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Corporate careers with a conscience: challenge, success, making a difference – can you have it all?



The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has held the above conference for its students for the last few years. Heavy snow prevented me from being a panellist in 2013, so I wasn’t going to miss out this year.

The economist Nick O’Shea was in the chair and on the panel were Kene Umeasiegbu of Tesco plc, Urvi Kelkar of Impactt Ltd, Amanda Feldman of Volans, Robbie Parker of Osmosis Investment Management and yours truly.

It felt like going back 20 years walking into the New Theatre of LSE’s East Building. Academic institutions always have a distinct smell, a not wholly unpleasant mix of industrial cleaning products, linoleum, the idealism of youth and chalk.

They also bring back the memories of academic and relationship triumphs and disasters,  accompanied with the echoes of far too many examinations in stuffy halls on sweltering days in spring (1995, for those who want to know, but are too polite to ask).

I was one of the first to arrive, but the hall soon filled up. Really filled up. I was pleasantly surprised that this number of people were interested in a corporate career with conscience. It gives you hope.

O’Shea led by getting our audience to stand up and then sit down as he mentioned a salary they expected to achieved by the time they were 30. Going up in £10,000 brackets, we lost large swathes at £30,000-40,000 and I think there might have been one left standing at £50,000.

Each panellist gave a short description of what they did and how they came to have a career with conscience.

Kene Umeasiegbu is the head of climate change and sustainable sourcing at Tesco plc. He studied geology at a Nigerian university where oil giant Shell funded a research team. After the various Niger Delta spills, his conscience wouldn’t let him work in the oil and gas industry so he moved over into environmental geology. He started out volunteering with and then working for AIESEC, an international not-for-profit organisation that provides students with leadership training and internship opportunities, before entering the corporate world at Cadbury. His interest in climate change triggered a move to the Carbon Trust and then Tesco in late 2013.

Urvi Kelkar is senior project manager of Impactt Ltd, a consultancy specialising in human rights, labour standards, gender and international development. Before joining Impactt in 2008, she volunteered in Mumbai and, like Umeasiegbu, worked with AIESEC. She has also worked with our friends at Forum for the Future.

Amanda Feldman is director of impact and innovation at Volans, a consultancy founded by John Elkington of SustainAbility fame.  She volunteered with the American Legacy Foundation, a not-for-profit dedicated to preventing teen smoking and encouraging smokers to quit. She joined Volans in 2009, working on social innovation with global businesses, government leaders and entrepreneurs.

Robbie Parker is an analyst at Osmosis Investment Management, having graduated from LSE in 2012. Osmosis is an investment manager focused on finding best-in-class sustainable investment opportunities. The firm played a role in drafting parliament’s resource efficiency agenda.

Running through the many excellent points and amusing anecdotes was the panellists’ desire to make a positive difference. Volunteering was a regular theme for three of the five. Umeasiegbu recommended getting a mentor (his “calmed [his] radicalism”) and similar to this was the need to surround yourself with people of similar values who can support you in your career.

Meanwhile, Feldman stressed the importance of a life outside work and that travel really does open the mind. Her move from activist, where corporates were the “bad guys”, to someone who helps them transform is common.

While working with a variety of corporates, she was asked to sit on a panel with a representative from tobacco giant Philip Morris (despite having protested against the industry in an earlier life). But rather than criticise its practices and products, she was told to imagine the firm using its expertise to deliver vital drugs to those most in need, in an effort to reframe its mission.

To effect change, Umeasiegbu uses a ‘five C’ framework. You need connections who you can influence and use for support, a context (or platform) for leveraging change such as working for Tesco, credibility from your experience and expertise, confidence to deliver your message and capabilities.

It was pointed out in the question and answers session that you need to decide whether you want to make a big difference in a small company or small difference in a big company. Both are valid approaches, but the former means you may miss out on the training and networking opportunities that large corporates can more easily afford.

The clear benefit is you have a large context to effect change. The latter probably means not using your degree, if it’s in a pure environmental/sustainability fields, until you have built up some connections, experience and status. The clear benefit is you will be more hands on.

One person asked if you needed technical skills in climate science and sustainability. Umeasiegbu pointed out, “The higher you go in sustainability, the less technical skills you need.” He added you just need to know where to go to get the information you need.

For my part, I stated that the best advice I had ever been given was “to not be afraid to be fired” or to walk out of a job. I have excelled at the latter, often finding the ethics and decisions of management falling far short of the level I had been taught at business school. This included being told to promote financial products that were inappropriate for customers, firing good people whose face simply didn’t fit, restructuring for the sake of restructuring and working with senior executives with no apparent moral compasses.

Coming late to sustainability while working for a Cambridge-based research house that profiled fast-growth clean technology companies, I saw the existential threat of climate change and the role of investment in addressing that threat. This was the genesis of Blue & Green Tomorrow.

What my troubled existence in the corporate world did teach me, though, were the commercial skills to run a business and the strengths and weaknesses of corporations. Most corporations are blundering about in the dark when it comes to sustainability, with positive change sabotaged by the short-term self-interested fear of shareholders, ill-informed executives and middle managers.

The panel represented a small slice of the people changing those companies from within, helping them from without through consultancy or investment or starting a magazine that highlights the heroes (and occasionally names the villains).

The answer to the question, “Can you have a corporate career with conscience?” is clearly a resounding yes. It is by no means the easiest or most straightforward career path, but it’s certainly the most worthwhile and fulfilling.

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of

Further reading:

We need more people with complete sustainability literacy

Students, universities and fossil fuels: divestment campaign comes to UK

Stepping down from the sustainability soapbox

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.


New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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