Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2019: Eleanor King, AECOM
This 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: Eleanor King, sustainability consultant at AECOM.
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 Eleanor King, sustainability consultant at global infrastructure consultancy AECOM.
How I got to where I am now:
“I’ve always had an interest in the natural world and have been inquisitive about how natural systems work since school. One particular memory of learning about how rainforests create their own ecosystems really stands out as piquing my interest.
“Studying geography at university was, therefore, an obvious choice for me. I completed a four-year master’s degree in physical geography at Durham University, focusing predominantly on natural systems including rivers and peatland systems in the UK.
“I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do as a career when I graduated, but I knew I wanted to stay in the environmental space and find a varied job where I could do something different every day. My first full-time role was at a small environmental consultancy in the midlands, where I worked predominantly with clients in the construction and manufacturing industries on projects around responsible sourcing and other supply chain issues.
“After two years there, I moved to Bristol and to take on a new challenge with AECOM’s business sustainability team, which helps clients to become more sustainable across a range of areas including supply chain risk, carbon assessments, sustainable infrastructure and strategy development.”
My biggest career achievement to date has been:
“Helping to develop sustainability strategies for Government agencies.
“In my first year at AECOM, I helped to develop the DVSA’s new sustainability plan. I found that so rewarding because it was mainly approaching sustainability through its assets department and focusing on compliance. By the end of the project we had helped to deliver a strategy that highlighted the unique contribution of DVSA to sustainable development, and provided them with stretching ambitions for the next five years. We also developed an implementation plan to measure and monitor progress and embed sustainability into the organisation – which is now being successfully delivered.
“More recently, we helped the Environment Agency develop its 2030 strategy, headlined by its net-zero commitment. which was so exciting to work on as it is such a high-profile organisation and the strategy marked a step-change in their approach to include a much broader remit of social issues as well as environmental.”
The biggest challenge I have encountered along the way is:
“It’s human nature to continue doing the same things in the same way, because we think it’s less risky.
“Over the past four years, there have been many times where I can see the potential that a business has to deliver positive impacts, but by the time decisions are made at board level there is often a tendency to hold back and a reluctance to innovate.”
If I had to describe my generation in one word or phrase, I would say:
“Determined to make a difference.”
A successful 2019-20 for me looks like:
“Continuing to work with organisations to develop and refine their approach to sustainability and understand how best they can contribute to sustainable development and respond to the climate emergency.
“I’ve also been supporting a global manufacturer and service provider to comply with the EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive over the past few months and it would be great to see the successful delivery of this – quite complex- project come to fruition.
“Outside of work, I’ve started a mentoring programme in Bristol aimed at empowering young women as they go through sixth form and their early years of university to get into a sustainability career. I’m currently working with one mentee and over the next few months would love to see her deliver on the goals I’ve helped her to set, which run through March 2020. Knowing that I’ve made even a tiny bit of difference to this one person’s confidence and self-belief would be really rewarding.”
In five years’ time, I would like to be:
“Known for my impact on how businesses look at sustainability.
“My real interest and passion is in seeing the big picture. Currently, I’m doing this on an organisational level, but I would like to build on that to work on a system, industry, or even national level to make an even bigger difference.”
Outside of my career, I enjoy:
“Being outdoors, like I know a lot of the 30 Under 30 do!
“Living in Bristol, I’m lucky to have a lot of beautiful countryside on my doorstep and to have the opportunity to go hiking, running, or do yoga. I think physical and mental health is a big part of sustainability.
“Other than that, I like to go to as many music festivals as possible. I didn’t manage to get Glastonbury tickets for 2020 but I’m going to keep trying to get there somehow!”
My ‘Mission Possible’ message for business is:
“The environment is changing quickly, and so are the expectations of society – younger generations in particular.
“People don’t believe business should just be about profit any more and that affects the choices they make. Companies should honour that and make it worth people’s while to buy their products or services or to work for them.
“This means putting sustainability at the heart of all decisions and being brave enough to transition away from any choices which don’t have a positive impact on people and the environment. A lot of businesses say they’re doing this, but many are, ultimately, paying lip service – when it comes down to the wire, they’ll go for the option that’s cheaper or has a higher or faster ROI.”
My key piece of advice for any young professionals entering my industry today is:
“Be brave – don’t be afraid to question the ways things are done and suggest new ideas. No matter how junior you are, you will have fresh ideas that others in your organisation don’t have, and it’s important to have the self-belief and confidence to share them.
“Also, don’t feel like you have to know everything about every topic. I know so many people who feel like they have to have in-depth scientific knowledge on an array of things to get into the field or succeed in their career, but sometimes the real skill is being able to see the wood for the trees, and see the wider connections to make a real change.”
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.
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