Jo Harbisher has won awards for her work on the environment and industry, as well as being active outdoors since university days. She lives in Edinburgh with her three children and is cyclist, mountain biker, scuba diver, surfer and volunteer with The Wave Project.
At FINDRA, wherever possible, we design and create sustainable outdoor clothing that is beneficial to both people and the earth. We counter fast fashion, and use eco-friendly fabrics and ethical supply chains that ensure the highest standards of animal welfare.
Here, we chat to Friend of FINDRA Jo Harbisher about how she combines her love of the outdoors and being active with her mission to protect the environment. Jo has won over 20 environmental awards for her work in industry, and has been active outdoors since university days.
Hey Jo, Tell everybody where are you based and what you do!
Hi, I’m Jo, I live in Edinburgh with my 3 kids. I’ve done a few things career wise, mostly in hotels. I started off doing marketing and was a finalist in the Young Marketer of the Year Awards. I had an interest in the environment and felt we should be doing as much as we can to reduce, reuse and recycle so I took on setting up a Green Team to drive the environmental movement for the hotel group and became the CSR and Environmental Director.
I won over 20 environmental awards and was guest speaker at a number of industry events by looking at everything in the business to see what we could change to better the environment. I analysed data, changed a lot of day to day practices such as reducing utility and waste consumption, recycling, cut packaging and plastic at the source. I worked with architects on the design of the Yu Spa at the Apex City Quay Hotel in Dundee which, because of the environmental practices, became the first ‘green’ spa in Scotland and also helped set up their corporate social responsibility.
Environmental work was then a focus while I had my family and then set up my own spa business which I ran for a couple of years before taking a step back to be at home to bring up the kids. Once they all went to school I then worked in the local school supporting children with Autism, until lockdown when I then home schooled my kids.
How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?
I wish I could say since my childhood but I didn’t get in to the outdoors until much later in life. I always enjoyed doing things and going places, I’ve never been one to sit around or be bored so I think it was always in me to get out and experience the outdoors, I just needed some people around me to introduce me to what I could do.
At University more opportunities presented themselves and that’s where I learnt to Scuba Dive and my love of the ocean and the environment grew. After Uni I travelled round the world on my own and I got to try a bit of everything. I was white water rafting, scuba diving, free diving and trekking. I climbed to 18,000ft on the Annapurna circuit, and tried body boarding, sailing, you name it, I was giving it a go and I loved it.
Back in the UK I took up mountain biking – I was always doing something every day after work. I’d head up the hills biking, go to the gym, run and do the same all weekend. I never felt like the weekend went too quickly because I did so much through the week, it was just like an extension of the weekend.
Now I have the kids my days through the week are mostly spent on their activities and I try to squeeze in what I can for myself. On weekends we are always out but we don’t have to go far, sometimes we can spend all day out climbing and playing and we haven’t left the hill we live on.
What has been your favourite trip or adventure?
Travelling round the world was a big adventure and I’m so glad I did it but at the same time I feel like I have lots of mini adventures that deliver just as much. If you think it’s not an adventure unless you’re doing something big, far away, solo etc then you won’t have many.
I go out with my kids and make something out of nothing and before you know it we’ve had an adventure, we might go out paddle boarding and kayaking but at the same time we will make a den, set up the hammock, have hot chocolate, have a picnic, climb trees and spot wildlife.
How do you make find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family?
I just accept that I can’t do as much as I used to but I get out when I can and I’m out with my kids all the time: we bike, kayak, paddle board, walk, surf, snorkel, look in rock pools, build dens, whatever we fancy – so we’re out quite a bit.
I think I’ve also built in my love of the outdoors in to whatever I do. It seems to be my go to thing to do. I want to protect the ocean and the environment so my work and hobbies sit alongside that and when I supported children with Autism I was often outdoors providing outdoor learning rather than in a classroom environment.
I also volunteer for The Wave Project, a surf therapy charity. We aim to build self esteem and confidence in children via a six week surfing course where they are paired on a 1:1 ratio with a surf mentor. We offer a very safe space where our surfers are challenged to hit the surf but in a no pressure environment where every small achievement is championed.
We show our surfers it’s ok to find the surfing hard and they are going to fall off but if they keep trying they will catch that wave and feel awesome. This resilience building hopefully transfers to every day life. At the very heart of our charity are our amazing volunteers who give their time, enthusiasm and heart to making sure our young people feel safe, nurtured and have a brilliant time!
Is there anyone who inspired your love of the outdoors?
I read a lot of other peoples adventures so everyone inspires me in lots of ways rather than just one person. I can take away something out of each person’s journey whether its motivation, determination, resilience or a top tip.
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
Yes absolutely, studies have shown this but, if I reflect on my own experience, I’ve been at my happiest in my personal life and career when I’ve had a good balance of outdoor activities.
What is it about the outdooors specifically that you love?
I just like being out doing things but I especially like to be with people and sharing the experience. I’ll squeeze in a run on my own and enjoy being in my head but everything else I like to have company, someone to have a chat and laugh with.
When did you discover FINDRA?
I’ve always worn merino wool base layers which were functional but a little boring so the style and design of FINDRA really caught my eye. I wear my Marin top constantly, I love the look and feel of it and with it being merino wool it requires less washing so a big tick from me and the environment.
I looked in to FINDRA’s company ethos and I liked its principles and sustainability aspect with its slow fashion, minimal waste, natural materials. I’ve always been against fast fashion from an ethical and environmental point of view and I like supporting small local businesses where I can.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I think at the top of my list would be to be kind.
What do you feel is the key motivational or inspirational message you would like to highlight to our followers that would inspire them to get outdoors more?
I would say just get out and see where it takes you. You don’t have to plan the biggest ride/hike/journey, just plan something small then add another thing and next time add another thing and the whole time it’s a little adventure that grows with you, as big as you want it to be.
Thanks Jo and good to meet you!
You can read the FINDRA sustainability and environmental statement here.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough
I’ve just picked it up after watching the documentary on TV. I watch a lot of nature documentaries and actually the first Blue Planet series got me in to diving just over 20 years ago.
His documentaries have helped enormously in showing people the damage that’s happening to the planet. The book highlights that we all have choices and can make changes to our every day lives to help stop the damage.
MUSIC OF THE WEEK
Walking On The Waves by Skipinnish
“I think it’s such a jolly song, I’m often singing and dancing to this in the kitchen. I’m an island girl at heart.”
RECIPE OF THE WEEK
Rhubarb and Custard
It’s rhubarb season - so what should we do them other than stewing them and adding a dollop of custard? This beautifully researched blog by Online Food Writer of the Year Nic Miller tells you everything you need to know about this versatile yet often misunderstood vegetable (we may cook it like a fruit, but it isn’t one).
It’s an amazing read and bursting with recipe suggestions from all around the world.
Visit the blog for all things rhubarb including this Chinese recipe for Rhubarb & Custard Tart.