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Career profile: Allie Wnuk

18 Feb 09:00 by

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Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?

I have always loved the natural world. As a three year old I set up a ‘bug hospital’, made from a shoe box and tissues cut into small squares, where I would rescue injured insects from my father’s lawn mowing endeavours. I would tuck in millipedes, silverfish and cockroaches, fancying myself a great protector of the weak. 

I was further drawn into a career in sustainability because of my professors at the University of Melbourne. Much of what I imagined the life of a sustainability professional would be was my own romanticised version, but as an impressionable 20-year old I identified intensely with what I imagined. I began working in sustainability in my first year out of college, and have never looked back.

What was your first environment/sustainability job?

At age 10 I raised money for Greenpeace by selling lemons produced by our large, unpruned, hulk of a tree. I don’t know what’s in the soil of our backyard, but it should be taken to a lab and analysed. 

In terms of real jobs, I was lucky enough to be accepted into Ernst and Young’s (EY) graduate programme.

How did you get your first role?

I applied for 139 graduate positions in my penultimate year of university. I was given two interviews, one with Deloitte and one with Ernst and Young. 

This is an important lesson for those beginning their career. Businesses, no matter their size, receive dozens to thousands of resumes for graduate roles. As a graduate with little to no work experience, my personal advice is to play the ‘numbers game’ and get that neat, well structured, typo-free CV to as many potential employers as possible.

How did you progress your environment/sustainability career?

It’s been a process of generalising. I began in carbon audits, then moved to environmental audits, then impact assessment, environmental management, and am currently in sustainability management. Personally, I am always seeking to generalise, as my ultimate goal is to lead a corporate sustainability programme. 

What does your current role involve?

Everything! I have 63 targets to achieve in the project’s sustainability portfolio, which include carbon management, responsible sourcing, community investment, consents management, charity and fundraising, waste management, ISO 14001 certification, diversity & inclusion planning, CEEUQAL... It’s busy, but that’s how I like it. 

How has your role changed over the past few years?

My role changed tremendously when I moved from consulting to industry. I was working on incredible projects during my time in impact assessment (there’s nothing quite like an EIA over an Iraqi oilfield), however it become repetitive and stressful. With industry, there is a great job satisfaction as I can make tangible improvements to the business, but there are fewer opportunities to travel and the work is less varied. 

My role also changed markedly when I moved into a managerial position. One week into my new role I found myself doing very little technical work and a lot of project management - training junior team members, calculating margins and pay back periods, navigating office politics, coordinating projects and team members to ensure work was done timely and to budget. 

My role again changed again when I moved from Dubai to London, but interestingly, not as much as the first two.

What’s the best part of your work?

The best part of my job without a doubt is that working on what interests me. To be sure, not everything in my sustainability portfolio is equal in terms of my personal passions, but I feel very blessed that I am able to work on responsible sourcing, community engagement and ethical business. 

What’s the hardest part of your job?

The toughest part is that there are tens and tens of project sites and offices (London Bridge, New Cross Gate, James Forbes Hous, Waterloo...) but only one me. I often wish I could be in two or three places at once.

What was the last development/training course/event you attended?

I attended ecology training in December at our Chippenham office. It was very useful. As an Australian, my knowledge of British ecology comes almost entirely from the Animals of Farthing Wood.

What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?

I believe there are three crucial skills needed for sustainability roles:

1. Willingness to continually learn: this is where a professional body such as IEMA becomes critical. No matter where your work in sustainability may take you, you must always have a deep knowledge of your profession. This is a crucial factor to guaranteeing your success. Keep abreast of what is driving success in sustainability, understand industry trends and know your stuff! I can’t stress this enough. When you are the sole voice for sustainability in a meeting with the CEO, CFO, COO and CIO, you must have a compelling case and the knowledge to back it up.

2. Excellent organisation skills: sustainability professionals are notorious multi-taskers, often having ‘dotted lines’ to several different departments at any one time. You need to be able to develop clear goals of what is required within your work, as well as the expertise to fulfil these obligations.

3. Communication skills: it’s one thing to be good with environmental science and know your cadmium from your chromium – it’s an entirely different skill to effectively communicate your findings and recommendations during a meeting when presenting to the senior management team. The ability to read people and adapt to any given situation is a strong driver in sustainability professionals who progress.

However, that being said, when I am interviewing candidates I look for two traits, as a minimum - easy to work with and reliable. Reliability is hugely important, as sustainability roles are team based and we depend on each other.  

Where do you see the environment/sustainability profession going?

I see sustainability as an increasingly important component of a company's bottom line and corporate image. As a profession and field of study, sustainability is becoming increasingly complicated, and businesses will be relying on us for expert guidance and leadership.

I think we will start to see a greater focus on innovation. There may be more integration, where sustainability innovation is combined with current business processes to yield results. There will be increased use of software, and merging technical knowledge with cutting edge techniques to solve sustainability/environmental/CSR problems within and outside the organisation. 

Where would like to be in five years’ time?

Head of sustainability/chief sustainability officer. I like to dream big!

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

The best advice my father ever gave me is: study = pass; study hard = As. The same principle applies in life. Work hard and you will be rewarded.

The best advice my mother ever gave me is: The minimum level of civility within a work/office environment is a ‘good morning’ and a ‘good night’. Say good morning to everyone in the morning, say good evening as you leave, and even if you don’t speak another word the rest of the day, you’ll be seen as polite and cordial.

Try to work overseas for a time, especially when you are young and have fewer commitments. I will never forget my time in Dubai and Iraq. I learnt more in three years than I would have done in 10 back in Australia. It is character building, exciting, you will forge incredible friendships and you might make a pretty penny also.

CV:
•    2008 - 2011: Consultant/senior consultant, climate change and sustainability team, EY
•    2011 - 2013: senior consultant, environmental impact assessment, Coffey International
•    2013-2014: environmental manager, Lamprell Energy
•    2014 - present: sustainability specialist, Siemens

Qualifications: Chartered environmentalist, Full Member of IEMA, MEng, BSci, BComm, CEEQUAL Term contracts assessor