Spotlight Series: Q&A with Operations Director at Lightsource BP, Rumesh Chauhan

We caught up with Rumesh who has worked in the utilities sector for many years and recently transitioned to renewable energy

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I am a British born Indian, with my parents coming over from India during the very late 60’s/early 70’s. 

I graduated with a degree in Chemistry at Leeds University and have built on this with my Lean Six Sigma qualifications. I am a very highly experienced Operations Executive/Director, with an extensive portfolio of skills and attributes which are demonstrated through leading very large multifunctional teams of professionals to new levels of success, in a variety of highly competitive business functions and fast-paced environments. My professional work background is heavily immersed in the utilities sector.

Can you tell me about your career so far and what inspired the shift towards the energy and renewables sector?

Following my graduation, I was fortunate enough to join the chemical sector to utilise my degree to full effect. It was during my first employment that I was given the opportunity to be involved in the design, build and operation of a “first” chemical and biological treatment facility, allowing chemical waste to be treated to the highest regulatory standards before being discharged into the river. This was the catalyst that shaped my career, moving across two Water companies, Yorkshire Water and then Severn Trent Water to deliver huge environmental improvements, with renewable energy playing a significant part. 

Utilising and harnessing waste from our homes and commercial businesses to produce green energy in the form of gas and electric through state of the art production facilities. My recent move to Lightsource BP moved my career into a new sector, 100% renewables driven through solar parks/farms, utilising the sun’s irradiance to produce green energy.

What does your role at BP involve and how are you working towards the net zero carbon target?

Lightsource and BP are a 50:50 joint venture, and my role sits in Lightsourebp (LSbp) which is one of the key pillars to help realise the huge ambition that BP has set, as part of its Net Zero strategy. The ambition is to be a very different kind of energy company by 2030, with a big scale up investment in low carbon and making headway on reducing emissions.

My role at LSbp is an O&M Director, where I am fully accountable to deliver the contractual and commercial outputs of solar farms across the UK landscape. As well as this, I’m establishing the benchmark of excellence across planning and scheduling work activities, Health and Safety, engineering and client relations, to then take onto the global scale.

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

Several big successes have been both personally as well as ones I have delivered as part of my role in companies I have worked for. This includes delivering a huge reduction in environmental pollutants such as ammonia in rivers, to mothballing carbon polluting incineration processes and facilitating the introduction of combined heat and power plants (which harness the gas produced from waste domestic and commercial entities to produce renewable energy). This fundamentally changed the UK landscape over the last few decades and paved the way for green energy processes, on which further optimisation continues today.

Other successes are across the water sector delivering outstanding water quality improvements for the Ministry of Defence contract.

My biggest personal success was the recognition through the Severn Trent’s company awards across various categories, however, to win “Leader of the Year 2018” was a big highlight in my career. More recently the reach out from LSbp to move my career there has been the best move I have made, a truly ambitious “Green” company focused on delivering sustainable energy for future generations to thrive on.

Learning for me continues and always will, to date include but not limited to the following:

Not to accept the norm. Six Sigma has taught me a huge amount about continuous improvements, making small incremental changes on a regular basis and not accepting the base standard

Stopping the knee jerking to point data, use data in the right way to make fast paced data driven interventions

People by far are the backbone to any company, creating and having the right beliefs and values brings success. I am a firm believer in creating the right environment for others to succeed in.

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to take on a niche/unfamiliar job? Has it been challenging to switch?

I am very honoured to have such brilliant and supporting parents, family and friends that have always encouraged me to do what I feel right in terms of jobs I have taken on. The simple advice from my parents sits in my head today: “Study hard, work hard and you will see the fruits of your labour”. What I have achieved and the position I sit in today is simply down to that guidance.

At the same time when the opportunity has come along to broaden my knowledge in a different role or even a different industry, I have taken that leap of faith. I have learnt so much about transferable skills that one can take into so many sectors.

I am super grateful for the opportunities that came by me over the years, however I do feel that one must have the appetite and ambition to chase/follow up on such a dream that could be seen as niche or unfamiliar. 

The environment around us globally has and continues to change significantly and the concept of “Net Zero”, or increased sustainability is no longer in the background, a distant dream or tucked away in a cupboard, so to have been a part of this over so many years and now living and breathing this in my day job is just awesome.

