About Richard Sandbrook

An inspirational campaigner

Richard Sandbrook was one of the leading campaigners for sustainable development of his generation. A founder of Friends of the Earth UK, Richard joined the International Institute for Environment and Development, eventually becoming its Executive Director. He was closely involved in the drafting of Our Common Future, the 1987 Brundtland Report which led to the concept of sustainable development entering the global discourse.

A respected environmentalist

Although a behind-the-scenes man, Richard did more than anyone to convince people and organisations that ‘environmental stewardship and sustained livelihoods are, in all subsistence economies (and many more) the two sides of the same coin – you cannot have one without the other’. He devoted his life to bringing people and organisations together in order to put that understanding into practice, in the UK and internationally. In 1990 he was awarded an OBE for services to the environment.

A builder of bridges

Richard was the first to convene a global industry – pulp and paper – with scientists, government and NGOs in order to understand its impact and suggest ways it could improve its practice. Based on cross-sector partnership and dialogue, he created a model of engagement that he, and others, would continue to use to good effect, effectively breaking the mould of traditional oppositional campaigning. His warm personality, engaging but without guile, helped seal many an improbable deal, though some in the NGO world were askance at his collaborations with business.

A role model for future generations

Richard put great store by developing the next generation of campaigners and although his early death in 2005 deprived them of a mentor, the legacy of his achievement is an ongoing inspiration and guide to action.

Richard Sandbrook: key characteristics

Meadow Crane flowers


Being able to see beyond the here and now to a bigger, better picture of the future.

Confidence communication and rhetoric

Having the confidence, skill and understanding to communicate effectively and persuasively.

Hard work and determination

Being hard-working, devoted and determined with energy and bloodymindedness.

Richard Sandbrook in his 20s

Fun and a license to poke fun

Believing in the importance of fun and playfulness, being able to poke fun at yourself and also at others. (Sometimes laughing at yourself gives you a license to laugh at other things, that need laughing at.)

Richard Sandbrook as a boy

Passion compassion and a belief in the underdog

Having passion and harnessing it, having compassion and acting on it, and having a belief in the potential of the underdog, which often lies latent beneath the surface, but which, time after time, is shown to be worth believing in.

Inside the rainforest Biome at the Eden Project

Divergent thinking and insight beyond the obvious

Being able to stand back and see the wood for the trees, being able to think laterally and creatively about challenges, hurdles, solutions and opportunities that are sometimes not the obvious ones.

Open-cast mining

Provocation and playing with off-limits territory

Being provocative and not afraid to ask difficult questions, including about things that others are reluctant or afraid of probing into.

Effecting change from within

Being a 'tempered radical' - seeking to change people, policies and practices not so much by fighting against them but working with them.

Fish on a coral reef

Forging unlikely alliances

Bringing people together in combinations, collaborations and partnerships that perhaps they, or other people, wouldn't have thought productive, so as to achieve particular results.

Local Service Provider connecting low income areas

Knowledge understanding and empathy

Working with people and with experience, by taking the time to understand people and their experiences, and by establishing knowledge and understanding yourself.

Richard Sandbrook in his 50s

Focus on process and learning - changing hearts and minds

Paying attention to processes and practices, and also to people's learning: looking to effect sustainable change by changing hearts and minds.

Richard's timeline

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