My career: Graeme Heyes

11th August 2016

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  • CPD ,
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  • Training


Jonathan Lee

Sustainability research associate, retail

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?

I studied environmental science at undergraduate level; however, like many graduates I fell into an unrelated career (pensions management). After building a career in this area, I decided to return to a field in which I held a true passion and in which I through I would be able to make a difference.

What was your first environment/sustainability job?

Internships aside, my first sustainability role was as the lead of the environment team at Keep Britain Tidy, following my MSc degree.

How did you get your first role?

Originally employed as a project manager, I proactively sought to join the environment team as the liaison to my department. My education in the field, my passion for the role, and my membership with IEMA saw me quickly become the lead of environment group, once the position became available.

How did you progress your environment/sustainability career?

Mass redundancy following government cuts saw my time at Keep Britain Tidy cut short; however, contacts made during my MSc enabled me to begin a PhD with a multinational retailer who were looking to quantify the carbon impact of their operations, and develop alternative sustainable business models to help them succeed in a low carbon society.

What does your current role involve?

Having completed my PhD, I have recently been appointed by a major retailer as a consultant to move their supply chains towards sustainability by 2025. This is a research associate role based at Manchester University. I am also looking to develop my own consultancy in which I can advise organisations on how they too may be able to develop and implement sustainable business models.

What’s the best part of your work?

As a research associate, I particularly enjoy the fact that I am able to contribute to academic theory, whilst at the same time helping businesses to actively engage with the sustainability challenge. This approach means that I have awareness of the latest sustainability theory, whilst also having the practical skills to implement such knowledge in organisations.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Academia can be a testing role with great workloads and multiple competing priorities. This means I have to constantly plan and prioritise each day to ensure that I am meeting deadlines and delivering quality work.

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

Inter-personal skills for engaging with stakeholders in different organisations are vital, particularly since there still exists some scepticism as to the threat posed by climate change and peak oil. Being able to understand the complexity of these issues and the ability to communicate them clearly is crucial.

Where do you see the environment/sustainability profession going?

I think that the profession is only going to grow in importance in the future, especially following COP21 in Paris last year. Particularly I can see the professionals needing to understand how their organisations can holistically transition towards sustainability through radically new business models, rather than looking to implement sustainability via largely business-as-usual approaches.

Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

I have now worked with two multinational retailers in sustainability roles. In this time I have learned much, and would like to be in a position where I can actively support the entire sector in its pursuit of sustainable development in the future.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

Read, read, read. There is so much information out there that can be applied to those working in sustainability that can be an inspiration as to how you can achieve in your own company. For example, I have a number of Twitter search feeds set up which I check each morning to ensure I am abreast of the latest developments in my industry.

How do you use IEMA's environmental skills map?

I have included a copy of the skills map with my CV in the past to demonstrate how I currently possess many of the skills required for sustainability roles. Likewise, the map acts as a useful framework to identify skills gaps I do have and to seek out training opportunities to close those gaps.


PhD in sustainable business model architecture/MSc environmental management and sustainable development/BSc environmental science/IEMA graduate member


Manchester University/major retailer: 2015-present

Manchester Metropolitan University/World Duty Free Group: 2012-2015

Keep Britain Tidy: 2010-2012

Business in the Community: 2010 (internship)

Groundwork Cheshire Trust: 2009 (internship)

Sodexo Limited: 2007-2009


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