to enhance the conversation on carbon literacy. One of the biggest issues is that many people don’t understand the impact that some of their actions have on the environment, such as what they eat or buy. Universities have a key role in communicating the impacts of our actions.

Equally, research undertaken at universities has contributed to significant innovation on climate change already and will play an integral role in doing so in the future, whether that’s developing sustainable materials or new ways to produce energy.

Philanthropic funding is enabling the study of sustainability sciences at Warwick. What are your thoughts about that?

I think that’s great, and there should be an element of understanding about sustainability covered in every degree programme. The fact that philanthropy is enabling these studies to exist and flourish is a very positive thing.

What advice would you give to current Warwick students?

It’s vital that we have more people coming into the green space. Being in a profession where you know you’re positively impacting people and the planet is always motivating. Similarly, we now live in a world where investors want to know about your environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) goals, so it’s not only good for the environment, but a good business decision too.