Businesses contribute to most environmental issues. Hence, an effective way to reduce environmental challenges would be to help businesses in their sustainability journey by developing strategies around circularity, emission reduction, transparent reporting etc.

Archana Patnaik, our next pathbreaker, works as a Management Consultant in the Responsible Value Chain team of Accenture.

Archana talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about a project that she did on green buildings that drew her towards a career in sustainability management after doing her bachelors in Civil Engineering.

For students, as sustainability is an evolving field, even ideas and solutions around sustainability problems are evolving based on new innovations in science and technology !

Archana, your background?

I was born in Bramhapur, and I grew up in Bhubaneswar, Odisha. When I was in 9th grade, we were introduced to a new subject – Environmental Studies. Being an ICSE student with 12 subjects to study (and I know ICSE students will agree with me!), a new addition was not good news. But you are in school, and you need marks to score the almighty 90! So, I studied the subject and was quite intrigued. The world is facing so many environmental problems and we humans are causing most of them. Pondering on this, caused a tiny spark but not quite enough to set fire. In 2007, while I was in 11th grade, I watched the space shuttle carrying Astronaut Sunita Williams landing on Earth from the International Space Station (ISS). I was glued to the news watching every moment of her shuttle landing. Seeing her in an astronaut suit and getting to go and come back from outer space, was super cool! I was deeply interested in Space Science and was doing all my research on how to become an astronaut.

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I did my B.Tech in Civil Engineering and MBA in Sustainability Management

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

As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to be an astronaut and I had done all the research on the career path needed to become one!  It was something like, study aerospace engineering, go abroad to the US for MS in aerospace and then become a scientist and try my best to get into NASA and in a few years, into the International Space Station. Such were my aspirations! I appeared for all the engineering entrance exams. I didn’t get Aerospace, the second option was Mechanical – yes, didn’t get that either. I really thought about another way – Get into Civil, MS in Geology, become a geologist and hopefully go to Mars (there were some studies around Martian soil during that time). I studied Civil Engineering. When I was in the first or second year, Sunita Williams visited India. She was all over the news. Again, I was glued to the television. I watched all her interviews, read all the articles about her. The gist of most of her interviews was how mesmerizing Earth looked from space and the urgent need to protect it as there is no Planet B. The flickering tiny spark was now a little brighter. Studying and solving the environmental problems faced by the planet made much more sense. The spark had turned into fire!

In my 3rd year, I chose and worked on a project on Green Buildings. I loved working on the project and researching more on environmental aspects. It was super interesting! During this time, I really thought about making a career in Environment Sustainability. Hence, after my graduation, I pursued an MBA in Sustainability Management.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted?

  1. I did my internship from a start-up firm in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I worked on process transformation of a credit union, writing funding proposals and researching innovative ideas around sustainability.
  2. I got my first job with CTRAN Consulting as an Associate Consultant in Bhubaneswar. During this stint, I worked on a project on Preparation and Prioritizing Water use Mechanisms for Sustainable Usage of Water and Development of Integrated District Irrigation and Agriculture Plan (IDIAP). This was a Department of International Development (DFID) aided project and we worked in close association with Department of Water Resources, Government of Odisha. The aim of this project was to assist the Department of Water Resources and related departments of Government of Odisha to formulate alternate planning mechanisms to improve the existing water use of the departments. As a team member, I was responsible for literature review, stakeholder consultation with farmers, liasoning with Govt. officials, data collection, field visits, site surveys and support in preparation of Water Use Report (assessment of the current usage pattern of irrigation from both surface and ground water sources), Strategy report, DIAP Report (a guiding document for bringing in policy changes, transformation in operational aspects of irrigation and agriculture sector), a toolkit (a type of manual which will provide guidelines to initiate the planning process to be implemented in all other districts).
  1. After a year, I joined a start-up Think-though Consulting (TTC) as an Associate Consultant in New Delhi. The work I did here was a bit different from my previous job where my main stakeholders were Govt. departments. Here, I got an opportunity to work with various corporate clients on a variety of projects around sustainability reporting, strategy, and assurance. My primary tasks involved creation of proposals, consultations with corporate stakeholders, creation of data templates for sustainability reports, data collection and analysis, preparation of sustainability reports, roadmap, and strategy. I had the privilege to directly work with professionals having 30-35 years of experience in the environment sustainability space. The team was great, and the learning was good. This experience pretty much propelled my career.
  1. After a couple of years working in TTC, I joined Grant Thornton as a Senior Consultant and got promoted to Assistant Manager after a year. I worked on an end-to-end execution of a sustainability reporting assignment for beverage company. Right from the planning stage (creating proposals, workplan and negotiations with client on pricing and timelines) to execution stage (managing client expectations, understanding data requirements, creating data collection templates, data collection and analysis and writing the report) to final delivery (incorporating client feedback and any required changes). I also worked with a logistics client on a Greenhouse gas (GHG) inventorization and emission reduction assignment.
  1. Currently I am working as a Consultant in the Responsible Value Chain team of Accenture.

How did you get your first break?

As I had worked for an international firm, I was really hoping this experience would help in getting a good job. I was a fresher and had a study loan and was really losing hope after getting rejected from companies. Because of the expensive fees of MBA, you always have a six-digit salary figure in mind. That wasn’t happening at all. So, one day I decided to be open to all kinds of opportunities irrespective of salary. I needed to gain experience. On the day of my graduation, I got my first break.

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

Being from one of the first batches of Sustainable Management in India, it was quite tough to get a job. Sustainability is quite niche, and it was difficult to convince companies as to how you can make a difference. I kept an open mind and was ready to take any offer that comes my way. I needed the relevant experience.

Where do you work now? 

I am currently working as a management consultant in the Responsible Value Chain team of Accenture.

How does your work benefit society? 

Businesses contribute to most environmental issues. An effective way to reduce the environmental challenges would help businesses become sustainable. I assist businesses in their sustainability journey by developing strategies around circularity, emission reduction, transparent reporting, etc.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

I read a lot of biographies when I was growing up. My greatest inspiration from these books came from the anecdotes about rejections and failures and how the protagonist overcome them. 

My advice is – Please don’t get disappointed by rejections and failures. They are the stepping stones and not the stumbling blocks. When I look back at my professional journey of 5 years, I am happier about the things that didn’t work out than by the things that did. When you write your biography, these very failures and rejections would be great anecdotes and inspire a lot of people contributing to millions of sold copies!

Enjoy the journey. Be open to possibilities! 

Future Plans?

Sustainability is a field that is constantly evolving. I wish to learn more concepts and apply them in real-world situations. I sincerely hope to excel at what I’m doing and make a difference.