Real Life

Climate change warrior Izzy tells ‘Dad would be proud’

Entrepreneur Izzy Fenwick is following in her environmentalist father’s footsteps

We were two peas in a pod,” says Izzy Fenwick, blinking away tears as she picks up a framed photo of her and her dad, famed environmentalist Sir Rob Fenwick, from her desk.

It’s been four years since the founder of pioneering organic compost company Living Earth passed away. His death is still raw for 33-year-old Izzy.

A father to three daughters, Rob lost his five-year battle with cancer in 2020.

“All us girls were super-connected to Dad, but I am both mentally and physically a tiny version of him,” says Izzy. “I look exactly like him and I’ve ended up following his path.”

The girls had a unique upbringing on Auckland’s Waiheke Island, with Rob ensuring they inherited a strong connection to nature.

“We’d follow Dad around the farm like little ducklings. He would take us through the forest, reciting the names of all the native plants and what therapeutic capabilities they had,” Izzy recalls. “It wasn’t until I was older that I realised how special our childhood was.”

Young Izzy on dad Rob Fenwick's shoulders

As his health deteriorated, Rob asked Izzy to be at his side and help him continue working as long as he could.

“He worked up until five days before he died. Because I was writing all his emails, I learned a lot more about what he was doing than I’d been able to see before.

“Dad’s understanding was that we were in a climate and biodiversity crisis. I think he’d wanted to protect us from some of that. But I felt so strongly that I couldn’t just leave his work lying all over the floor. I needed to pick it up and keep moving it forward myself. It took a minute to figure out how I would do that.”

The idea she settled on? A recruitment platform that matches employees and businesses based on shared values.

“There’s so much emerging research around our current workforce wanting work that aligns with who they are. They want to work somewhere they can be proud of.”

Called Futureful, it enables workers who are considering changing jobs to find employers with similar values. The platform also considers the necessary skills for the work and creates pools of talent for businesses to use as needed.

“Businesses hold most of the cards in terms of being able to change the way we impact the environment, but they can’t do anything without people,” explains Izzy. “So if we can influence businesses through the people they hire, we can make a difference.”

Rob Fenwick with daughter Izzy and her partner Rowan
Precious memory: Rob with Izzy and Rowhan.

To her delight, one of the most pressing values for those who have signed up so far is urgent climate action. “That’s been so special for me to see because that’s a lot of why I’m doing this. When we went live and people were rushing to create profiles, I was watching and just crying seeing them tick the climate action box.”

Futureful jobseekers can also let businesses know the social commitments they won’t budge on. As a gay woman, Izzy says it’s easy for businesses to “rainbow wash”. They say they’re inclusive without having actual policies to make LGBTQIA+ talent feel safe.

She had her own horrible experience when a colleague cornered her and berated her ahead of her wedding to partner Rowhan.

“I realised that the employer being fine with me being gay wasn’t actually enough to protect me from homophobic behaviour in the office. There needs to be a more proactive approach to protecting and supporting minorities at work.”

Izzy says her dad had worried about that kind of thing happening when she came out as a teen.

“Dad actually helped me come out,” Izzy says. They’d been watching Brokeback Mountain when he asked Izzy why a character was crying. Izzy explained it was because he wasn’t allowed to be gay.

The next day, Rob asked to have a word. “He said, ‘I don’t ever want you to feel like the guy in that movie. If there’s something you want to tell us, you can’. I cried and told my parents everything.”

Izzy Fenwick and partner Rowan running in their wedding dresses
The brides planned their big day so Rob could be there.

A year before he died, Rob watched Izzy and Rowhan wed in the same spot where he’d married Izzy’s mum Jennie. At Auckland’s Government House. The property had been owned by his grandparents before they gifted it to the Queen, so Izzy and Rowhan were given permission to have the ceremony there.

“It was clear we didn’t have that much time left with Dad and I knew that place would be really special to him.”

Izzy says that after many long chats, she and Rowhan have decided that children aren’t in their future. In the end, they weren’t able to reconcile the climate crisis with bringing another person into the world.

They would love to be mums. It hasn’t been an easy decision, but Izzy and Rowhan will dote on their friends’ kids.

“Some days, I wish I didn’t know as much as I do,” she reflects. “Sometimes ignorance would be bliss. But I feel lucky I have a strong sense of purpose. I think Dad would be really proud that I’ve found a way to work towards that every day.”

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