Though clean and sustainable energy is the only way forward for a healthier planet, we also need to keep in mind that even renewable energy projects can harm the environment if they are not dealt with care !
Siddhika Mohan, our next pathbreaker, Executive Sustainability at Larsen And Toubro Technology Services Ltd, works towards ensuring a sustainable growth for the company with a focus on optimal use of resources (energy, water etc).
Siddhika talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about her curiosity towards environmental problems which not only transformed into a career focused on environmental science but also shaped her PhD thesis on assessing the environmental impacts of renewable energy.
For students, whichever stream or field you choose to study in, remember that sustainability is a mindset that you can always apply in your work, be it engineering, finance or arts, to make your work more sustainable.
Siddhika, can you tell us about your background?
Hello I’m Siddhika. I spent the initial few years of my life in Bangalore after which I relocated to Mumbai. I have lived here ever since with my parents and my younger brother. My father used to work in the Reserve Bank of India and my mother is a homemaker as well as a part-time teacher. Being an introverted child, I didn’t really have any extra curricular activities though I did have a very inquisitive mind. I always liked innovation and experimentation. Since childhood, I was always attracted towards solving environmental problems faced by the world. Having a problem solving mindset, I always tried to imagine solutions to the various environmental problems that the world is facing.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I did my graduation (BSc) in chemistry followed by masters (MSc) in Environmental Science. I’m also currently doing a PhD in Environmental Science.
What were some of the influences that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
As I said previously, I was always attracted to environmental problems faced by the world. I remember myself hoping for better rains or feeling deeply about electricity problems in rural areas which led to people not getting proper treatment for their illnesses. I myself was asthmatic during my childhood and whenever I asked my mother for the reason for this disease, she used to tell me this was caused by air pollution. So, being a problem solver, I always tried to figure out different solutions to curb air pollution and solve the electricity problems of the world etc. Growing up, during my college days, I was not sure which field I wanted to make my career in, but I was quite clear that I should be able to contribute to solving the world’s problems; and the problems I was most attracted to were the problems of environment and energy.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Tell us about your career path
After my master’s in Environmental Science, I wanted to work in an NGO in order to do some ground level work. After working for one and half years in an NGO in the area of environmental research and plantation activities for several companies, I realized I was not doing very high impact work. The NGO faced a lot of funding issues. So I figured it would be better for me to work in a company or corporate where the impact of my work would be much greater.
My second job was at Terracon Ecotech Pvt. Ltd. in the sector of environmental impact assessment. We used to do an impact assessment of how much a construction project would impact the environment which is a part of the environmental legislation in India. I got to learn a lot of technical aspects about the environmental field through this job, like how to monitor air pollution, how to analyze water quality, how to monitor noise, study of geology and land use of an area, study of socioeconomic profile of an area etc. All these really developed a cause-impact mindset in me and helped me track the impact that I have in my personal life as well.
Alongside my work, I also enrolled for a PhD in Environmental Science in 2018. It was due to my learnings doing EIA that I found a problem statement for my PhD. I got to know that Renewable Energy projects in India are exempted from requiring environmental clearances. But even the construction of renewable energy projects causes environmental harm like air and noise pollution. This led to my PhD topic on assessing the environmental impacts of renewable energy.
I decided to expand my horizons beyond environmental science and switched over to a career in corporate sustainability in Larsen and Toubro Ltd. Sustainability mainly consists of 3 pillars: environmental, social and governance. So, at L&T, I not only worked on mitigating the environmental impact of the company , but also worked on specific social and human resources related issues like gender equality, safety etc, and developing policies and procedures for efficient governance within the company. This also helped me learn a lot about how a business functions and how to effectively contribute to the business alongside solving environmental and social challenges of the world, which is exactly the goal of Sustainable Development.
How did you get your first break?