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

My roles have allowed me in some cases to naturally come around to the idea that I/we need to become more sustainable to protect the earth for future generations. A lot more talking of these interventions has allowed simple concepts to be taken on board and to incorporate these into my /families daily life. From recycling at home, water conservation, deploying energy saving tips, going paperless, donating unused items and so on. Some of these have been far easier to adopt and bring into one’s lifestyle whilst others have been a personal and conscious decision, something you have to have the belief in, in terms of the “so what” for it to actually happen.

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?

My personal belief is somewhat two-fold. On one hand I believe it’s the environment in which we live in on a daily basis, not having the understanding of any/limited climate crisis (that is someone else’s problem to sort) and the other hand, have many communities in the South Asian culture truly paved their career paths to want to go make a difference on supporting/creating a greener world? In all honesty with discussions at a UK and global level on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, electric cars etc, there is a lot out there for us to take notice of. 

However this could be seen as eutopia so let’s bring it home to reality – yes there is an element of lack of understanding, is there a widespread understanding of what carbon actually is and what this means to the human race? What about the rush to get to zero carbon? How is this possible? What is my role in society? Lots of questions I would be asking to get underneath the stark fact that amongst our society this is not a burning topic, not one that excites all.

So how do we go change or even try to scratch the surface on something so topical yet so crucial on a global front.  It must start with “me”, having the interest and the urge to go seek “what is all this about?” My career paths have educated me on such issues and I have been part of some of the solutions which I have spoken to family and friends about, so they understand, and it goes on from there.

Now I have to turn the lens to the government, authorities and governing bodies in terms of how much are they or have they truly shouted about such issues, back into all communities, bringing to life what it actually means in terms of the carbon footprint and my role to reduce this, there is a lot to do here. There are huge networks, communication channels where we can establish this as the forefront of all conversations – making it real for people to see how these correlates in their daily lives.

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?

My pure existence as a human being gives an output of carbon, whether this relates to eating, drinking, what means of transport I use, what waste is produced, how this is segregated for recycling, the list can go on. Government backed initiatives have been the catalyst for short term sign ups such as solar, home insulation etc. Water companies have pushed to get water conversation gizmos sent out to households free. However, the big producers of carbon require some big changes and to that, costly changes. 

My thinking is simply small steps to create a belief and culture that yes, I can and will make the difference. If the global population followed just the basics of reducing carbon, we could strive towards our goal. This alone will not be enough, in fact far from it, the sheer magnitude of the footprint we see today will take big bold moves, new energy solutions- wind, solar, hydrogen, changes to the way we live and so on.

Most importantly it must be accessible to us all in a simple usable way. Look at smart metering, controlling your entire home’s heating, lighting, turning on the coffee machine… all remotely via wonderful apps. Technology has transformed our lives, why can’t carbon reduction initiatives be the same?

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

We take the world for granted and there may be an ill perception that global problems don’t impact me directly, so what. My view is about creating the environment around you and I today, for future generations to want to live in. The actions of us today will be the landscape of the younger generations to live in tomorrow. It’s all about a lasting legacy. This cannot be hidden or excused from anyone, younger people must bring this to the forefront of their education, embark on those careers that will be fundamental in making wholesale changes driven by long term plans, such as the Government’s 10 point plan. Don’t hold this within, talk about it, do something about it amongst your family, friends and communities.

How do you feel about the UK government’s TCFD, 10 point climate change plan?

Exciting times and a big commitment, I suppose better late than never. We have seen several of the oil giants making huge commitments, Shell and of course BP, which will pave the way for lots of other industries to step up and be heard on their plans.

There isn’t much of a choice that you have to join the “green” race; if you don’t you will get left behind. Legislation and regulatory drivers will be key for organisations to commit to their part and must be applied with rigour and pace.

There will still be a huge amount of uncertainly on the government plans, it’s about having the confidence in the UK government to go deliver this with support from us all. Not just the financial investment required but the timescale to deliver wholesale landscape changes and the way you and I live a daily life will change. I am very encouraged and fully supportive of such a bold move, is it too late? Who knows, but the words from the PM defining this as a Green Industrial Revolution has to be the start of something special.

