The push towards decarbonization of the economy has strategic implications for organizations, but we do know that the long term benefits far outweigh the short-term costs.

Shraddha Nair, our next pathbreaker, Consultant at Turner & Townsend (UK), helps clients reduce emissions by providing a proper net-zero strategy to offset carbon from their operations within a practical timeline, with specific focus on the real estate and construction industry.

Shraddha talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the diversity of problems in the field of consulting that touch upon aspects of strategy, policy, technology and economics !

For students, the sustainability sector is brimming with opportunities for those who want to take on the challenges of providing unconventional solutions to pressing environmental concerns !

Shraddha, can you take us through your background?

I grew up in a small town called Jamnagar on the southern coast of Gujarat. My parents come from a basic middle-class family, my father works in a petrochemical refinery and my mother is a homemaker. My areas of interest has always been in the sciences. I was good at mathematics though I didn’t really want to go into hardcore statistics. I was also good at writing, public speaking, leading events and similar activities. I was often involved in various sports activities such as football, cricket, handball and other indoor sports as well. I wanted to become a pilot and then a cardio-surgeon and then a scientist, particularly a climate scientist. I was deeply interested in climate change back in 2012 when all this hadn’t become a fad or a trend. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

It is interesting because even though my interests were towards the sciences, I decided to pursue engineering as my option. Although to be very honest, I was more into the physical sciences and aerospace engineering than the conventional ones. Unfortunately I couldn’t get into any of those fields, so I ended up studying electrical engineering. After that, I worked for three years in the business development and IT sector and then decided to pursue my masters in energy management. I was determined to get into the field I wanted for my masters, and so I was focused on that and got into the economics and policy of energy and climate change (which is a segment of energy management) at University of Strathclyde (MS, Economics and Policy of Energy and Climate Change)

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

It is hard to point out any one particular person or event that might have made me choose my path. It is a series of changing interests and aligning my goals according to them. I had my parents’ support to help me pursue a specific path. I am not going to lie, but I really had a very supportive friend circle. Making connections and finding good people on linkedin was another route that led me to finding my mentor who was also an energy expert. Overall, I would say my deep interest in knowing where I was going, had a deep influence on what I chose. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Tell us about your career path

My career kick-off at an industry level started with internships in between my undergraduate degree during summer vacations. I worked as an intern at a few Oil & Gas refineries to get a hang of their operations. Towards my last semester I was also involved in industrial training as a part of my curriculum at an energy company for about 6 months. My first placement was also at an engineering services distribution company as a business development engineer. Though I was at my zenith in the marketing field, my excellent communication skills paved my way into the sales division which was not exactly my forte. Hence I felt the dire need to switch my organization. So I moved as a trainee (yes started from scratch) to an IT multinational company to ‘just have a job’. I think that phase was important for me to go through for self discovery. I was very good at what I did but it was just a ‘job’ and I did not feel like I had the career I hoped for. 

So I decided to play the field in other sectors before I actually made a jump, and this jump was delayed by a year due to the pandemic, of course, but there is always a silver lining to unforeseen situations. I managed to get admission in a top ranking university in the UK and finished my masters. Now I work as a net zero/ sustainability consultant in a multinational company. 

Apart from all this, I have also worked and interned with a few startups across India, the US and Australia as a strategy and energy growth consultant. Some of these have been unpaid positions which I decided to take on so I could gain experience.

My internship position at Sinclair was through linkedin. That opportunity came about when I was reviewing state of the art technologies and policies for low carbon fuels. The founders of Save & Restore, the official distribution partner of Wise Power providing intelligent energy storage systems and specializing in energy management and solar power projects, happened to reach out to me on Linkedin as well after being connected for a few months and that is how I started helping them out. None of them was a full time role, but my exposure in those positions definitely gave my profile a boost and added to my overall experience.

I am also involved with some high level organizations across the world as policy consultant to network and build my profile. 

How did you get your first break?

I have been very active on LinkedIn since 2019 and that has helped me network with a lot of people across the globe. During my dissertation phase, I was actively applying on Linkedin for jobs and that is how I got this position.

I think the current job would be a break for me to get into the sustainability sector. I am sure more ‘breaks’ are on the way as I pivot my career path to my final goal. 

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Lack of guidance was a huge problem of course. But like I explained, that can be addressed when you go around looking for a good mentor. It is important to choose the right mentor. The moment you feel your mentor is threatened by your growth, you are at the wrong place. Leave. 

Challenge 2: Finances are always a huge problem for middle class families. Especially when your dreams are ‘international’. Planning is the key. I had to work for a few years before I could give wings to my masters’ dream to save up some money. The key to planning is to start early. Give yourself a runway and make sure you have a good support system (family, friends or loan options) who have your back if the worst were to happen. So time and good planning is the answer. 

Challenge 3: Mental health. A seldom talked about subject, yet very important. No matter what your situation is, it is important to take care of mental health. When everything seems hazy/uncertain/ unclear, you can easily suffer from anxiety and depression. The only way to crawl or swim your way out of it is to listen to what your mind and body needs. I was also lucky enough to have good friends to help me through a tough time but all their suggestions and advice would be void if you don’t help yourself first. 

Where do you work now? Tell us about your current role

I currently work at Turner & Townsend as a net-zero consultant.  Some skills you need for this position are communication, leadership, sustainability background, experience in carbon emissions accounting and policies, and strategy development. Some of these skills are accrued over the years through education and self-development, like communication and leadership. Some other skills such as carbon accounting and policies come from my higher education. Strategy development is a skill I acquired by working with various startups and understanding different products or services within a business and its ensuing needs. 

At my current job, I enjoy the fact that there is always a new challenge to take upon everyday- be it organizing a team, upskilling for a project or focusing on marketing projects or even researching a client’s requirements and proposing a built strategy to land a project.

How does your work benefit society? 

My work is focused on decarbonizing the economy with specific focus on the real estate and construction industry. Climate change is a serious issue and we are helping clients reduce emissions by providing a proper net-zero strategy on how they can reduce or offset carbon from their construction and/or operations within a practical timeline. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

I would say this was a policy brief I had to write with one other colleague on carbon taxes. It’s special to me because we researched the costs and benefits of introducing a carbon tax and its effects on the poorer sections of the society. This research also led to reflecting our opinions about the strengths of carbon tax within the policy brief. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I had mentioned about ‘playing my field’ before my jump. What I mean by that is, often when I tell people that they should test out their fields of interests and try out everything before choosing one, they say that they don’t have the resources or finances to do that. I totally understand that, but what I tell people is ‘You don’t need to buy the entire sweet shop to decide which one you want. You just try a bit from each sweet type before you buy the desired quantity of the sweet you want.’ Same is with the choice of career path. You read and acquire knowledge about your fields of interest and shortlist them. Then you go ahead and understand the work profile in those sectors. If you are unclear, then connect with people in that sector and ask them about their job profiles. That is how you get a taste of everything. All this can also be done while you have a full-time position or ongoing degree.

So, in conclusion, you don’t have to leave your job or studies to explore what you want to do. Network and reach out when you need help. Lastly, be honest with yourself.  

Future Plans?

It is interesting because I do have a lot of plans as to where I want my career to take me. Currently my plan is to work in the sustainability sector and then perhaps move into a bit more policy focused role in any of the intergovernmental organizations within the UN.