Climate Resilience, Energy, Environment, ESG, Sustainability, Sustainable Legacies

Thinking of starting a career in sustainability, or moving into a new role in the industry? Seven of our recent starters — both graduates and seasoned consultants from our Carbon & ESG team — share their experiences and useful advice on entering the industry.

With so many paths to choose from, navigating a new career in sustainability can be daunting. That’s why seven of recent starters in AECOM’s Carbon & ESG team — are keen to share their personal experiences to help others entering the field.

Whether you’re wrapping up your studies or thinking about switching careers, we hope these stories and tips will inspire and guide you towards a new career in sustainability. As you’ll see, their diverse backgrounds and routes into this sector demonstrate that there is no single path to success.

Below, they have answered some commonly asked questions to help you navigate your own career path.

First, who are the Carbon & ESG team and what do they do?

Our Carbon & ESG team, comprising 70 consultants in offices across the United Kingdom and Ireland, has been advising infrastructure, energy and industrial clients on sustainability and governance issues for over two decades.

Through our work, we enhance the resilience of businesses and projects, with a special focus on achieving net zero carbon, fostering climate resilience, advocating for the circular economy, promoting social equality, and creating positive social outcomes.

What experience is required to begin a career in sustainability consulting?

Career growth in our field doesn’t have to follow a fixed path; in fact, we value and embrace diverse experiences and backgrounds.

Many of the team members have specialised in sustainability, climate change and carbon studies, while others have backgrounds in broader environmental sciences like geography, biology and geology. We also have colleagues who have joined from specialist fields.

For example, Sustainability Consultant Lizzie Holmes studied biological sciences and worked in forestry for two years before completing a master’s degree in climate change science and policy.

“Subject-specific knowledge is obviously useful, but I think life experience can be a massive help for getting into roles,” says Lizzie.

Adam Bavington, a graduate sustainability consultant, echoes the importance of having versatile experience.

“The current graduate market is saturated with talented individuals so it’s important to stand out with real-life, transferable skills,” says Adam. “For me, these included skills from sports leadership roles, part-time work, and even voluntary work.”

Graduate Becca Payling credits her involvement in extracurricular activities, such as chairing her university’s environmental society and copyediting for a student-led magazine, as providing a strong foundation for her career.

While technical skills and knowledge certainly matter, possessing leadership and organizational skills — coupled with a passion for positive social and environmental change — is equally crucial in forging a successful career in sustainability consulting.

How does AECOM support new starters?

One of the ways we support graduate new starters is by enrolling them in ADVANCE, our early careers development program. This initiative is designed to smoothly transition graduates into the professional environment, while providing them with ample opportunities to network with colleagues across different teams throughout the UK and Europe.

Natalie Bell, another graduate sustainability consultant, joined AECOM after completing her Master of Science in carbon management at the University of Edinburgh. Despite her limited industry experience, she found it was an easy shift from academia to a corporate environment.

“One of the biggest benefits of working at AECOM is the variety of projects that you get to work on,” says Natalie. “It really gives you a sense of how broad the team is and helps you recognise your strengths, and the route you’d like to follow.”

Meanwhile, sustainability consultant Christopher Williams came to AECOM with two years’ experience from a small ESG advisory firm in South Africa.

“It was a big change moving to a much larger company (let alone in a different country). But it has impressed me how welcoming and supportive the team has been,” says Christopher. “I have had the opportunity to use the skills from my previous job — but also to grow and explore new facets of sustainability.”

What skills are necessary for a career in sustainability consulting?

Since joining the team, they have all learned new technical skills and refined existing ones — ranging from specialist software for life cycle assessments to analysing climate change projections.

But it’s not just about the technical know-how. As you enter this field, consider how you manage your time and the way you communicate with others as both these skills will be crucial.

Henry Rousham, who joined AECOM in 2022 as a graduate air quality consultant before transitioning to the Carbon & ESG team as a sustainability consultant, explains that because of the variety of tasks he could be working on for multiple clients at any given time, he’s been able to develop and nurture these skills on the job.

In this fast-paced, evolving industry, we are continually learning, no matter our career level. Therefore, we also recommend that those considering starting a new career in sustainability should stay abreast of the latest policies and regulations. This will help you understand how current and future trends relate to the challenges and opportunities of private and public organizations.

What does a typical day involve as a sustainability consultant?

Given the dynamic nature of consultancy work, no two days are the same at AECOM. One day you might be involved in meetings with stakeholders and carrying out technical project work; the next day you could be working on proposal writing and business development.

Working within a multidisciplinary team also means you’ll get to regularly collaborate with experts from different fields — enriching your experience and broadening your perspective.

“Every day I come to work and feel stretched (in the best way possible) and know that I still have so much to learn,” says Meegan Worcester, who joined AECOM in October 2023 as a graduate sustainability consultant. “It is such a fast-paced industry, which not only makes it exciting to learn more on-the-go, but it also allows me to try a bit of everything and figure out what I want to specialise in later in my career.”

For Christopher, his role at AECOM brings daily fulfilment.

“It is rewarding to know that I am part of a team helping nationally significant infrastructure projects becoming more sustainable.”

How does AECOM support professional growth and work-life balance?

Our Carbon & ESG team delivers a broad range of services for clients in different sectors, which allows the team members to recognise their strengths, what they most enjoy working on and identify the route they would like to follow to achieve their career aspirations.

Members of the team with a particular interest in circular economy, for example, have had the opportunity to participate in projects such as engaging with organisations across different industry sectors regarding circular economy best practice, or facilitating quarterly meetings with the Forum for Circular Economy.

Additionally, AECOM’s Freedom to Grow framework provides the flexibility to work in the way our teams feel most productive and energised. As well as enabling new starters to reach their full potential, this initiative opens opportunities for new them to work in different offices, expanding their networks within the company.

“Coming from a smaller company, joining AECOM has taught me how to work in a much bigger, more varied and dynamic team,” reflects Christopher. “It has also broadened my technical sustainability skillset, building above and beyond my previous experience.”

He adds that AECOM’s emphasis on Freedom to Grow offers him flexibility when he needs to balance his work and personal commitments.

What about extra-curricular activities and social events?

Whether you’re into running and five-a-side football or boardgames, book clubs and weekly wellness walks, there are extracurricular activities for everyone at AECOM. Engaging in these activities not only allows you to pursue personal interests but also helps to expand your network within the company.

Each of our 16 offices across the UK and Ireland has a dedicated Green Team, which coordinates environment-friendly initiatives such as promoting active travel or taking part in Veganuary.

Lizzie, Henry and Becca each co-lead their respective office Green Teams and share that this has been a good way to network beyond their team, including the other businesses in the office building as well as the wider community.

AECOM also encourages employees to use two paid Social Value Days annually, enabling them to give back to their communities — from volunteering at a local charity to giving a talk on the valuable work our teams are doing. The choice is ultimately up to you how you spend these hours, so have a think about the causes that you’re passionate about and have a look at opportunities in your local area. You never know what you might find!

Get ready to make a difference

We hope these experiences from our new starters have helped shed a light on the opportunities open to you in this expansive and varied field — as well as given you an insight into the day-to-day workings of our Carbon and ESG team.

As sustainability consulting becomes increasingly vital in today’s world, remember that success in this career is not just about technical expertise. Effective communication and time management skills paired with an openness to continual learning are also key.

Keep these points in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to making a meaningful impact in the world of sustainability.

To explore current opportunities at AECOM, click here and for graduate opportunities, click here. Read more on how we’re helping our clients build Sustainable Legacies.

Originally published May 2, 2024

Author: AECOM Editors