Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2023: Dain Robinson

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, Dain Robinson, lately head of sustainability at the New West End Company.

Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2023: Dain Robinson

Dain pivoted into sustainability after initially envisioning a career in dance

More than just a list, edie’s annual 30 Under 30 initiative shines a spotlight on talented sustainability and net-zero professionals – aged under 30 – who are delivering on efforts to build a better future and showing fantastic promise for their future potential.

After a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19, the initiative has returned for 2023-4, with the new class having been announced last September.

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.

Our next profile interview is with Dain Robinson, lately head of sustainability at the New West End Company – a business partnership including more than 600 London-based organisations.

How I got to where I am now:

“I spent 15 years of my childhood training to become a professional ballet dancer which was my dream growing up as a kid. Just after I finished ballet school at the age of 18, I had to get surgery from a significant injury and, during the two-year recovery period, I reconsidered my career. During this recovery period, I met my now husband who gave me the courage to walk away from the dance world and go to university.

“Higher Education was never in my life plan but I managed to get a place through clearing at the University of Westminster to study Biochemistry. It was during my studies that I was introduced to the concept of sustainability through a lecture on plant conservation by an amazing lecturer, Niki Lawrence, which was the moment I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life.

“This was a big turning point for me as I found this burning passion and confidence. I set up the University’s student Environmental Society which led to my first role in operational sustainability on a part-time basis. This became my entry point into a career in Sustainability. Since then, I have worked across public and private sector organisations to support values-driven change towards a more sustainable future, which led to my latest role as Head of Sustainability within a Business Improvement District working with more than 400 retailers and 200 property owners in London’s West End.”

My biggest career achievement to date has been:

“When I was in the education sector, I got to design and deliver a trans-national Education for Sustainable Development programme for students from the UK and Uzbekistan. The successful delivery of the project itself was a great achievement for me. However, at the end of the programme, some of the students came to me to say that they had been inspired to choose careers in sustainability which was such a fulfilling and special moment for me.

“Being able to inspire and empower others to take sustainable action, especially women and those from underrepresented backgrounds, is what fuels me.

“As sustainability professionals, we are often working towards ambitious targets to reduce our carbon emissions or increase biodiversity, for example. However, for me, it is the human element of my work which brings me the most joy and fulfillment.”

The biggest challenge I have encountered has been:

“The lack of diversity in the sustainability profession.

“As a young woman from an ethnic minority background, there is a lack of representation which can often be demotivating and draining. Unfortunately, this feels like a topic that isn’t being meaningfully discussed. I find this to be quite painful and disturbing considering the effects of climate change and extreme weather events are, and will, affect those from the global south more than those of us living in the global north.

“So when I encounter privileged individuals unwilling to face the uncomfortable truths and avoid hard conversations around the reality of climate injustice, I find myself feeling very exhausted and alone. However, by surrounding myself with like-minded allies and working with my amazing leadership coach, Bruno Marques, I am learning to develop my resilience and use my energy and privilege towards meaningful action.”

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

“Detached and lost.

“ I feel our generation is too disconnected as a result of the digital age, and therefore struggle to maintain a level of self-reflection and groundedness which I believe are essential skills for anyone working in sustainability.”

A successful 2024 for me looks like:

“Focusing my energy on delivering work that is truly impactful and fulfilling for me.

“Sustainability roles are going through a massive shift this year with the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) coming into place and I fear our jobs are becoming too focused on reporting, and less on delivery.

“Therefore I am going through a transition into more values-driven delivery-focused roles. The next 12 months for me will be about working with individuals and organisations whose values and purpose are aligned with mine, while also fine-tuning how I want to continue contributing as a leader in sustainability. I want to work in an environment where my expertise and talents can unapologetically flourish while I am also encouraged to continue develop and grow. I am digging deep into what that will look like moving forward.

“I want to be able look back at my career and feel proud that I lived up to what being an empowered woman means to me; I want to have honoured myself. So I am investing more time and resources on my development than ever before to support my growth journey.”

Outside of my career, I enjoy:

“Walking in nature with my two wonderful rescue dogs. I am lucky enough to live rurally so a lot of my time outside of work is spent appreciating the nature around me. If I’m not out walking as the days get warmer, I will probably be in the garden.

“It sounds very boring, but I find so much joy and peace in watching the birds and insects that visit my garden on a sunny day.

“If I am not outside, then I am often creating something in my kitchen, or doing DIY projects around my house. I have recently started upcycling old furniture which has been great fun to use my own hands to create something beautiful from an old and dated piece of furniture. When I am gardening or doing DIY projects, I am usually accompanied by Brene Brown’s podcasts. She is my ultimate leadership hero and I would recommend her work to anyone.”

My ‘Mission Possible’ message for business leaders is:

“It is your responsibility to educate yourselves on the complexities of how everything in interconnected to better understand how we can deliver meaningful and holistic change that doesn’t harm others. This means approaching sustainability holistically, instead of approaching environmental sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI/EDI) as competing and separate agendas.

“As Brene Brown once said, DEI work IS leadership work” So my call to action for anyone in a leadership position would be to do your work on DEI to understand the intersectionality between environmental and social sustainability issues.

“This applies to all of us working in sustainability as well. Sadly, I have met sustainability leaders who think that DEI is not relevant to our work which I find to be very concerning.”

My key piece of advice for any young people entering my profession today is:

“Working in sustainability can sometimes be tough and demoralising. Therefore, I find it to be incredibly helpful to surround myself with like-minded allies, leaders and mentors who have been supporting me along the way.

“One of my friends calls me the ‘queen of networking’ as I really enjoy building new relationships and connecting with others working in sustainability. I found this to not only be helpful for growing my network of changemakers in sustainability but it has also allowed me to bring people together and allow others to connect with one another as well. I truly believe it is incredibly important for us to be part of a supportive and loving community.

“I would encourage anyone starting their career in this field to network as much as possible. If that sounds intimidating, I welcome anyone to reach out to me via LinkedIn.”

The full 30 Under 30 Class of 2023 membership is detailed here

To stay in the loop for the next round of annual nominations for the 30 Under 30, email [email protected]. Nominations will open this summer.

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