Spotlight Series: Q&A with Nishita, Freelance Communications Consultant

We chat to Communications and Public Relations Consultant Nishita about her experiences moving between public, private and third-party sectors within international law, politics and infrastructure

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background? 

I am an Australian Indian, born in Delhi and raised in Sydney.

I hold a Bachelors of Social Science and a Masters of Human Rights, Law & Policy and have over six years’ consultancy experience from the public, private and third-party sectors, primarily working in politics, international law and infrastructure.  

Since moving to London in July 2019, I have been a freelance PR/Comms Consultant. At present, I work for an infrastructure consultancy, Schofield Lothian as an Engagement Consultant. 

Can you tell me about your career in public relations, particularly your projects on social impact and ethical trading? What inspired you to take on this work?

As a Business and Human Rights Consultant, I worked on lobbying pharmaceutical companies in China to re-consider the supply chains and ethical trade. In my current role, I work within a strong Social Values rhetoric when developing consultation and engagement strategies for my clients. 

I was inspired to take on this role after many years of managing public relations as a Special Adviser to senior cabinet ministers in the New South Wales Government in Australia. 

Community participation and inclusion is key to everything we do irrespective of the sector. 

After leaving politics and moving to London, I was determined to make it a career path and feel rather blessed to combine my love for PR/Comms with sustainability in the infrastructure space. 

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

I would have to say my gig in Delhi straight after my masters. I was a Human Rights Adviser to the Secretary of Women of Child Development. I was not entirely sure what I had signed up for, however, I knew it was something I was incredibly passionate about. Being a NRI and working for the government was not a walk in the park to say the least. Despite the challenges at the time, it has shaped my resilience in driving collaborative PPP strategies in all the projects I have worked on. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to pursue a ‘niche’ career path? Has it been challenging? 

I was fortunate not to have any backlash. I grew up in a very liberal family and I was always supported and encouraged to follow my own path. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I have been playing my part by limiting the use of plastic, being a vegetarian for over 10 years and buying most of my produce from local farmers markets. 

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

It’s hard to answer this question, however I think perspective is key when thinking about what the community stands for. Education is always an effective method to decrease ‘the blockers’. 

Being carbon conscious in a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

Again, I think educating the community can go a long way. Sustainability and carbon conscious have become such buzz words these days that it has, in some ways, lost meaning. I strongly believe having a breakdown of what these terms mean in the context of day-to-day practices will help increase overall awareness and encourage the community to be active participants.  

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?

Speak to people who have the role that you would like to see yourself in the near future, understand your strengths and develop the skills you need to work towards that position. Ask questions, reach out and establish the support system you need to get into the broad sector. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

My Grandfather was my inspiration, motivation and influenced my life in many ways. He was an electrical engineer and worked on major infrastructure projects across Asia, Europe and the Middle East. He did not go to university, however, he was a testament of hard work, resilience and determination.

Connect with Nishita on LinkedIn

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Pralish Satyal, Robotics Engineering Undergraduate.

We spoke with Pralish, Mechatronics and Robotics Undergraduate, with a keen interest in eco-engineering

What is your ethnic and academic background?

I was born in Nepal in 2000 and was raised there till the age of 5, after which I came to the UK. I have been living in the UK since 2005 and while I have adapted mostly to British culture, I still consider myself to be Nepali. I’m currently in my second year at University studying Mechatronics and Robotics Engineering!

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

My father works in human geography and has been a large influence on my feelings towards climate change and sustainability. I try my best not to use anything I don’t need and  try to reduce my waste. My mother would always tell me to eat all my dinner and to not throw any of it away, keep to short showers and to not waste any water. I felt a natural inclination to follow these patterns, especially after seeing the necessity of these commodities back in Nepal.

One major catalyst was in fact one time when I went back to Nepal. I had seen young children playing on the street by a pile of burning plastic bags. This struck my heart as I was worried for the safety of the children (with the thick, toxic, black smoke) as well as for the environment. 

Can you tell me about your academic career so far and any sustainability research you’re working on? How does it all link to robotics?

My academic career so far has been quite eventful. We’ve learnt about sustainability and ethics and I have already formed my own beliefs as an engineer. Engineering is a process in which we create products to better society. How can we do this without thinking about the impacts to society and the environment? 

