How Natalie Isaacs mobilised a million women into action


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Natalie Isaacs is the founder and CEO of 1 Million Women, Natalie has worked over the past 12 years to achieve her goal of mobilising a million women into environmental action - the number has reached 950,000 so far.

She believes one small action multiplied by millions changes the system. In 2013, Natalie and co-founder Tara Hunt won the UN's Momentum for Change Award. In 2017, she was named Australian Conservationist of the Year.

In 2019, she celebrated 1 Million Women's 10th anniversary with the Love Earth Festival featuring, among others, Midnight Oil, Katie Noonan and Emily Wurramara. In 2018, she published Every Woman's Guide to Saving the Planet

natalie isaacs one million women

What was your "aha moment" that started you on the path of an environmental warrior?

My "aha moment" came late in life, in my mid-40s, and it was something so ridiculously simple. I got our household electricity consumption down by 20% and when I saw I had saved all this money and reduced pollution at the same time, I thought I was quite powerful.

It showed me that we are powerful through the way we live, and if millions of people did what I did, it would make a huge difference. I was more vigilant around the house, all the basics: turning off stuff at the wall, getting rid of a second fridge, cutting back the pool pump by an hour a day.

In 2014, 1 Million Women got a grant from the City of Sydney for our women power project and pledged to get 10 very different households across Sydney to bring consumption down by 20%.

We had uni students, high-wealth families, low-income families and single parents. They all had a watt watcher installed in a three-month program. I joined in and didn't think I could get mine down further, but we smashed it. The average reduction was 48%. I got mine down a further 42% and someone managed 66%.

What was your first job?

It was selling flowers in restaurants at 17. I got the sack after a week because I was working in my own suburb and knew so many people that I was giving away too many flowers.

After that I worked in a gym for a few years selling fitness memberships and occasionally put on the aerobics tights and taught classes, but I spent all my spare time researching how to start my own cosmetics company, which I did, aged 28, and ran it for 24 years.

What's the best money advice you've ever received?

To cut up my credit card. I don't have a credit card now, and I feel so much lighter because of it. When you first get a credit card, you just don't know how to manage it. We always want more and there is a misguided belief in society that the more we have the happier we will be.

When I realised that less is more - more freedom and connection with nature gives us more room to breathe - a giddy feeling of excitement lifted a burden from my shoulders.

What's the best investment decision you've made?

Buying our house - no doubt about that. We bought it in the northern beaches of Sydney  30 years ago, and it was the best investment.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

Staying in my cosmetics company for a decade longer than I should have. We were a family business and sometimes it's very hard to know the right time to move on.

I clung onto it thinking it defined me but, in fact, the business wasn't going so well and I didn't really listen to advice. I just wondered what I would do without it.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

Without a doubt, experiences or weekends away that create memory anchors for my family.

I spend all my time planning ways to go away with my family, and that is what I splurge on - where we can go away and connect with family and nature.

If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?

I would donate it to 1 Million Women.

What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?

I would donate it to 1 Million Women. Every dollar that goes into it helps our team empower and mobilise women to live climate action. Every dollar is so valuable to us - it would just go towards doing this work.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

Probably not. I would like to give my four children and two grandchildren, and another on the way, as much as I can while I'm alive. You want to enjoy each other. I have never thought about leaving an inheritance, ever.

Has 1 Million Women changed your views on money?

Absolutely. It has changed profoundly my entire being, my outlook on absolutely everything. I was the person that thought more and more stuff made me happy.

That fast fashion was the quick fix. If I broke shoes I would buy a new pair instead of mending them. I never thought about reducing food waste or energy. But now I'm enjoying the richness of this earth over spending 
money on more stuff.

Finish this sentence: money makes... 

... opportunities to rise above politics to find solutions to live zero-carbon lives.

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.