21st August 2018

Acre Inspire; Fast-tracking a Career in Sustainability


Blog by Liam Goldsworthy, CR, Sustainability & ESG Consultant

With increased competition at entry-level across the corporate responsibility & sustainability employment landscape, and relevant master’s degrees in sustainability becoming less of a differentiator as more courses are available, it can be challenging for individuals to enter and progress within the space. The latest in Acre’s Inspire event series; Fast-tracking a Career in Sustainability, looked at how budding practitioners could overcome some of these hurdles by sharing their insights on how to progress and eventually, become a leader in the space.

The event was hosted at the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), who provided the perfect partner; as an accelerator for sparking new ideas and bringing to life new programmes and initiatives exploring how organisations and markets get motivated to deliver sustainable outcomes; including the likes of the Natural Capital Coalition.

Our keynote speeches were delivered by Chris Brown VP of Sustainability and CR at Olam, Laura McGonigal Head of Sustainability and CR at Walgreens Boots Alliance and Richard Spencer, Head of Sustainability at ICAEW. Across the speeches and Q&A session, some extremely valuable and thought-provoking take-homes were brought to the fore:

  1. Be inquisitive and find a new niche: It is no longer about being a ‘generalist’: Set yourself apart from others by specialising in the grey areas and playing where others don’t play. Ask relentless questions; be the ‘why’ in the room, don’t be afraid to ask for explanations of things you don’t understand and even to throw bad ideas into the fray. A bad idea is better than no idea.
  2. It’s not all about sustainability: Although it’s important to leverage your strengths, to be a successful professional in any business you need to learn something new every day. It’s about understanding all business areas outside of sustainability and what drives decision making within those business units? How do you start to tie in sustainability to the wider, seemingly differing priorities of the business? There is always a way to link agendas.
  3. Two ears, one mouth: To be well informed, and to come up with appropriate solutions, don’t crowd out the opinions of those who may counter your views; all voices deserve to be heard. Listen to learn, not to respond
  4. Focus on outcomes and impacts: Many of those new to their role will be working hard on delivering and executing for the team; it’s very easy to get bogged down in the volume of activities and not think about what the purpose & end goal of the work is. To innovate, keep taking a step back, look at the potential impacts of everything you’re being asked to deliver and check it still makes sense, otherwise you’re just wallpaper.
  5. Profitability is key: The power of private finance can be used to improve things for people and planet. By understanding and finding the cash values and pay offs for the business, your ideas and initiatives will stand out, the business will grow, and the impacts of your work can be wider reaching.

Chris closed with a very apt quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland which sums up my own key take away from this event: “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality”. As a Consultant who has led on placing professionals at this level for the last 12 months, this echoes my direct experience in what drives a hiring manager to offer the most coveted jobs to individuals; like Alice herself, those with a natural curiosity in the rabbit hole they are stepping towards, are always the most successful in our interview processes.

If you’d like to find out more about our next Inspire event, for yourself or for a member of your team, or if you are interested in hiring or being hired by some of the most influential sustainability practitioners in our space, then please contact me at liam@acre.com