This is a field having a very high demand, and so finding a job is not very difficult. Having said that, the demand is only going to increase in future, but it’s always important to stay in touch with your teachers and try to build and expand your network, which really helps in securing jobs whenever you require one; for example, my first job was referred to me by my teacher. Building a network is very important in this area as it is a small area and very few people work in this field.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: Being an introvert, I never liked people interaction much, so I always wanted to be a person who just does his/her own work and does not go beyond. But working in the field has expanded my mind and I learnt to coordinate between various departments within a company or liaison and work with government officials and clients. So, this is a field which definitely develops your communication and networking skills, and I’m glad that it helped me develop as a person.
Challenge 2: Working in this field does involve a lot of travel , many times to remote locations. So, it is important to maintain your health while travelling, which also teaches you many things like adjusting to circumstances and learning to talk to people and getting your way through people anywhere.
Challenge 3: It is a developing field, so time and again it is very important to keep updating your knowledge and keep doing the research required to perform the best in your work. One needs to keep track of the various national legislations and international frameworks and guidelines of the field. Also, this is an interdisciplinary field, so it is important to have knowledge on various things that may seem unrelated, like understanding how a business functions, understanding the financials of a company, understanding the latest news about electricity supply and demand etc. It may also require you to study some very different skills like learning an IT language, research skills etc.
Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?
I work in Larsen and Toubro Technology Services Limited
I help the company to use resources in the most optimized way. It can be any resource like energy, water based etc. I also work on reducing the emissions caused by the company along with ensuring a sustainable growth of the company.
My previous role at L&T was focused more on sustainability reporting on different areas and formulating policies and strategies around sustainability. My current role is more focused on groundwork which involves running initiatives. But on a broader level, most of my work profile is the same.
What skills are needed in your role? How did you acquire the skills?
Some basic skills that are needed for this job would be good communication, working with focus, basic awareness and common sense, being updated with world events. Technical understanding about the field of environmental science like emission calculations, water consumption calculation, data collection and analysis, and being able to present the data in a good format through reports or PowerPoint presentations or answering questions directly, are all important. Many of the skills on this job were acquired during the job. But having said that, a basic knowledge of how a business functions, technical understanding about the subject of environmental science and social science, as well as knowing the governance structure of a company would be helpful. Also basic knowledge of MS-WORD, MS-EXCEL and PowerPoint is essential.
What’s a typical day like?
Typical day usually consists of crunching numbers, doing data analytics or calling and coordinating with people for different types of data. It might also involve consulting people on initiatives within the company like developing policies, setting up procedures and improving the sustainability performance of the company.
What is it you love about this job?
I love the fact that my job is a proper representation of sustainable development, that is development that does not cause a lot of harm to the locals or the environment, but instead focuses on holistic growth.
How does your work benefit society?
Sustainable development as a word is a very subjective concept because it changes based on a case-to-case basis. You get to decide how to balance growth with environmental protection initiatives. Sustainable development is truly the way forward and the only way to make decisions which not only help mankind to grow but also help the planet to conserve its resources and help the vulnerable groups of the society to live a better life. This career is truly a culmination of finding the most optimal form of development.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Very early in my career, I was given the massive project of working on integrated reporting which is a type of sustainability report published by many companies. It is a very massive exercise and also a very important exercise for every company to report on the non-financial aspects. Working on integrated reporting involved coordination between 13 of the subsidiary companies of the conglomerate and also collaborating with at least 10 different departments of the company. Additionally, it also involved auditing and analyzing of very large chunks of data, and developing content for a 250 page report. Managing such a huge project single handedly was a difficult exercise for a less experienced person like me. But I successfully completed this project and the report was well appreciated. This exercise really pushed me to my limits and helped me realize my potential. Also, this expanded my mind and helped me develop as a person.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Whichever stream or field you choose to study in, remember that sustainability is a mindset that you can always apply in your work, be it engineering, finance or arts, to make your work more sustainable. The only question you need to ask yourself is, how will this impact the environment and the people? and what can I do to optimize it? And if you choose to make a career in sustainability, you are most welcome. We need a lot of people, also don’t worry too much about the initial struggles, it will eventually pay off and you will have a very fulfilling career.
I plan to continue my career in sustainability and also be a part-time researcher so that I can help solve the different problems in sustainability.