Case study

Sustainability consultant — Katherine Adair

Katherine's experience in waste management and renewable energy enabled her to move into sustainability consultancy

How did you get your job?

During my environmental science degree, I did a few months' experience at a waste facility, working alongside the environmental manager. I really enjoyed it and got involved in writing some reports, I even wrote one for the Environment Agency (EA).

After my degree, I went on to do a Masters in sustainable environmental management. When I started applying for jobs, I struggled to get a junior sustainability consultant role, so I took a graduate role at a recycling and renewable energy company. I stayed there for just under a year, which gave me the assessment skills and training I needed to successfully move into sustainability consultancy.

What's a typical working day like?

I spend a lot of time carrying out assessments such as BREEAM, which is a sustainability assessment for buildings and infrastructure, or Renewable Energy Feasibility Studies, which look at costs, environmental impact and the technical requirements for installing renewable energy systems. This might involve looking at architectural plans, meeting with engineers, architects and planners, or making site visits, and then creating reports to show my findings and recommendations.

I also spend a lot of time on the phone discussing findings with clients and other professionals involved in my projects.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love the variety of the projects I work on and the teamwork involved. Each project involves lots of different people and I enjoy the social side of the work.

I also really enjoy finding creative solutions to difficult problems.

What are the challenges?

The work can be quite pressured, with high expectations and deadlines to meet. When a project deadline is approaching, it's all hands on deck, and we are expected to keep working until it's finished, regardless of whether we have already worked a long day.

Another challenge is that many developers, planners, or property owners don't assess their sustainability because of their concern for the environment, but because they are required to by law. It can be an uphill struggle to convince them of the beneficial aspects of sustainability.

Is your degree relevant to your job?

Studying environmental science isn't a requirement to work in this field, but it has helped. My degree gave me a broad understanding of the environment, the impact of the built environment and how things like climate change are affecting us. This means that I can explain these things to clients, planners, developers and engineers so they understand why sustainability is important.

How has your role developed?

Five months into my role I am now taking responsibility for entire projects. When I first started I only had responsibility for small parts of a project.

I hope to spend more time looking at renewable energy feasibility as I progress.

What advice can you give to aspiring sustainability consultants?

Be flexible when you are looking for an entry-level job and be prepared to relocate or commute for an opportunity. Don't be disheartened if you apply for lots of vacancies and don't get very far. It is competitive to get into, so keep trying.

Also, try to get some experience. I got my experience in waste management and recycling, but you could look at anything within the broad area of sustainability and it would be relevant for sustainability consulting.

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