My career: Nicola Stopps
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Founder and director of Simply Sustainable
Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?
Having been brought up in rural Wales, my early life was intrinsically linked with the environment and the elements that can have an impact on it, be that the recession of the 1980s or changes in weather patterns. I passionately believe large organisations have the resources – financially and intellectually – to tackle some of the most significant environmental and social issues.
What was your first environment/sustainability job?
My first job after I graduated from my master’s was with SLR Consulting. It was a small environmental consultancy at the time, but growing fast. I was lucky; they gave me an opportunity to work on a variety of issues and trusted me to get a job done.
How did you get your first role?
I sent out more than a thousand speculative letters and CVs to environmental consultancies and got one reply. Luckily I got the job!
How did you progress your environment/sustainability career?
I always wanted to be smart with my career and ensure I kept as many doors open to me as possible. Hence, I have a good mix between consultancy and working in-house with large companies. Using the principles of environmental management – identify significant issues and tackle them methodically – I started developing corporate responsibility strategies and programmes for large firms. Undertaking these strategies in a scientific manner has set me apart and ensured their social and business impact is measured rigorously.
What does your current role involve?
In 2011, I founded Simply Sustainable, a sustainability and corporate responsibility consultancy. From the years of working in-house and employing consultants, I knew what good and bad consultancy looked like. My consultancy is extremely varied, working for companies such as Costa, EE, DHL, Manchester’s Airport Group, British American Tobacco and Interserve. In any one week, I may be conducting face-to-face stakeholder interviews, examining environmental trends across the globe, writing corporate social responsibility reports and developing an environmental strategy with a finance director.
How has your role changed over the past few years?
There is a growing acknowledgement that organisations need to be sustainable – that is future-proofed for wider trends such as climate change, population increase, and digitally enabled lifestyles. I am now working with my client’s strategy departments to understand how these will have an impact on their organisation.
What’s the best and hardest parts of your work?
Working with my clients and seeing them become more sustainable and responsible. We hear a lot about firms that are very developed in this area, but there are many large organisations that still find it challenging. Setting up the consultancy was not easy. To be candid, putting on the line the livelihood of my family was terrifying. I know keeping my stress levels down is essential to the success of my business. I run at least five miles a day to keep this at bay.
What was the last training course/event you attended and what did you bring back to your job?
A highly technical day on how the CRC, the EU emissions trading system and climate change agreements connect. I brought back a clear understanding of the different schemes and how they have changed.
What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?
Positivity and a wide-ranging knowledge of corporate responsibility and sustainability issues. This is what clients value.
Where do you see the environment/sustainability profession going?
A linear career path is a thing of the past. As a profession, we need to embrace and expect changing patterns of employment, such as part-time working and freelancing. We need to be prepared to adapt, otherwise we are going to have a vast resource of experienced and educated professions left out of the marketplace. Many institutions are out of step with this and treat freelancers and those who don’t choose a linear career as second-class citizens. I am passionate this should change.
Where would like to be in five years’ time?
Continuing to consult for my clients on sustainability and corporate responsibility matters.
What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?
If I can give any advice for people starting in a new environmental role: walk into the office with a smile on your face, be the first to help out and learn – you should never stop learning.
BA, MSc, AIEMA
2011 to now founder and director, Simply Sustainable
2009–10 head of corporate responsibility, T-Mobile UK
2008–09 environmental consultant, AEA Technology
2008 corporate responsibility manager, T-Mobile UK
2007–08 director of sustainability, Travelodge
2004–07 environmental manager, DHL
2002–04 environmental coordinator, BBC
2000–02 environmental consultant, SLR Consulting
1999 environmental consultant, Watton Produce
1995–98 climate change research assistant, University of Exeter
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