Name: Jenny Hughes

Job title: Environment and Sustainability Consultant

Qualifications: MA Hons Geography and Politics (Edinburgh University), MSc (Ongoing) Environmental Management (Open University)

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?

At school I got interested in climate change and global systems through studying Geography. I really enjoyed the combination of human/ physical geography and the understanding it gives of the worlds systems. At university, I got very interested in the concept of sustainability and my favourite modules were about renewable energy, sustainable transport and climate change.

It was a bit of chance that, through the decisions I made from university onwards, led me into this career, rather than it being an aim or goal I had! Whilst at university I undertook an internship at the Scottish Parliament, worked for an energy company who were planning and delivering an offshore wind farm, and wrote a dissertation on cycling in Edinburgh. These three experiences all led to me find out about the role of an environmental consultant, and I thought it would be a great way to gain varied experience after university.

What was your first environment/sustainability job?

My first environment/ sustainability job was an internship for Repsol (a Spanish Energy Company) working in their Environment and Consents Team. Repsol were developing proposals for Inch Cape Offshore Wind Farm, and I worked on tasks relating to the Environmental Impact Assessment and Stakeholder Engagement. I really supported the project and enjoyed working as part of the project team.

How did you get your first role?

I’d been keeping an eye on various job websites and portals towards the end of my 3rd year at University. This included Environment Job, the university portal, and ‘Bright Green Business’ Partnerships, which runs a placement programme with a variety of businesses in Scotland and is where I saw the internship advertised.

The original job description was quite different to my experience (it asked for someone who had experience in marine biology) so I didn’t think I had much of a chance!

It turned out there was plenty of other aspects I could help them on and they offered me the role. It just showed me that it pays off not to be afraid to go for something even if the job description is not quite a fit.

How did you progress your environment/sustainability career?

In my final year at university I applied for graduate roles with various companies like Peter Brett Associates, who are a development and infrastructure consultancy.

After a phone interview, competency tests, and a fairly full-on assessment day only 2 days after my graduation, I was offered a Graduate position at PBA. I’ve been working there since 2013 (with a break of 9 months last year to go travelling!).

What does your current role involve?

I’m currently working on a mixture of development projects and provide energy, sustainability and waste services. For example, in the last year or so I developed energy and waste strategies for an airfield redevelopment project, worked on planning and sustainability- related planning aspects for the Garden City of Ebbsfleet and, undertook an environmental quality assessment for an infrastructure project.

Day to day I work on a range of different projects. I do research, write reports, write technical notes, do calculations, go to meetings and workshops, bid for work, and in general work with a range of people within and outside our company.

What’s the best part of your work?

Working with clients who really want to make a difference and do something ‘good’. This could be partnering with a charity and giving them space in leisure centre, or delivering an innovative low carbon energy solution.

A stand-out memory for me was running a workshop for the Duchy of Lancaster (who manage the Queen’s Estate) to discuss the future direction of their own sustainability strategy.

I really enjoy some of the non-project stuff I get the opportunity to get involved in, which has previously included running STEM-related projects in schools, and in future is getting involved with the work our company does in communities.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

As a consultant we’re working on a range of projects at the same time, so balancing clients’ needs and priorities can be tricky. Sometimes you get caught up in the day-to-day admin needed to keep things on track and it’s easy to lose sight of the exciting projects themselves. And sometimes it’s hard that you don’t get to see the long -term projects delivered and only work at the initial planning stage.

What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?

The skills I’ve developed through studying geography are really important to my job – namely being able to step back and see the bigger picture.

  • This includes consideration of all of the project opportunities, constraints, stakeholder views and perspectives, and the wider context of the project.
  • Organisation skills are really important to keep on top of lots of different projects.
  • A range of communication skills are also crucial- you need to be able to write in various styles, and communicate (and work with) with a range of different people.

Where do you see the environment/sustainability profession going?

I think that the profession is steering towards more of a focus on resource efficiency in general. For example, there’s currently a focus on developing the circular economy, and on delivering energy efficiency.

Businesses and organisations are realising more and more that resource efficiency can not only make processes and operations run better, but also has additional benefits including improved reputation and increased profits.

I think, for now, the interest in being ‘green’ and ‘eco’ has had its heyday. However, I think that there is a more widespread interest in the sustainability of products as people are becoming more aware of the environmental impacts associated with consumer goods (e.g. plastics).

I hope that there’ll be the opportunity for more time to refocus on behavioural change (bottom-up) as well as top down solutions to becoming a more sustainable society. I think that technology can offer part of the solution, and mechanisms such as online platforms and apps offer great opportunities for connecting people.

Jenny Hughes, Peter Brett Associates

Jenny will be a mentor at our Catalyst Bootcamp 2018