Want to help save the world? Rather than being bitten by a radioactive spider or, erm, standing in a cave of bats (or whatever Bruce Wayne did), you could opt for a career in the environment. As in saving the actual world. Here are some ways to get into it, by three experts…
We spoke to Helen Woolston, Transport for London’s sustainability coordinator; Gareth Rice, head of environment at O2 and Courtney Lockyer who’s the sustainability coordinator (also at O2) to get the lowdown on saving planet earth.
It’d probably be a good idea to explain a bit more about what these experts actually do before ploughing ahead because, unsurprisingly, they have pretty cool jobs.
First up, Helen Woolston advises Transport for London (you know, that vaguely important underground Tube/train/River/ thing that helps Londoners get to places) on ways to make sure the planet isn’t too affected: “When they, for example, extend the Northern Line or upgrade a station, I get them to really think about the environmental issues and factor them into the design. Obviously this is tricky with financial restraints – but I still need to find ways to inspire them.” A large part of her job involves checking in on projects as they progress and making sure those changes they talked about are actually getting done – “there’s a lot of policing, persuading and reminding” – as well as reporting to people on the outside as to how environmentally friendly it all is.
Gareth Rice basically makes sure everything O2 does is as beneficial for the environment as possible – for example, did you know that water is used to make mobile phones? Well it is, and Gareth’s looking at how they’re not using the supply: “A lot of water is used to make the integrated circuits of mobile phones, and also to create the displays for smartphones. Figuring out how to cut usage, while still making sure there’s enough for creating the products, is not black and white…you have to be quite innovative!”
Courtney Lockyer got on the O2 apprenticeship scheme, and has been project managing the operations side of the business – all the technical stuff to do with making the phones actually function. “Of course it’s been a great experience learning about the IT side of things, but what’s been really exciting and fun about the sustainability area is getting the chance to work on something I’m passionate about!”
Why get a job in the environment?
Because, erm, you can sleep at night? And also it’s pretty fun. “Every day is varied – and there’s a huge range of jobs within the industry to get into,” says Helen, who has always wanted to work with living things – from studying Life Sciences to legally advising companies like BOC on how to comply with environmental legislation. Gareth used to be an engineer, but fell in love with the environment after studying it pretty much on a whim: “I stumbled into it… but it was like a breath of fresh air. New research is always coming out and the industry is constantly changing – plus, you’re never in the drudgery of a 9-5. There’s always something new to work on, something else to figure out, and it’s such a new profession that you’re at the forefront of inciting real change.”
So, how do you get involved? Read on for our expert’s top tips…
Don’t worry too much about picking A levels – but it’s good to have a science and a business one under yer belt
The great thing about working in the environment is that there’s a huge variety of jobs you can go into – from helping develop buildings to setting laws to hanging out in a lab inventing cool ways to be greener – but it’s always good to learn about the earth you’re saving. “Don’t get too hung up on the subject matter, but try to have at least one science subject – Biology is a good one,” says Gareth. Helen agrees, and also adds that a business A-level will help anyone looking to go green: “Most people are in this job to change something and, to do that, you’ve got to be able to talk in the language of the people that run the companies.”
Courtney did Drama, English Lit, IT and Media, but she did have a bit of business experience: “I was working with the operations team, doing the technical stuff after getting on the O2 higher apprenticeship scheme. An opportunity came up in the environment team – the line manager doesn’t come from science background either but, turns out, if you have good business sense then that can go a long way.”
Figure out what you like doing, and then see if there’s an Environment-y job that fits
Love being outdoors? Get involved in pollution control, and cleaning up contaminated areas. Good with people? Advise businesses on how they can be greener. Creative and into architecture? Help in planning stages of buildings. A bit of a thinker? Come up with policies affecting the world we live in. “From communication roles right through to the more practical, hands-on jobs, it’s a good idea to concentrate on your forte and what motivates you personally. You need to be clear which aspect of the environment you want to work in – and where your talents will be most useful,” advises Helen. For example, if you’re a writer, then you could go into Environmental PR, write for the Green Peace magazine or get a job in marketing for a huge company (like O2). Courtney knew she loved the environment – “I’m the person who walks around the office turning off lights… it really bothers me!” – so it made sense to apply her experience (in project management) to the environment team. But how do you work out what area you want to go into if you’re not sure?
Getting work experience will help you decide…
“If you’re still at school, write to local organisations to see if there are there any opportunities for work experience or shadowing – experience builds experience, and a lot of organisations are keen to get young minds in. You get a fresh perspective from young people,” says Gareth. Helen agrees: “If you just get a few weeks, or even days, in a private company, a local authority, and a consultancy, you’ll know what’s out there and what floats your boat.” Plus, when you go for entry-level jobs in Environment teams, you’ll already have that experience on your CV – which sets you apart from other candidates.
You may need some form of training at some point
Though you can work your way up vocationally, as Courtney has, it’s also a good idea to consider doing an undergraduate degree (“A few unis offer Environment and Business which is perfect” says Helen), a Masters or just a training course. “Don’t immediately plough into the industry without considering masters degrees, particularly if you did an Arts subject. I really enjoyed the course I did (the UKs first Environment phd) – try and get on a course that’s not just stuck in academia. One that incorporates as much ‘working in the real world’ as possible.” There isn’t really a set path into working in the environment industry – Helen was interested in Life Sciences, then Information Sciences, which led her to advising companies on the legalities of the Environmental Protection Act when it came to pass in 1990: “The job very quickly leaves science and becomes financial and creative problem solving, so it’s good to have business training. There’s a lot of competition and, as an employer, you get a large number of CVs so qualifications become one of the more basic distinguishing points, alongside experience.”
Work on your people skills
There are sceptics, and you’ll have to convince them that changing their plans to help the environment is a good idea. Which takes some clever manipulating. “Influencing people is important – you’ve got to make a good case to help people to understand the cost savings because not everyone’s won over,” says Helen. “You often have to gently guide them, then make them think it was their idea… that sort of thing.” Gareth agrees: “An element of creativity is needed when working with a whole host of different people across the industries. Especially people who are quite sceptical – people skills are definitely important!”
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