In our course, we’ve learnt about things such as the product life cycle and how we can go about certain ways when it comes to manufacturing devices to make them more sustainable. We also must consider other factors such as the materials used, the direct and indirect impact to the environment and whether all these factors can lead to the positives outweighing the negatives of manufacturing that product. 

One example I’d like to think about improving is mobile phones. Companies nowadays are prioritising sales of newer devices every two years as opposed to the impact on the environment. We see such an incentive for people to buy new phones that are slightly upgraded every two years – but what do we do with the older devices? A lot of this process could be made circular, however the easier solution that a large proportion of people follow, is unfortunately to dispose of the phone. This is also due to the fact that some phones are designed to be such a closed system that it might appear cheaper to just buy a new phone, than to simply replace that one component to improve or fix the device (take the iPhone 11 as an example).

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

For 19 years of my life, I always assumed that successes and learnings were purely to do with academia. It was only recently that I realised this was a skewed view. I’ve learnt from my friends and family that not everything you learn in life will be from the classroom – this is also true about sustainability. While we do brush up on the importance of sustainability in some of our lectures, I learnt a whole lot more from the internet, social media and talking to my father. It’s an area which I feel is very important and should be prioritised for the future.

I’ve been quite passionate about sustainability for a while and have practically used some of the electronics knowledge I’ve learnt to build my own C02 monitor. It tracks how much carbon dioxide is being output in a given area, per length of time. This has helped me monitor how much carbon emissions I’m producing when, for example, cooking or using any appliances. I’ve been able to also monitor outside in the mornings how much Carbon Dioxide we produce, e.g. when people are leaving and going to work.

Diagram

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Prototype C02 Monitor on a breadboard
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C02 Monitor soldered onto a PCB Board

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I’ve started noticing how all the little things can have a larger impact down the line. For example, while it may seem like a small thing, having a slightly shorter shower (from 10 minutes to 5 minutes) daily can have a much larger impact on water usage for the whole year when you consider how many showers you and your family have per year.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I think that within the South Asian community, we simply prioritise different issues in life. For first generation immigrants their priority might be about adapting to the place that they live in – sustainability is unlikely to be their focus. If we are discussing the South Asian community within the region of South Asia, it might also be the case of prioritising the more short-term evident impactful things in life. Sustainability in the moment might not seem like something to prioritise however it can have major impacts down the line (if we do nothing). In South Asia, people might be focussing on more relevant issues to them for example, working, living, trying to keep up with the bills. Sustainability might not even cross their minds, as these daily survival issues would naturally be prioritised.

Why should all engineers engage with sustainable methods and responsible supply chains? How can they best be engaged?

Sustainable methods are important for engineers as we are tasked with creating and manufacturing the many products which society inevitably will use. While it might seem that they are the small parts of a larger process, each engineer should take a moral duty to consider the sustainability in their methods. For example, a process in which we might obtain energy through oil. To obtain oil, we may have to do fracking. This isn’t a sustainable process in obtaining energy for the planet since there is only a finite amount of oil on the planet, and the method of obtaining this oil isn’t sustainable itself – energy is wasted to obtain energy, finite oil is obtained which will eventually run out and a lot of land is degraded for this to occur. 

Engineers could consider more sustainable solutions, like obtaining energy in a completely different way (i.e. HEP, solar energy etc). Engineers have a moral obligation to consider societal impacts, impacts to the environment and the sustainability of their processes, as their methods will have large collective impacts on us all.

How do you see sustainability fitting into your future career choice? What kind of job would you like?

If I’m completely honest, I’m not exactly sure what I want to work in or what field. However, what I do know is this…  I’d love to work for a company where I know they take sustainability and their impacts to society seriously. I’d love to be in a position where I could help others to be more sustainable and to ensure that this happens. Due to this, I do have the ambition of running my own company in Robotics/AI/Electronics/Manufacturing where I know I’d be able to oversee this.

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Srini Sundaram

We caught up with Srini, CEO and Founder of Agvesto, a platform to mobilise parametric insurance and climate investments worldwide. 

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I was born in India and have lived in the UK since the early 2000s. I hold a doctorate in Electrical Engineering. 

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share? 

I am passionate about natural resources and how we as a community are using them. With climate change posing challenges to the communities worldwide, sustainability is a topic that dominates every country’s policy, objectives and implementation programmes. 

