Richard is a toxic pollution fighting hero

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Richard Fuller is fighting to reduce toxic pollution around the world, improving the lives of millions of people.

This career profile could be used with students in years 4, 6, 7, 9, and 10 studying Biological and Earth and Space Sciences or Work Studies. It would be particularly suited to students with an interest in the environment or entrepreneurialism.

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Richard is a toxic pollution fighting hero – Australia’s Science Channel

Credit: World Economic Forum / Greg Beadle

Why This Matters: Toxic pollution is disastrous to our health – we need people like Richard on the front line.

Richard Fuller is a man on a mission to reduce pollution right around the world. Originally from Australia, Richard is an engineer, entrepreneur and environmentalist now based in New York running Pure Earth. His organisation has cleaned up toxic pollution in 120 locations around the world, improving the lives of almost 5 million people.

One of his projects is to clean up “the world’s most toxic town” – Kabwe in Zambia. Kabwe is heavily contaminated with toxic lead.

Richard has headed expert panels and produced reports about the effect of toxic pollution around the world. These reports have revealed the disastrous effects that pollution is having on people’s health.

Richard Fuller started his career in engineering.

He’s been recognised by the Australian government for his leadership in tackling the issue, being awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia. This year he’s also been named among the winners of the prestigious 2019 Advance Awards, which recognise the outstanding achievements of Australians living and working around the world. Richard received the Social Impact Award for his work on global pollution.

Here’s how he became a toxic pollution fighting hero.

What do you need to study to do your job?

I studied Engineering in Melbourne and used it for my first few jobs, including working at IBM. Those jobs gave me the basics of how the business world works, and the confidence to try things on my own.

Pure Earth is one of about ten attempts I have made starting organisations, most of which didn’t work out. But a few have, and that’s what counts. It’s always important to keep trying the things you’re passionate about.

What your education also teaches you is how to enquire about the world, and look around and learn about the world. I’m constantly looking at new ideas in a range of different subjects. It’s amazing how often you come up with an idea because something you learn elsewhere applies to the problem in front of you.

Some old friends convinced me to get involved in Environment way back, and I love them for it.

What’s been an eye-opening thing you’ve learnt in your career?

That people want to hear from people who know stuff. Speaking up works.

Finding an existing organisation is the best way to be heard, but sometimes you have to build that platform first. Earlier this year Pure Earth released a report called “Pollution Knows No Borders” which shows how toxic pollution travels from country to country, not only in the air and water but also in the food and products we buy.

What does a normal day at work look like for you?

I’m based in New York, so I begin the day with video and conference calls to Europe and Asia from home. Then to the office for the day, to work with my terrific staff. I also get to travel a lot – pollution is a worldwide issue that we need to tackle.

It’s also really important to me to make sure I get home at a reasonable time to enjoy time with my family. If I’m lucky I also get to squeeze in some exercise.

What do you think careers in environmentalism might look like in the future?

Environment, specifically non-profit work, has become more critical in the past several decades. Our economies are pivoting towards positive programs that do the right thing.

Environment – this is the place to be.

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Years: 4, 6, 7, 9, 10


Biological Sciences: Ecosystems

Earth and Space Sciences: Renewable/Non-Renewable Resources, The Changing Earth

Additional: Careers, Technology; Engineering

Concepts (South Australia):

Biological Sciences: Interdependence and Ecosystems

Earth and Space Sciences: The Earth’s Surface


4, 6-7 & 9-10