Acre recently published a series of conversations called The Future of the CSO where our team met with some of the world leaders in the sustainability arena. The function of sustainability in business has developed and grown hugely over the last 5 years, and it prompted me to reflect on my own experience and journey in the environmental sustainability sector thus far.
As an original Excel Fangirl and someone who was always enthusiastic about ‘business’ (whatever that meant), I pursued a career in finance in earnest and landed a Graduate position at the Department of Treasury in Australia. I then moved into corporate funds management from there and quickly fell into step with my colleagues enjoying lavish work lunches and forming a penchant for Italian shoes.
It was peak MasterChef era in Australia at the time which meant I naturally turned to my local organic farmer’s market for heirloom carrots, truffle salt and raw honey. It was there that I became interested in the dynamic between our local farmers, our food systems, and the big supermarkets. I did a lot of research and had a lot of conversations, began making my own almond milk and stopped eating meat because of its environmental footprint. As my twenties continued, my social and environmental conscience was motivating my every move.
I joined the Sustainability Committee at work as a founding member alongside several other colleagues who had a personal interest in understanding our company’s footprint (who also had a couple of hours a month to spare). We had support from the business but were largely independent so we set our own objectives and timeframes. We worked with a consultancy to audit the carbon footprint of our office, and I was more than dismayed when their short-sighted recommendation was that we should merely move our IT server hub off-site as this would bring our office’s carbon rating down considerably.
Ultimately, at that time, I just could not see a pathway to having an impact professionally in the realm of environmental sustainability while working in corporate finance. So, I decided to leave my lush job and retrained by completing a Masters in sustainability. I spent the next three years studying urban biodiversity, the politics of our food systems, urban soil science, climate change adaptation, water-sensitive urban design etc.
I worked with the leading green infrastructure specialist in Australia and then relocated to the UK to work with a top company here. I was passionate and absolutely committed to living as sustainably as I could. But it wasn’t long before I realised that the way to make a difference through my work was to get back behind the scenes and work on business strategy and engaging with the core operations of the business.
Since my days with the Sustainability Committee, social and environmental activities of businesses have moved from being on the very periphery to being more and more intrinsic and integrated with overall strategy, and likewise, the sustainability profession is being increasingly recognised as being core to a successful business.
What I ultimately learned was that in order for me to be happy and fulfilled at work, I need to believe that what I'm doing actually has an impact on the world around me. The old adage to 'do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life' certainly rings true for me.