For me personally, an ability to transform a community using a business idea is fascinating and most of my startup businesses have had strong focus in micro-finance, poverty alleviation and sustainability.  

When I grew up, I noticed how monsoon season cyclones can destroy communities who have very little protection for their livelihood. As a result, the children especially face huge disruption in their education and it is something that struck me about the need to create resilience for everyone.

Can you tell me a bit about your work in the agricultural/ insurance industry via Agvesto? 

Agvesto started with a mission to transform the way capital markets and insurance markets interact with Agriculture as a sector. We have mobilised alternative insurance protection products to farmers worldwide, to protect their crops and build resilience against climate related threats.

The biggest learning till date has been the ability for our business to be able to differentiate different parts of the agricultural value chain and crops, to create bespoke parametric insurance offerings.

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about your career choice from family, friends or society at large?

Agvesto was born by blending the skills I have learnt with engineering, science, finance and technology towards sustainability and environment.

South Asians are known for their affinity towards food. So we had nothing but positive feedback from the family, friends and society to ensure that businesses enable farmers and food producers to achieve sustainability and longevity.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

Sustainability starts with the general recognition that the consumption of resources needs to be optimal and should come at a win-win basis. The resources we consume from the planet do have natural support systems and when they are under distress, our lives will change for the worse. 

In order to ensure that we promote sustainability, we have not only adopted good business practice, but on a personal level I’ve made changes by:

  • Sourcing renewable energy supplies for my home
  • Practice recycling
  • Purchasing sustainable focussed food products and clothing.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

South Asian communities very much appreciate the need for climate resilience especially with recent floods in 2015 and 2017 in southern India and increased heatwaves and droughts. The priorities at a micro level still focus heavily on social sustainability i.e. communities.

With climate change at the forefront in recent years, the interlink between environmental and social sustainability has become stronger. At the consumer level, this awareness needs to be increased with policies that are SDG (sustainable development goal) focussed and also in long term resilience building.

You touched on change needing to be inclusive and relevant to each group of the population. How would you practically implement this?

I’d implement this by reaching lower socio-economic groups for example and empowering their lives by bringing capital and insurance to them, providing the protection everyone deserves. This is what drives Agvesto and my journey as an entrepreneur. 

Implementation of ideas targeted towards rural and marginal group empowerment requires patience and business ability, to create simple minded innovations that work for them and are truly effective.

We spoke about your thoughts about the carbon-intensive nature of the Bollywood/Tollywood film industry – what are the solutions? Who needs to be engaged?

The movie and entertainment industry has been laggard in embracing sustainable practices compared to the other industries. 

However, they have the potential to transform millions of lives with their messaging and appeal. There are opportunities to assist the entertainment industry with sustainable instruments, so that their overall contribution to the green economy in India can be increased. For this change to happen, active engagement needs to happen at an industry level.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

The younger generations have the advantage of learning various new trends and technological developments via the internet, faster than previous generations. 

Their ability to appreciate the needs towards a sustainable planet for everyone will continue to be the most important theme in the coming years. If they are able to inspire the community around them with their talent, we as a nation will undoubtedly achieve our sustainable development goals.

Connect with Srini on LinkedIn

Spotlight Series: Q&A with ESG Research Analyst, Visvesh Sridharan

We caught up with Visvesh, Chemical Engineer turned Environmental Social Governance (ESG) Research Analyst, working in impact investing with Sustainalytics

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I am an engineer turned sustainability professional currently working as an ESG (Sustainable Investing) analyst for Sustainalytics in Frankfurt. I grew up in Chennai, a large metropolitan city in south India and completed my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering before moving to the US to do my masters in environmental sustainability.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

It has been a combination of different experiences and moments. I have always enjoyed spending time outdoors in nature and this was probably my starting point towards getting into sustainability. Growing up in India, I was able to witness first-hand the environmental costs and repercussions of human development. My degree in chemical engineering also helped me realise the amount of pollution that comes with industrial growth. Eventually, it was about finding an avenue to make an impact and for me that was sustainable finance.

Can you tell me about your career so far and work with Sustainalytics? What inspired you to take this role on despite studying Engineering?