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

I step back to those times in my life when my grandparents were alive. We all have a truly special bond and connection with our grandparents. For me it’s those seeds they planted in me at those times of challenge and uncertainty that today are the foundation and strong roots of who I am. The legacy continues with my parents providing that nourishment on a day to day basis.

The simple yet very effective advice they gave was “be a good human being”. The qualities of my grandparents and parents today are resembled through a few key words: “Respect, Trust, Selfless and Integrity” and it’s this what has deeply impacted me and will do for the rest of my life.

Connect with Rumesh on LinkedIn

Spotlight Series: Q&A with CEO & Founder of ChargeInc, Akshay Mukesh

We caught up with Akshay about his tech developments in all things Electric Vehicle charging in India, Middle East and North Africa

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I was born to a North-Indian family residing in South India so one could say that I was brought up in a very cosmopolitan-kind of environment. Essentially, I am a self-taught entrepreneur with minimal formal education and a handful of practical experience. 

I started working when I was 16 and I have diverse experiences in industries like publishing, realty, IT and a digital agency upholding senior executive positions. I love to dig into customer problems and solve them with modern tech and out-of-box solutions. I create, scale and optimise portfolios that matter.

What is Charge Inc and how did it come about?

When I founded ChargeInc back in 2018, the company was headed towards setting up smart charging infrastructure across India and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. In the process of developing the charger (EVSE), we realised that over 5000 companies with a similar product were going to deploy different solutions by 2026 making it difficult for the end user to charge the electric vehicle (EV) with different hardware/service providers. A user, at one time would not subscribe to more than 2 service providers, dividing the charging infrastructure and making adoption of EVs more difficult.

To curb this menace, we decided to focus on building a software platform that could manage and power hardware from any manufacturer or service provider. In simple terms, We would do what ‘Windows’ did for the computer industry and what ‘Android’ did for the cell phone industry. 

What are your main values and aims as an organisation?

We have one clear focus. A unified charging infrastructure irrespective of the type of vehicle, the service provider, the manufacturer of hardware or the geographical location of the charging station. The sooner we are able to achieve this, the faster we can see people choosing EVs over internal combustion engines. And, in this process, we as an organization, are imbibing the values of globality, collaborations, integrity and utmost commitment towards customers

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

The movie ‘2012’ caught my attention in 2010. Though the movie was overly dramatized, it depicted the imminent disaster that is in looming unless we reacted in time. This was just, as I realize now, paving my path forward.

Being an automotive enthusiast, I started to notice advancements in the industry. The kind of buzz Tesla and Lucid Motors were making at the time made me more interested in the EV industry. I transitioned to the IT sector in 2016 where as part of my job, I was fortunate to meet with prominent government figures from across the world and pitch for projects defining the future of the public transport system. 

Their valued opinions and feedback on national problems they face owing to transportation were intriguing for me. I was also witnessing how a few lines of code were able to reduce the efforts and drudgery of millions of people. This was the tipping point. It was here that I knew something bigger could be done.

I started researching what the EV industry was missing and every person I spoke to pointed towards 2 things. First being the range anxiety and second being the lack of charging infrastructure

The vehicle manufacturers were working on developing better battery technologies to fix the problem of range and a lot more charger manufacturers were working on setting up the infrastructure. But with such a diverse approach to the charging infrastructure a much bigger problem was awaiting to be addressed. Unlike refuelling a gasoline powered vehicle, an EV would require the user to reserve a charging point, before they get to a charging station or any business premises supporting it; but the user would be limited by the subscription from a service provider they opt in for. We were now clear on what we wanted to pursue, using our expertise to make a difference. 

I believe I am in the right place at the right time with the right kind of people. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about this career decision from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

I would consider myself blessed to be surrounded by people who have always supported me in my endeavours. It surprises me sometimes yet gives a feeling of gratitude to have such an arrangement around. Almost everyone I reach out to for help, guidance or connections, they do the best they can. 

I make conscious efforts to ensure I pass on what I receive in a similar fashion.

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

With the kind of work I do, I land up travelling a lot. I currently drive to most destinations because of the pandemic which adds to the carbon footprint. Within the organisation, we often talk about ways to offset the carbon footprint we incur. We are tirelessly working towards deploying our solution at the earliest as it would enable faster adoption of EVs which in turn will offset quite a bit of carbon coming from vehicles on the road.

