Meet edie's 30 Under 30 class of 2019: Ross Houghton, Atalian Servest
This new series profiles the members of edie's 30 Under 30 - a nomination-based community of 30 hugely talented young sustainability and energy professionals who have already achieved great things or are showing fantastic promise. Next up: Ross Houghton, CSR manager at global facilities management (FM) firm Atalian Servest.
The future of business leadership starts right here. Earlier this year, edie unveiled the inaugural members of its brand new 30 Under 30 initiative – a group of bright and ambitious rising sustainability and energy stars from across the UK.
After being nominated by their colleagues and impressing judges from Global Action Plan and the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (ICRS), this cohort of youthful visionaries now benefit from an unrivalled opportunity to connect with one another and co-develop solutions to some of the most pressing environmental and social challenges of our time.
In this weekly series, we will be sharing their stories and successes beyond the group, giving edie readers insight into the minds of those who will be leading the charge in creating the low-carbon, resource-efficient economies of the future.
This week, it's the turn of Ross Houghton, CSR manager at FM giant Atalian Servest.
How I got to where I am now:
"My sustainability journey started when I was 18 years old and straight out of sixth form. I had planned to begin studying international business and law in Edinburgh, but I was headhunted by Servest's then-HR director for the UK who was keen to have me on as the 'guinea pig' for the business's new graduate programme."
I spent two months trialling that programme and a further 16 months working across various parts of the Servest business, from HR and marketing to sales and security. During that time, I identified CSR and environmental strategising as something the business should be doing. They had done a lot of work in this area but hadn't necessarily pulled it all together.
I put this idea forward to the HR director, who agreed to put a new position together for me, with the support of the UK board."Since then (three years ago), I have been gradually growing that role and the sustainability team."
My biggest career achievement to date has been:
“Through the merger of Atalian and Servest, I took on my first global role – developing the business’s CSR strategy. This was a great opportunity to take our work to date, join it up and work out where we needed to accelerate.
“I spent about six months working with different geographical branches of the two companies and their CEOs around the world to draw on their progress and feed back information about key business drivers.”
The biggest challenge I have encountered along the way is:
“There’s been a big shift towards businesses putting such a focus on sustainability that it will inevitably influence the way the board wants the business to go – but there isn’t necessarily always the financial package or mechanism needed to implement some of those ambitions.”
If I had to describe my generation in one word or phrase, I would say:
“Conscious of their impact and ambitious to change it.”
A successful 2019-20 for me looks like:
“For the rest of 2019 and then 2020 in my role, I see data becoming much more powerful in driving positive change.
“I am currently working on a platform that will provide insight and full visibility into Atalian Servest’s CSR performance within the areas of people, the environment, supply chain and community/charity.
“Having a dashboard that shows current performance and also forecasting future trends will allow our CSR team to target key initiatives within the business and ensure that if there are any negative trends, we can look to mitigate these as soon as possible, rather than retrospectively after a 12-month period.”
In five years’ time, I would like to be:
“Involved in helping businesses embed sustainability within their strategies, highlighting the associated risks and potential financial impact.
“I believe that businesses are only just starting to see the cost associated with sustainability. I would like to see top-level discussions about global megatrends that will impact businesses and the planet over the next two decades or so starting to happen now. Every day I see the CSR/sustainability agenda becoming more ‘business-as-usual’, and meeting people that have a genuine passion for driving positive change is fantastic.”
Outside of my career, I enjoy:
“Travelling a lot, especially to cities, which ties in with my passion for food. I love both cooking and eating out.
“Cars are another one of my passions. I go to various roadshows during the year with my dad, to look at the latest tech in that area.
“I also like to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in farming, because I grew up on dairy farms and come from a family farming background. The conversations in that space around sustainability are changing rapidly.”
My ‘Mission Possible’ message for business is:
“Instead of looking at sustainability as an extra cost, assess the cost of what will happen in 10-15 if business-as-usual carries on and you don’t make a change.
“Companies that act now will be in a better position in the future; those that don’t will be fighting against new legislation and companies that have established themselves as leaders.
“A massive shift in what people expect businesses to care about and how they want them to operate has just started. It’s not just about consumers either; if businesses want to attract the best talent, sustainability will become more of a non-negotiable part of company culture.”
My key piece of advice for any young professionals entering my industry today is:
“Follow your passion.
“You’ll face many challenges along the way, but it’s important to remember why you’re passionate and not to lose that drive to make change. This is such a rewarding career, but you need to have that fire, because it’s a bumpy road.”
The full Class of 2019 series can be viewed here.
To stay in the loop for 2020 nominations for the 30 Under 30, email email@example.com.