Henley College Students Inspired to Go Green by PR Entrepreneur

Henley College students were given some serious food for thought last week during a talk from Dark Green PR founder, Ed Hopkins. Ed spoke to the College’s Aspire students about his experience in the green sector, climate change and sustainability, and the future of the working world. Ed’s eye-opening talk also encompassed general career advice, and delved heavily into the benefits of going vegan for the planet.

Ed, a former Henley College student himself, began by taking the audience through his journey to setting up Dark Green PR — a PR agency working exclusively with clients who want to improve the world and protect the climate. After a gap year working at Facy, and a degree in Politics and International Relations at the University of Reading, Ed began his career in PR at Brands2Life. There, he worked with a number of global brands — Nikon, Dell, and Zoopla to name a few — and worked his way up to Senior Account Manager there. However, tragic events in Ed’s life, including the loss of a close friend to suicide, made Ed seriously question his purpose.

Reflecting on his time at Brands2Life, Ed told the students, “You might have been impressed when I was stood here just a moment ago, and was reading out ‘Zoopla, Nikon, Dell, and Groupon and John Lewis and Virgin Media’. And fair enough — I had a similar reaction when I joined this PR agency. I thought, ‘that’s so cool, I can work with some global brands’. I realised, it didn’t mean a thing. It honestly doesn’t. All I was doing was helping Dell sell more laptops, helping Zoopla sell more houses, helping Nikon sell more cameras, and all they cared about was profit, profit, profit.”

Ed continued, “When that traumatic period of my life happened — it sounds weird to say this but I promised to be honest — I’m almost grateful for that time because it really kicked me into realising what was going on. I went and literally sat at the top of a mountain where my grandparents used to live and re-evaluated life. I thought, I still want to do PR, but I want to do it for brands I care about, brands that are trying to make the world a better place.”

Ed went on to work at Greenhouse — a sustainability-focused PR agency — but was made redundant at the beginning of the pandemic, along with many other colleagues. He said, “I’d always dreamed of setting up my own agency and doing this sort of thing myself, and I thought right, what better time to set that up than in the middle of a pandemic. So I set up Dark Green PR with the goal to work exclusively with clients who are trying to make the world a better place, whether that’s in renewable energy, sustainable food, consumer behaviour change, or even charities and NGOs as well.”

After relaying his bumpy road to entrepreneurship, Ed shared his advice on picking a career in the ever-changing world of work. On the growth of flexible working, Ed stated, “You are going to be entering a work world that is way different to what your parents, or even your older siblings and I went through. There will be a heck of a lot more working from home. There will be a heck of a lot more focus on digital skills, but also writing and communication ability. Now is the time to practise your ability to write well because so much of what we are doing is based from home and about generating content.”

Ed had words of wisdom for the College students on the growth of the green industry, noting that the climate sector will account for a huge part of the economy from now on. Ed was also keen to impress on the students the need for purpose in work, saying, “I’m literally the happiest I’ve ever been in my life right now because I’m diverting my energy into working on stuff I care about and brands that make a difference, and I want everyone in here to have that same experience and pursue that path as well, because you’ll find your life and your career much more fulfilling if that’s the case.”

Beyond invaluable career advice, Ed also discussed the necessary actions needed to save the planet, focusing on the benefits of a plant based diet. As a passionate vegan, Ed was happy to answer the college students’ questions on how best to eat to support the earth. One student quizzed Ed on how to be vegan on a budget, to which he responded, “It depends on what you buy. I guarantee you that if you had a very traditional plant based diet, it’s some of the cheapest food you can possibly find. Meat alternatives can be more expensive and it can be quite overwhelming for consumers, whether they are vegetarian or vegan or not. I do promise you that the cheapest diet is a vegan diet. You don’t necessarily need the meat alternatives. We’re happy to promote them if it will help people transition away from an animal based diet, but ultimately the healthiest vegan food is a whole foods, plant based diet. There are some many brilliant pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, lentils, chickpeas, that are really cheap.”

When asked how Henley College could be more sustainable, Ed suggested serving more plant based food, putting in more recycling bins and switching to renewable energy.

Ed’s talk was organised by Catherine Mattingly, a Bridge Tutor at Henley College. She said, “It was absolutely smashing having Ed in to speak to our Aspire students. They have really displayed signs of just being absolutely captivated by what he was saying. They’re not actually that different in age, our students and Ed. He is a true testament to what young people are capable of and I think he has really educated us this afternoon, and hopefully planted the seed in their heads that they have a very bright future if they choose it. He has very kindly offered any of his time to speak to our students, which is absolutely amazing, and it’s just been a lovely afternoon.”