Behind the scenes of the impactful roles we place, the teams we build, our dedication to tackling climate change and sustainability challenges, is our ever-growing and passionate team. In our ongoing ‘Faces of Acre’ series, we want to shine a spotlight on the people who make up the Acre team and give our employees a platform to share their passions, speak up on important topics and talk about the pro bono work they take part in.
In our latest Faces of Acre instalment, we sat down with Harco Leertouwer, our Managing Director Europe, to discuss his lifelong dedication to sustainability. Following on from Harco’s recent interview on the Zuidas Today Talk Show, we wanted to find out more about where his passion for sustainability came from, why he has embedded it in every aspect of his life and how his role at Acre reflects his values.
Tell us more about your interest in sustainability, where did it stem from?
I was brought up in a small village in the countryside and every day after school we used to play in the forest. From a young age, my Mother taught me about the danger of single-use plastics and I wasn’t ever allowed to buy a plastic bag at the supermarket for my shopping – and if I did, I had to pay her back from my pocket money! At the age of 8, I was Editor-in-Chief of a magazine called NaturePeace. I created this magazine and wrote the articles with the help of my friends in my neighbourhood – we had 8 subscribers – all of our parents and an old lady who also lived along our street. But jokes aside, I have always been interested in nature, the environment and the preservation of it. After a career in generic recruitment companies, I decided that I wanted to focus on the sustainability space. As part of my personal journey, I joined Climate Reality, the non-profit organisation involved in education and advocacy related to climate change, which was founded by former Vice President Al Gore in 2018.
When and why did you choose to go vegan?
I have had several vegetarian phases in my life but had always really liked meat, fish and cheese! I guess when our two daughters were both born prematurely, which was life-threatening for both girls and their mother, I realised how valuable, yet precious life is and that I wanted to do all I could to protect our planet. In 2014, I decided to become a vegetarian, for a combination of ethical, health and animal welfare reasons. One year later it all came together and I realised that consuming animal protein does not make any sense at all. I then switched to a fully plant-based diet and have been vegan for 7 years.
Did you see any changes when you went vegan? Did you change your lifestyle?
The first thing I noticed was the mental change – the feeling that I was doing the right thing felt great! As I always paid attention to eating healthy food, the “change” was not as drastic as other people may have experienced, but I did notice that I felt fitter and more energetic than before. This is mainly because plant-based food is so much richer in nutrients, lower in saturated fats and the more varied sources of proteins such as seitan, tofu and tempeh, lentils, beans and peas deliver more valuable nutrition than eating meat.
Why do you think it’s important to become vegan or take the steps to reduce the number of animal products that we consume?
Animal agriculture is the largest contributor to human-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and is the leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution and biodiversity loss. Beyond that, animal agriculture is terrible for human health. Moreover, there is now consensus among leading scientists and nutritionists that plant-based diets are healthier than diets where meat is consumed, whether measured by the occurrence of heart disease, cancer or death. As such, becoming vegan is the easiest way to support the fight against the climate crisis and to have a healthy diet while protecting animal welfare. And finally, industrial animal agriculture is responsible for the suffering and slaughter of trillions of animals each and every year around the globe - causing severe food shortages for a large part of the world population.
You mentioned in your recent interview that you have brought your kids up on a vegan diet, why did you make that choice?
Parents will always want the best for their children and all parents will influence nutrition patterns for their children – be it good or bad. In my view, protecting the world for our children and minimising the damage that the climate crisis is causing, should be the main focus when bringing up children in these challenging times. So, it would feel unnatural to have my children consume animal products when we don’t. For the children, this is completely normal – they don’t understand that people consume meat, fish and dairy. Their school is happy to provide vegetarian food but struggled to cater for a vegan option – so we now prepare a vegan breakfast, lunch and snack for them every day – and the other children and teachers are always intrigued to see what they eat every day. They have already inspired other children to become vegetarian.
How do your children and family view the lifestyle you all lead?
Luckily, I am surrounded by like-minded family members and friends. Not everybody is vegan or vegetarian, but they all are happy with the choices we make and the way we do things! I am not going to convince my father in his mid-eighties anymore, but he does admire how we do things – and that is what matters!
Why would you encourage others to take small steps to do better?
By doing exactly that - taking small steps! We do not need a small minority to do everything perfectly, we need fundamental system change as the world is on fire. For this, we need the majority of the people to take small steps and these steps will then drive change. It is already happening, and it cannot be stopped. It will need a whole generation, but I am convinced that the world will then have transitioned to a plant-based or lab-grown meat one!
How does your role at Acre align with your values and lifestyle?
At Acre, sustainability is what keeps us grounded and what drives us forward. The clients we work with and the people we place are fundamentally changing the way in which individuals and organisations think, work and behave. Every day, both our actions and theirs help to shape the quality of life that we’ll leave for future generations. In my role as MD I can significantly steer the organisations we work with and be critical of their sustainability plans. Internally, we are a global team of like-minded people, all working hard to make an impact. It would be strange if this were not the case in an organisation that is all about sustainability and making the world a better place. In addition to the impactful work, Acre is heavily invested in wellbeing whether its initiatives to support physical health or a proactive approach to destigmatizing mental health. Wellbeing is such a vital part of my lifestyle, and I am thankful that Acre puts so much time into making sure this stays at the forefront of our culture.
If you’re looking to join a hardworking, purpose-led team of individuals and have a passion for tackling some of the world’s biggest issues by creating a positive environmental and social impact, please click here we would love to hear from you.