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Annette Zou: From global impact to superpower sustainability

Annette Zou is no stranger to ANU. She studied her undergraduate degrees in Commerce and Asian studies in 2011. She was born in the Shandong province in China but moved to Norway when she was three years old. While there, she chose her own name, before her family moved to Canberra when she was four years old.

“At the broadest level, the area I care about most is finding out how we, humanity, can sustainably thrive in harmony with nature on this planet.”

She has worked across the globe, making a difference at each port. She started in China as a game designer at a start-up before returning to Canberra for some clean air and a role with the design consulting company ThinkPlace that brings user-centred design to government services and policies. From there, she headed off to the San Francisco Bay Area in California, expecting to live in the US during the first female presidency of Hilary Clinton, but despite that not panning out, Annette stayed there for seven years working at Stanford University and Global ChangeLabs.

Through that role she says, “I got to work with organizations such as UNDP on developing structures for supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), The Nature Conservancy on building coalitions for regenerative agriculture in Latin America, Dow Chemical Company on aligning decarbonisation and circularity with company strategy, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on exploring inequities in donor-funded international development.”

Returning home to Canberra, Crawford was a top choice to engage with deep theoretical and current research, forcing her to reflect and build on the knowledge she had been gaining through work.

“I get excited about designing systems to create sustainable outcomes for society and nature.”

Annette chose Crawford’s Master of Environmental Management and Development, she says, because the teachers and researchers are globally recognised and engaged in the public debate on issues that matter. She could trust she would be held to a certain standard in her assessments and learning, and importantly, the program allowed her to study and work at the same time, which was crucial.

When it comes to what she thinks policymakers need to be focusing on, Annette says they “should focus on abating Australia’s domestic 1.5% contribution to global GHG emissions, while also opening the conversation beyond our borders and look at our role and potential for leadership in the global community. Just including GHG emissions through exports and trade already increases Australia’s contribution to a much higher percentage. We shouldn’t forget that Australia is the highest GHG emitter per capita among OECD countries.” Adding, that we need to learn from other countries about what has made them successful and what failures to avoid. We need to be putting our world-class education to work, supporting talent and testing innovations rather than waiting for other countries to figure it out first.

“I would love for policymakers to take a more holistic view on the consequences of policies across sectors, incorporating social and environmental concerns (not just economic and technological ones), and have the audacity to shape them towards a vision of a vibrant sustainable society, rather than buying into the political tug-of-war we are seeing in the US,” she says.

Her advice to students studying or about to study at Crawford is that the teachers and staff are responsive and willing to engage, but students need to reach out and take those opportunities more. “You have to meet the teacher halfway – they are prepared and showing up to teach you. You have to be ready to learn and make that knowledge relevant to you,” she says. Annette also recommends students should aim to do a research project or a thesis to stretch themselves.

You might see Annette in the halls at Crawford post-graduation as she visits often. She will be working with the Climate Council as Climate Solutions Research Director and continue to work with Professor Rod Sims and Professor Ross Garnaut on transitioning Australia into a superpower for a decarbonised future. If that doesn’t sound like enough, Annette plays Ultimate Frisbee and trains with a Melbourne women’s team called Chilly, with the goal of Nationals in April 2024, and she’ll be writing her thoughts on design and systems in Medium, learning the ukulele, practising sketching, and playing board games.

Annette Zou, congratulations on graduating, on your achievements so far, and the many more that are still to come! We look forward to seeing what you accomplish next.