Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2020: Oliver Knowles, M&S Property

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: M&S Property's R&D manager, Oliver Knowles.

Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2020: Oliver Knowles, M&S Property

Oliver joined M&S full-time in 2017

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 Oliver Knowles, who leads energy R&D for Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) Property arm. 

How I got to where I am now:

“Within a week of submitting the thesis for my MSc in environmental sustainability from the University of Edinburgh in 2014, I was snapped up by a refrigeration consultancy where I ended up working as a contractor to the M&S Engineering team, facilitating and managing their new technology process. My experience within this role was invaluable for my self-development and I learnt a lot about the technical aspects of building services, and the opportunities for embedding energy conservation and sustainability within engineering principles.

“In 2017 I moved to M&S permanently. Having worked in a technical manager role initially, I have since progressed within the team and now hold the position of energy R&D manager. It is a really rewarding role and I am responsible for driving Energy Efficiency Projects from initiative to completion, as well as energy procurement, environmental behavioural change initiatives and energy reporting.”

My biggest career achievement to date has been:

“Incorporating circular economy principles into a recent LED rollout. This has reduced our reliance on single-use plastics through the use of 3D printed Luminaires. M&S is the first UK major retailer to have taken this step, and this initiative forms part of M&S’ commitment to use more sustainable technologies in stores as we move to become net-zero by 2035.”

The biggest challenge I have encountered along the way is:

“Having to be patient to wait for the great opportunity and responsibility I now have. It has only been in the last year or so that I have been able to really roll my sleeves up and drive forward the sustainability agenda at M&S.

“Having to watch from afar in the past has been difficult, but now I have the gift I am determined to make the most of this unique opportunity.

“Though if you ask me this question in a year’s time, I may have another answer for you! I will shortly be absorbing more responsibility within the ‘Plan A’ Department of our business so there is a lot of work to be getting on with.”

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


A successful 2020-21 for me looks like:

“Whilst this year has been like no other, the show must go on! The net-zero target gets ever closer and, for me, making significant headway with launching my energy efficiency schemes will help complement this. New technology really excites me and has a significant role to play in our net-zero strategy as well. I am hoping I can find something truly ground-breaking this year.

“It is up to us, as sustainability professionals, to follow David Attenborough’s lead. Despite morale being low across the country due to national lockdowns, he has successfully demonstrated the art of the possible where sustainability and tackling climate change is concerned. 2021 must be the year of positive change; sustainability has to be absorbed into our everyday agendas.”

Outside of my career, I enjoy:

“Playing tennis and football, playing the drums, seeing the world and meeting new people.

“I am also a Wigan Athletic season ticket holder, though that’s not something to be enjoyed currently…”

My Mission Possible message for business is:

“It is important to remember that the economy is one of the three pillars of sustainability. Stakeholders sometimes forget this. Sustainability is profitable and shouldn’t be seen as a ‘tick box exercise’ or ‘added extra’.”

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

“In 2017, the Economist wrote ‘The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data’. Whilst a pertinent quote on a number of levels, data is key to our sustainability agendas. Having good data ensures your baseline, targets and savings are all accurate, realistic and attainable, making the transition to net-zero that little bit easier. So be at one with data, understand it, work with it, and take it with you on your journey.

“Also don’t be afraid to ask questions; challenge the status quo; be brave; be bold; and embrace the opportunity of being part of a unique industry which has the potential to drive positive change for generations to come.

“It is our responsibility, as young sustainability leaders, to drive the positive change within our own organisations wider industries to achieve benefit for all. The time is now.”

The full Class of 2020 membership is detailed here

To stay in the loop for 2021 nominations for the 30 Under 30, email [email protected].

edie Staff

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