My role with Sustainalytics is to analyse and rate publicly listed companies based on their sustainability performance. It involves engaging with companies to understand how they consider environmental and social metrics and integrate it into their business models. The other part involves helping the investment management community make better long-term investment decisions by providing them with relevant non-financial data that can have financial impacts on the companies that they invest in. 

I got inspired by the fact that my research and analysis can have an impact on how money is being used by investors.

The idea behind sustainable investing of how you can use money as a force for good attracted me to this field. By convincing investors that climate change and other non-financial factors can affect their returns, you are indirectly influencing corporations to act responsibly and ethically.

This top-down approach to implementing sustainability coupled with the fact that you are influencing those who have large capital to manage got me hooked to this industry. 

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

I strongly believe that the only constant is change and one should learn to embrace it. Life is unpredictable and to never take anything or anyone for granted. Kindness and empathy can go a long way in understanding and convincing people. My biggest success for now is being able to work in a field that I enjoy and being able to help those who are looking to get into this space. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to work in sustainability? Has it been challenging?

Sustainability was a new and upcoming field and there were concerns from family members as to what kind of career I could have in this space. I also had friends jokingly tease me about my intentions to save the planet. But I am thankful to my parents for giving me the freedom to do what I liked and believing in my vision.

It was challenging to find jobs in sustainable finance as I had no prior experience in finance apart from some academic coursework. Although my graduate degree was focused in Sustainability and Impact investing, preference was still given to those with a finance background. However, nowadays I see that trend changing with consideration given to those who have knowledge or expertise in sustainability as well.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I think living in Europe makes it a lot easier to be more sustainable. Recycling is followed quite diligently. Public transportation is pretty good and locally I travel by cycle to work. Some of the long-distance trains here are powered by renewable electricity. Most of the grocery items in Germany are sustainably sourced and have certification labels that meet minimum environmental and quality standards. From a personal standpoint, I like living a lifestyle that is minimalistic and free from too many material possessions. I have also been trying to invest my savings in sustainable funds and companies. 

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I think people in South Asian communities are well aware of the climate crisis, partly because of the several extreme weather events that have affected daily life in those regions. Some of the South Asian countries are still growing at a rapid pace and the key focus should be about sustainable development and adopting a long-term approach. Aligning growth, based on the sustainable development goals and implementing policies aimed at climate change adaptation should be the norm.

I still believe that tackling some of the fundamental issues facing humanity such as poverty, water scarcity and women empowerment will significantly help in solving the climate crisis.

Being carbon conscious on a practical day-to-day basis can be quite costly (e.g. vegan/organic food supplies, general supplies/toiletries, electric cars etc). How can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

I think there are different ways to be carbon conscious depending on a person’s lifestyle and way of life. Some of the cost-effective ways to be sustainable include minimizing food waste, recycling and composting based on local disposal guidelines, and purchasing products that are designed to last long.

If your local city has a good public transport network, try to use them as much as possible to commute. Changing one’s diet to reduce carbon footprint can be hard and it’s a personal choice. However, one can take efforts to buy free range meat or farm meat instead of factory grown processed meat.

There is this misconception that practicing a sustainable lifestyle is expensive, but it’s the simple things like minimizing water consumption, walking or biking to nearby places and reducing impulsive buying that also largely makeup sustainable living.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Future generations will be facing the implications of climate change in ways the older generations never had.

However, history has shown us that when humanity is slowly pushed to the brink, it comes up with some of the most innovative and uplifting solutions to not just survive but thrive.

Climate change and sustainability is the biggest challenge of the 21st century and I am hopeful of our ability to tackle this issue. I encourage the younger generations to be aware of the big picture and try to understand how every little action contributes to something large. To try to cultivate long-term thinking and not for short-term gains. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

It is a small incident during my mom’s college years. She was preparing for an important exam during which her father had a life-threatening road accident and an emergency operation was required. As she was in medical school, the surgeon performing the operation requested her to participate in the operation procedure and was scheduled to take place a day before the exam. The surgery was successful, and my mother also ended up clearing the exam. I was just amazed and inspired at the level of composure, mental strength and determination to get through that phase.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I generally like to meet new people and listen to their stories and experiences. My communication channels are always open, and I will be glad to help those who are trying to understand ESG and sustainable finance.

Connect with Visvesh on LinkedIn