While this is a part of our primary objective of the organisation, as a personal commitment towards sustainability, I turned vegan back in 2019 and started to ride to most destinations within the city on a bicycle. We also try to limit Air/Long Road travel, use less paper, re-use most resources and reduce electronic waste by donating what is not in use or use electronics for a longer duration than intended. Soon we’ll work on policies where we will incentivise colleagues who eat locally (as that reduces the need to import products from distant locations), share rides to work and replace their ICE vehicles with EVs. While most of these are plans for the future, we intend to take them up gradually to ensure there is less resistance and we are able to sustain proposed changes in our lifestyle. 

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?

It is a harsh reality but most people today wish to switch to an EV for the financial incentives and not the environmental benefits. Environmental reasons and climate change often get side-lined.

I often hear a conversation about “Climate change being real” when people realise that summers are getting hotter or winters are colder or when we experience natural calamities. We need to ask ourselves, what are we doing to prevent this? 

Something as basic as waste segregation is not widely adopted in most places in India. It’s surprising to see that most developed nations in the MENA region also do not enforce segregation of waste in households. It’s of prime importance that we understand this and self-regulate our lifestyle or the Government will have to step in, incentivise or enforce people to change to be more sustainable in their lifestyle. 

Just running ads or campaigns for awareness are not going to be enough. Stricter regulations have to be put in place and environmentalists have to be taken more seriously before it’s too late. 

What have been your greatest successes and learnings?

I personally don’t think I have experienced success as yet. My contributions have been minimal and I would consider them negligible. The vision is to make an impact which reflects in the life of millions for a long period of time. Whilst I am not someone who runs a company which is valued at over a Billion USD, it is difficult to convince people and make them align with the vision. 

There is also a subtle difference between being persistent and being clingy. As an entrepreneur, it’s necessary to know the difference and to know who to have around you for the journey. Unless the person travelling with you matches your vision, they will only end up being a hindrance. 

There are 3 main things I have learnt on this journey and remind myself of these.

You are going to hear a lot of “NO”. You will meet a lot of people who will disregard your idea, do not let them de-motivate you. Self-motivation is one of the most expensive resources and it’s scarce. Use it wisely so you don’t run out of it.

Assuming you do find a person, they may not always be able to align to your vision, learn to let go of people and focus on those who do. If you do not have a person who aligns with your vision, don’t stop searching for them. If you are on the lookout for such a person for a long time, it’s probably the vision that needs to be adjusted. 

It is important to be persistent, but one must know where to stop. Sticking to something that may never work is putting yourself at massive risk. It is okay to fail at something and apply the learnings from that onto the next one. Knowing where and when to pull the plug is an art not many can master. 

What are the biggest challenges being faced in the EV industry? Has any one country got it ‘right’ so far?

The EV industry is MASSIVE. The challenges that lie ahead are bigger than one person, one company or one country. The problems will continue to remain as long as there is range anxiety, lack of charging infrastructure and long periods of time taken to charge the EV batteries.

Norway and China are leading the EV adoption race and other countries need to learn from the, but even in these countries, the charging infrastructure is defined by the companies that manufacture the vehicle. 

Imagine if brands like Mercedes or Volkswagen had to step in to sell fuel because no one else will do so. The vehicle manufacturers are currently charging service providers because they are forced to do so. They have invested massive amounts of money in developing these vehicles and it is in everyone’s best interest to get them on the road as soon as possible. 

If experts from the charging domain step in to fill in the gap, vehicle manufacturers can focus on the battery technology and develop better vehicles rather than focusing on providing charging services.

It needs to be a joint effort between domain experts from the charging infrastructure and vehicle manufacturers to enable faster adoption of EVs.

What career advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Why is it important for them and their future? 

My advice to the younger generation would be to look around and analyse the situation for themselves. Refer to historical data and look at how things have changed over the years and try finding the reasons for those changes. 

They will soon come to realise that it’s us who are responsible for these changes and unless we do something right away to fix these issues, shortly there would be no room left for us to be able to step in and fix them. 

These shortcomings are not too far ahead in the future. Today when you read about the technical advancements, you would often read about companies trying to colonise Mars or space travel and alternative places on Earth for the existence of the human race. 

