Sustainability for all 

A new year brings optimism for the future, and the inaugural EA Sustain festival (January 14 and 15) has environment, culture and entrepreneurship at its heart. We meet inspirational founder Joanne Ooi.


Colchester’s contemporary art museum, Firstsite, is an apt venue for EA Sustain. The first festival of its kind, it will bring together policy experts, entrepreneurs and artists in order to mainstream climate consciousness and enhance the sustainability of East Anglia. The key message: flourishing localism is key to decarbonisation. 

Great British Life: The festival will take place over two days at Firstsite, ColchesterThe festival will take place over two days at Firstsite, Colchester (Image: Visit Essex)

The festival’s founder, Joanne Ooi, has always been interested in the environment. With a long career in marketing, art and culture, she founded Clean Air Network in 2009, an environmental NGO that tackled Hong Kong’s biggest public health problem: air pollution. 

Now living on the Essex/Suffolk border, Joanne founded EA Festival in 2021. The cultural festival featured top thinkers in art, culture, literature, media, history, poetry and music, and while environmental programming was intended to be on the agenda, there was simply not enough space for it to be included. 

Great British Life: Joanne recognised a need for a local sustainability eventJoanne recognised a need for a local sustainability event (Image: Lucy J Toms)

Joanne says, ‘I felt frustrated not being able to include environmental programming, but came to the conclusion a week after EA Festival that I have enough energy and more than enough information to launch this new event.’ 

Now she’s preparing for EA Sustain and is keen to stress it is not an environmental, social and governance conference. ‘No one needs another ESG conference, there are already hundreds, and it’s not a gathering of nature lovers per se either. This event is to stimulate the average person, not just an environmentalist. I hope the programming is attractive to everyone.’  

Joanne adds the venue maybe ‘unexpected’ as it’s not being held in an outdoor tent, but she hopes accessibility and Firstsite’s shared aim of enhancing the sustainability and long-term flourishing of East Anglia will attract people. 

EA Sustain is not just about the environment and carbon emissions, it’s also about consumer culture and entrepreneurship. More ambitious and higher quality entrepreneurship is needed so that local and regional economies can flourish. It not only reduces the reliance on services and products from London, but people who live in areas outside of the city can also live a more fulfilled life. 

Great British Life: Guest speaker Louise GrayGuest speaker Louise Gray (Image: Nancy MacDonald)

Great brands and services in East Anglia make the region a compelling destination for new business and their employees, and EA Sustain seeks to improve the lives and futures of people and businesses in the area through cultural transformation and growth. 

‘I’m going to learn a lot from it, and I love that,’ says Joanne. ‘It’s the whole process I love, and it will be a different audience to EA Festival.’   

Sustainable food, circular business, marine conservation, eco-fashion, art x environment, regenerative agriculture, nature writing and Bhutan, the world’s only carbon-negative nation, are just some of the subjects covered by the weekend-long programme. Workshops like Marketing for Farmers and the ABCs of Art Marketing will support the industries that find marketing and monetisation challenging. Among the line-up of speakers will be many of the UK’s top environmental thinkers and leaders, a lot of whom have a close connection with East Anglia.  

Lord Deben, chair of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, will speak at the two-day event, with other guests including Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, Patrick Holden co-founder of Sustainable Food Trust, Alastair Driver, director of Rewilding Britain and Jake Fiennes, author and director of Holkham Nature Reserve. Also attending will be acclaimed nature writer Helen Macdonald, John Cherry, founder of Groundswell, Louise Gray, an author and farmer’s daughter from Great Yeldham, and John Pawsey, a Suffolk farmer best-known for regenerative agriculture. 

Great British Life: Guest speaker John Cherry, founder of GroundswellGuest speaker John Cherry, founder of Groundswell (Image: Groundswell)

The young are also encouraged to share their voice. As one of the festival’s partners, Essex Book Festival is teaming up with EA Sustain to give young people who are passionate about culture and the environment the opportunity to help shape its Second Manifesto for Essex Youth Summit.  

The platform for young Essex people between 14 and 25 is a creative stage for them to express their thoughts and ideas and share ways of raising awareness in tackling climate change. The debate will take place at the festival on January 14 between 9.30am and 12.30pm. 

Joanne added, ‘My message is that this is an event to show we are more environmentally implicated than we realise. Across the weekend there will be a lot of influential people here, and it feels very exciting. I hope the festival awakens and engages people. Some may think it’s not for me, but I hope that there is something in the programme that catches their attention.’ 

EA Sustain is at Firstsite, Colchester, on January 14 and 15. To find out more, see the full programme and to book tickets, visit