Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 class of 2019: Iona Neilson, Formula E

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: Iona Neilson, sustainability executive at Formula E.

Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 class of 2019: Iona Neilson, Formula E

After beginning her sustainability career in the food-to-go sector

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 benefits 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 Iona Neilson, sustainability executive at electric racing giant Formula E, which is kicking off its sixth Season in November.

How I got to where I am now:

“Growing up both in East Scotland and the South-West of England has definitely influenced my passion for the natural world and everything that interacts with it. This was reinforced through studying geography, geology, archaeology and environmental studies at A-level and then going on to study a Geography degree at Plymouth University.

“My sustainability career was kick-started during the industrial placement year of my degree – I spent a year with McDonald’s UK in the sustainability team and an additional two months with Costa Coffee in the energy and environment Team. These roles gave me a really good insight into how businesses are coming to terms with and embracing sustainability and was the moment I knew I wanted to make a career out of it.

“After graduating, I spent nine months working at a sustainability consultancy focussing on strategies, reporting and employee engagement before starting my role with Formula E in February 2018. My role here is everything from operational sustainability and lifecycle assessment, to maintaining and internally auditing our ISO20121 management system, to marketing and communicating our sustainability achievements.”

My biggest career achievement to date has been:

 “I’m proud of having introduced a coffee grounds recycling trial in McDonald’s Central London stores and of helping to create and implement Costa’s store litter policy.

“Here at Formula E, my biggest achievement has been auditing our events and activities to ensure compliance. I created both a waste recycling and community engagement strategy which were implemented in Season Five (2018-2019) successfully, and I’ve also I supported the introduction of hydration stations and reusable water pouches at our events to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics – this has saved the equivalent of almost 200,000 330ml plastic bottles to date.

“As a personal achievement, I also achieved Practitioner membership for IEMA this year which has advanced my knowledge of the industry as well as developing and delivering an approach to environmental management that supports Formula E’s goals and ensures compliance with legislation.”

The biggest challenge I have encountered along the way is:

“Fully embedding sustainability into core working practises and procedures is something I have always found difficult, no matter how big or small the organisation.

“It is not simply about creating a strategy, setting targets or implementing management system – it is about giving employees the tools, skills and knowledge to help deliver on this and changing the culture of the organisation to strive for these changes.

“For us here at Formula E, this was a compulsory process we had to go through in order for our ISO20121 management system to be fully integrated into the business and for our events to be managed in a sustainable way. And, luckily for us, being a business whose USP is sustainability has meant we have attracted a lot of employees who share similar values.”

If I had to describe my generation in one word or phrase, I would say:


A successful 2019-20 for me looks like:

“With Formula E being the fastest growing motorsport in the world, I want to help to refine our focus even further on the three pillars of our sustainability strategy for Season Six (2019-2020).

“These are being a sustainable event; generating positive impacts and creating a lasting legacy in our host cities and using our global platform to create awareness on air pollution and help push electric vehicle (EV) adoption globally.”

In five years’ time, I would like to be:

“Progressing even further in the subject of sustainability, to the point where I am managing my own team and driving even more change in the corporate world.

“Sustainability will become a core consideration for businesses not just to improve reputation but to improve processes, pursue growth and add value – so hopefully we will be busier than ever.”

Outside of my career, I enjoy:

“I am lucky enough that I get to travel for work as well as in my spare time as it is one of my passions, but I also enjoy being outdoors in the countryside. “

My ‘Mission Possible’ message for business is:

“We need more human willpower – which is, by the way, a renewable resource.

“Make sure your business has a purpose and make sure your behaviours match. Purpose-driven businesses with a development agenda are more profitable so businesses should not be scared to take that leap.

“Paul Polman summed this up brilliantly at the Greentech Festival 2019 back in May.”

My key piece of advice for any young professionals entering my industry today is:

“Seek as much knowledge, advice and experience in the sector as you can and stay on top of global sustainability megatrends and how they will impact businesses and their decisions.

“And don’t be afraid to be creative and challenge conventional thinking – sustainability is all about innovation, new technologies and thought-leadership.

“The beauty of sustainability is that implementing the smallest changes can make the biggest difference to your impact as a company, and you can be consistently challenged in your roles to do more.”

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 protected].

edie staff

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