Inside story

1st December 2017

Jess Kennedy MIEMA CEnv tells Transform how sustainability became her career choice

I have never had a career plan, and, growing up, thought I would become a teacher. However, living with a veggie patch and compost heap in the backyard, my dad being an environmental economist, and watching episodes of The Good Life, a sustainable way of life felt like the norm.

Variety is the spice of life

An interest in the environment and science drew me to study environmental engineering at the University of Melbourne. However, I also loved music and the arts, so I did a bachelor of arts as part of a double degree, throwing in cinema studies and criminology.

Try before you buy

Early on in the course, I began to question whether it was for me. This led to two work experience placements, both of which I greatly enjoyed and convinced me I was on the right path. One of these also led to my first graduate role as an environmental consultant at Parsons Brinckerhoff (now WSP) in Melbourne.

Know your craft

My first projects gave me a good grounding in environmental management and environmental impact assessment (EIA). I worked on the largest EIA at the time in Melbourne, assessing the affects of a capital dredging campaign in Port Phillip Bay. This meant getting to grips with the science and new research needed to understand the potential impacts on the marine environments and species.

I was given the opportunity to ‘jump ship’ and work directly for the client, Port of Melbourne Corporation. This gave me invaluable clientside experience, and meant I worked with many leading environmental consultancies in Melbourne.

Do what you enjoy and you are more likely to succeed

While I was happy in my role, I had always wanted the experience of living in another country. I travelled for six months through Europe, finally arriving in London. After six weeks of sleeping on friends’ floors, I started work as a sustainability consultant at Arup.

Ten years on, I am now an associate in Arup’s sustainability consulting team, leading our work in corporate sustainability strategy and reporting. Much of my job involves helping my clients understand their environmental and social risks and opportunities, setting targets for improvement and putting in place programmes to achieve them.

The time has flown by, owing to the variety of projects and clients I have been lucky enough to work with, including The Crown Estate, the BBC, and Crossrail. I particularly value the long-term partnering relationships I have developed with my clients.

There is also a creative element to strategy development. One of my most interesting projects was to facilitate the partnership Wild West End, bringing together property owners in London’s West End to increase the amount of green space and achieve associated benefits to wellbeing and biodiversity.

Never stop learning

Sustainability is constantly evolving, so you need to be continually learning. As a generalist, my job requires me to have a level of knowledge across a wide breadth of issues. I attend lots of lunchtime and evening sessions, plus global forums to interact with experts in a variety of fields. Industry bodies such as IEMA and the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) provide a rich source of learning and guidance.

Make work work for you

My other passion is music, and I play and write in the band Beatrix Players. Balancing music with my environmental career can be challenging, however, I greatly value the ability to do both. Arup’s policy of flexible working has meant I have been able to work part-time to fulfil my musical ambitions. Finding the right work/life balance and being adaptable to changing priorities throughout your career is important for success.

Looking to the future

There are many reasons to be hopeful about a more sustainable future – we have the knowledge, and the technology and means are fast evolving. However, what is much needed is a positive and collective vision, and the political and cultural will to get us there.


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