Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2023: Emma Detain, Huel

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. Up next, Emma Detain, sustainability manager, Huel.

Meet edie’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2023: Emma Detain, Huel

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 Emma Detain, sustainability manager, Huel.

How I got to where I am now:

“In some ways my route into what I do now was quite unique. I studied Geography at King’s College London and became interested in the connection between food security and climate change; specifically how the daily choices we make around what we eat can impact the environment.

“After graduating, I wasn’t sure what kind of role I wanted but I did know that I wanted to work in the food industry and in sustainability in some way. To me, at that time working in sustainability meant working for a company that was trying to do something good. So I applied for a junior finance role at Mindful Chef (admittedly not because I was hugely passionate about finance but because I was inspired by their mission as a company).

“To this day, I think it was my genuine belief in what they were trying to do that got me that role. Knowing my interest in sustainability, they asked me to project lead their first carbon footprint assessment. This was about a year into my finance role so I was well placed to take on such a data heavy task. And that was the beginning of my sustainability career, as after this they offered me the opportunity to move into the role of Sustainability Manager.

“I’m hugely grateful to Mindful Chef for facilitating me to pursue something I was interested in. That was about four years ago now and without their support I don’t believe I would have been where I am today, which is a few months into an exciting new role as Sustainability Manager at Huel. As someone driven to make changes in the food industry, I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to work at two food brands trying to make a difference.”

My biggest career achievement to date has been:

“I would say my biggest career achievement is the fact I have been able to craft a career that genuinely drives and inspires me. Since I can remember I have been fascinated by the impact of food production on people and the planet.

“When I started my career I was determined to be a part of making our food system better, but I didn’t know exactly what that kind of career or role would look like. To be able to fast forward to now, when I have a role that is about doing exactly that, is something I’m incredibly proud of.”

The biggest challenge I have encountered has been:

“Working in sustainability can sometimes feel quite isolating, you’re often in a small team in a role that might not have existed before. But I quickly found there’s a huge community of people working in sustainability who are always willing to share, advise and support one another. I think there’s something quite unique to working in sustainability about this – it’s pre-competitive, people are happy to be open because at the end of the day, wherever you’re working or whatever you’re working on, we’re all striving towards the same goal.”

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

“Uncompromising, to accept that things have to be the way they have always been.”

A successful 2024 for me looks like:

“Earlier this year I started a new role as Sustainability Manager at Huel. The role sits in the Sustainable Nutrition team, with sustainability and nutrition being the foundations on which all Huel products are designed. I’m already working on a number of exciting projects, such as how we can minimise the impact of key ingredients through regenerative agriculture practices.

“One we’re about to embark on is a trial with an oat farmer to plant clover as a companion crop alongside oats, the aim of the trial is primarily to reduce the use of nitrogen fertiliser but it will also bring other benefits to nature and biodiversity, as well as financial incentives to the farm. I find projects like these so powerful as it’s a brand showcasing to a grower that we want to support them on producing food in a less impactful way, in fact in a way that can bring about a lot of benefits both to them and the land we all depend on.

“So the next 12 months are really about finding my feet in this new role and trying to drive impact in a meaningful way through projects like these.”

Outside of my career, I enjoy:

“My interest in food sustainability is as much part of my day-job as well as it is my personal life. I love cooking and thinking about the way produce has been grown, where it comes from, the seasons, and how to make the best of what we have at different points in the year. I enjoy being outside, running, walking and signing up to the odd challenge.”

My ‘Mission Possible’ message for business leaders is:

“Make sustainability everyone’s responsibility. Fundamentally, sustainability is about making a business operate better; it’s about using resources efficiently, driving resilience into supply chains, making the things we love less impactful on the world, looking after the people who make those things, it’s about being commercial, but ensuring there’s a consistency of care & thoughtfulness throughout the way you do business. It doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t be seen as a barrier to other objectives.”

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

“You need to come with an interest to learn, a tenacity to challenge and the determination to advocate for doing the right thing, even when it’s difficult.”

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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