Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2020: Hannah Biggs, UCL
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. Up next: Hannah Biggs, sustainability projects lead at UCL.
The future of business leadership starts right here. Earlier this year, edie unveiled the second cohort of members of its 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 Hannah Biggs, who leads sustainability projects at University College London (UCL).
How I got to where I am now:
“I’ve been interested in sustainability from a very early age and I knew, in school, that I wanted to study geography at university if I had the opportunity. During sixth form, I completed a few work placements in sustainability – including Lewisham Council’s urban planning team.
“At the University of Leeds, where I studied Geography, I interned in the university’s sustainability team – I created an ambassador role for them to help engage students. By my third year, I knew I really enjoyed working in sustainability.
“Once I’d graduated, I did a fixed-term recycling survey role at Ealing Council before being offered a graduate role at the University of Essex. I was responsible for catalysing the university’s sustainability behaviour change programmes.
“I moved to UCL a little over four years ago as their sustainability communications officer and now, as sustainability projects lead, I have biodiversity and education under my remit. It’s always really fun to work at a university as you get to collaborate with academics, students and staff that want to make a difference. To broaden my knowledge I have been completing a diploma in sustainability and adaptation planning at the Centre for Alternative Technology in my spare time.”
My biggest career achievement to date has been:
“Building momentum to engage the student and staff population. A big part of my role at UCL is to make the sustainability team more visible; I’ve done everything from creating a plastic sea installation, to cooking noodles on a solar array on campus.
“We now have over 400 green champions, a student sustainability ambassador programme and a new student sustainability council. Our departments are creating their own sustainability plans from reducing flying, to eating climate positive food.
“When we launched our new sustainability strategy last year, committing UCL to zero-carbon buildings and a single-use-plastic-free campus by 2024, I led the rebrand of Sustainable UCL and hosted a week-long launch with a pop-up forest and a high-level climate change debate. A survey highlighted that 70% of students have heard about Sustainable UCL and our ‘Change Possible’ campaign.”
The biggest challenge I have encountered along the way is:
“The pandemic. We’ve had to completely rework everything we’d been working on.
“Within our behaviour change scheme, our staff were about to be audited when lockdown started. We had to transform all of the criteria to support staff to make their own spaces more sustainable. I led a campaign to enhance the wellbeing of students and staff through sustainability actions and created a virtual sustainability induction for all students.
“If Covid-19 didn’t exist, I’d say stakeholder engagement. Working in such a large university means engaging people with hugely different priorities – and most of them have a high workload with tight deadlines. So you need to find sustainability solutions which will help make their job easier.”
If I had to describe my generation in one word or phrase, I would say:
A successful 2020-21 for me looks like:
“Making all of UCL’s sustainability campaigns more inclusive, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. We’re undertaking lots of workshops to ensure we make our campaigns accessible to people of all races, genders and abilities. We’re setting up a student ambassador scheme and council, too, so more people can have their say.
“Also, launching our ‘Stay in the Loop’ campaign, which is all about reducing consumption and promoting reusing, repairing and recycling on campus, as well as our Wild Bloomsbury campaign. Look out for green walls, roofs and nature corridors across Bloomsbury, as we aim to make a climate-resilient, pollinator-friendly, safe and healthy environment for the local community.
“On the education side of things, I’ll be creating a sustainability short course for students and resources for academics to embed sustainability into their courses.”
Outside of my career, I enjoy:
“Meeting up with friends – so there have been a lot of trips to the park this summer. And I love cycling and going for walks and going bird watching.
“I’ve also been volunteering as Sustainability Manager for Brainchild Festival – an independent community arts festival.”
My ‘Mission Possible’ message for business is:
“Every business needs to be working to create a better world for people and planet. Look at everything you do – the full range of your impact, good and bad – and work to ensure you are addressing global and local challenges. You’ll need ambitious commitments and creative plans for changing culture, backed by strong stakeholder engagement.
“Working in the university sector, I know students are looking to work for organisations with strong environmental and ethical principles when they graduate, so don’t miss that opportunity.”
My key piece of advice for any young professionals entering my industry today is:
“Don’t just look for jobs with ‘sustainability graduate’ or ‘sustainability officer/manager’ in the title. Sustainability will need to be embedded in every sector and every business function in the future, so there are plenty of other roles where it will be a key part of the day-to-day. And, if it’s not, that’s even more of an opportunity to make a difference.
“Volunteering is great, too, but it isn’t always accessible to everyone. If you can’t volunteer, think about how you can embed sustainability in a part of the community you live in or grew up in. This will help you gain transferable skills and build experiences you can talk about with those offering opportunities later on.”
The full Class of 2020 membership is detailed here.
To stay in the loop for 2021 nominations for the 30 Under 30, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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