From Engineering to Energy
Whilst studying Mechanical Engineering at City University, London, I worked part time as a checkout assistant in my local Sainsbury’s store. In the second year of my degree, I chose additional modules in energy management and renewable energy and it was then that I saw how engineering could be applied to make a difference for the world’s future energy demands.
In the final year of my degree, I was tasked with writing a dissertation. The project I was given focussed on modelling the thermodynamics of an internal combustion engine and didn’t excite me at all! So, I decided to create my own project: The energy utilisation and management at Sainsbury’s Hendon. It seemed perfect, applying my engineering principles to a real-life challenge; energy management in the workplace – and above all It meant I could do alot my dissertation during paid working hours!
Once completed, I presented my findings to Sainsbury’s Head of Energy who provided me the data that showed my year long efforts had reduced the branch’s annual energy bill by £6,000! He saw just how passionate I was and even included a summary of my project in the 2006 Sainsbury’s Corporate Responsibility Report. I maintained contact with him and soon after graduating, I received a call from him – offering me a job!
In September 2007, I started my role as Energy Support Manager in the Sainsbury’s Head Office. Little did I know that this would be the first step in a 15 year + long journey.
I had all of the theoretical knowledge, but none of the practical experience. Nonetheless, I set about my long learning journey and was excited to grow my experience. Working for a company who was spending millions of pounds a year on energy efficiency measures, meant the 5 years I eventually spent there were worth 10 in another organisation.
A question I often get asked about my career is whether one needs to be an engineer to be in the world of energy management. The beauty of the energy industry and wider sustainability sector is that there is no defined path to getting here. You can come from a background in engineering, finance, marketing, legal or even comms, there’s a role for everyone.
Essentially to make a difference in the world of energy and sustainability you simply need to have common sense, an appreciation for the technical knowledge, the ability to influence and inspire others and more than anything a passion to do the right thing by people and the planet.
From Energy to ESG
15 years ago, the terminology most used to summarise company energy and sustainability efforts was CSR (Corporate, Social, Responsibility), more recently we have seen this overtaken by ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance). In this past decade and a half, the demand for skilled sustainability professionals has skyrocketed and I, very much like the industry I work in, have evolved and adapted.
I’ve gone from being an energy expert to an ESG professional. During this time my focus as a professional has shifted from addressing energy costs to help reduce impact on the P&L to tackling wider environmental matters to help minimise impact on the planet and addressing the social agenda to positively impact people and communities.
When I first started out in the industry, the acronym ESG didn’t even exist. 15 years on and ESG is a metric that is being used to evaluate the investment value of a business alongside its financial performance. As climate change and social reform are becoming increasingly more important to investors, companies are now starting to take even more action to better their ESG credentials and are even carving out roles for Chief Sustainability Officers, a role I never imagined could exist in the c-suite when starting out as a graduate.
I see this as a very positive change. After decades of businesses being motivated simply by profit, often at the cost of people and the planet, businesses are now being judged by how they treat their workers, what they value as a culture and their commitment to addressing issues related to the environment and climate change. With both mandatory and voluntary ESG disclosures ever increasing, the rise of ESG has indeed created a necessary incentive for large corporate organisations, but do we have the skills pipeline to address this complex topic?
The sudden demand for an ESG professional
Ultimately, ESG should be folded into every function and decision making process of a company. But effort needs to be spearheaded by seasoned individuals who have the technical skills to help reduce an organisations reliance on the natural resources such as electricity, gas and water, the engagement skills needed to create a positive impact on communities and finally the expertise in ensuring good governance practices are embedded across the business.
The market is screaming for individuals to lead ESG efforts in corporate organisations but much of the learning is being done on the job. When I was studying for my Masters in Energy, Environmental Technology and Economic at City University, it was one of the few universities offering a higher level course on this subject and although many more universities are offering degrees covering sustainability and climate related topics, there is still a skills gap surfacing. Many of the senior roles being advertised are seeking those with 8+ years experience and it’ll take some time for more recent graduates to get there.
Green is the new orange (which is the new black)
Change will come when companies truly start prioritising sustainability from top-down at board level and from the ground up, making it part of organisational culture so that all employees care about it as much as the central ESG team. The stark reality of needing a healthy planet to do business on is ever more clear. This can’t just be the latest trend till the institutions find something else to focus on, we need real action, adequate skills and the buy in from everyone to do their part.
Whilst I am comforted with just how much progress I have seen in this space over the last 15 years, I also can’t help but feel the urgency to go further and faster. Complacency will simply undo the progress we have made so far.
We all need to act in proportion to the magnitude of the challenge.
Here’s to the next 15 years of service. Thank you to all the incredible professionals that have helped me on the way and championed my growth in this sector.