Looking at billions of $ being poured into making it happen must ring loud alarm bells within us so we wake up to reality and realise that we are already late. We either start to fix the problem right away or fixate over it for the reason of not doing so for the rest of our lives. This choice needs to be made by our youth.

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

I have had far too many ups and downs in my life. I have experienced a steep raise and fallen too quickly. These ups and downs made me value quite a few things that I took for granted. 

A few instances during the initial phase of my career made me realise how important it was to be financially secure. I started to pursue projects in the realty sector as they paid well. Every project I would take up would be of decent value and if something came across that did not pay well, I would not take it up. 

Shortly after I was left with no work and with depleting finances it would become increasingly difficult to live below means after experiencing a lavish lifestyle. The reality of life hits you hard when you are down and the first thing that goes out the window is faith. 

I consider myself extremely blessed to be surrounded by people who truly care for me and stand by me in every situation. Some helped me reinstate my faith while others helped me find work and some helped in stabilising the situation so I could focus on work.  

It’s often said that only a few get a second chance. I can, with gratitude say that I have received quite a few ‘second chances’ and this keeps me grounded.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

I may sound like a hypocrite when I say this as my previous answer reveals how I reacted, but I now believe faith is the driving force behind everything. Be it faith in The Almighty or the faith in yourself to do something. 

Be rest assured neither the good nor the bad is going to last for too long. Life will be a roller coaster, it will flip you upside down over and over again. I can scream but it’s my choice whether this is because I am scared or because it excites me.

Company Website: www.chargeinc.in

Akshay’s Linkedin Profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/amukesh/

ChargeInc on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/chargeincindia

ChargeInc on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charge.inc/

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Carbon Net-Zero Researcher & Consultant, Vichitra Chandra

We caught up with carbon net-zero and ESG specialist, Vichitra about her diverse cross-sector experience

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

My mum is a British Indian from a traditional Punjabi family brought up in greater Manchester, and my dad is a south Indian mix of konkani and Telugu, from Hyderabad, India. This is to say I have a mixed Indian background, with different india cultural influences growing up. I lived in India during my schooling years and moved back to the UK permanently when I was around 16. 

I pursued Physics at University upto a MSc, after which I spent half a year trying out teaching. I moved into the world of finance, specifically investments and became interested in the growing world of ESG, sustainability and impact investments. 

Since then, I have been working as an independent consultant for environmental and data-focused non profits and other companies, using my research and analytical skills to research industry’s transition to carbon net-zero in light of our national targets. 

Additionally, I work with entrepreneurs and start-ups helping their corporate development, marketing and fundraising strategies, with a particular interest in ethical, sustainable and environmental-focused businesses, such as ethical fashion, financial inclusion and environmental data.  

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

Growing up in India helped me realise from an early age the scarcity and unequal distribution of essential resources such as water, energy and food, the impact of the lack thereof. I was brought up to be mindful of consumption, minimise wastage, reduce unnecessary usage and reuse where possible. The first time I realised just how unsustainable we are was at University, when perfectly edible whole packs of food were routinely discarded with no second thought by my housemates! Why? “because the veg is wonky, because the packet said it expired yesterday, I don’t fancy that today, blah blah blah”. I was horrified. 

I noted how excessive and consumption-focused society is and our blissful ignorance (intentional or not) around it. I began realising that our day-to-day activities, consumption choices and thus how industry runs and business is carried out are entirely unsustainable and at odds with the ever increasing consequences of climate-change we continue to face.

I wanted to be a part of the “green revolution” and a generation that demands better, more supply-chain transparency and care for our planet and communities by shifting from short-term financial gains to longer-term wider considerations. 

We live in a world where making more money is considered an indication of success and prosperity, even if at the expense of nature and our environment. Inspiring work has been done to raise awareness and bring to light how unsustainably we currently live, but there is so much more to be done!

I especially believe in capital being used as a force for real change, and focus on the economic benefits of sustainability, especially disproving myths about the negative financial impacts of employing sustainable practices. I am inspired to use my background in science and finance to communicate this to a wider set of audiences and stakeholders to catalyze further decarbonisation, sustainable business practice uptake and investing for the greater good. 

Can you tell me a bit about your work and how you got into it? 

While working in investment advisory, I worked with investors and asset managers wanting to create impact through their investments. Here, I was introduced to the work of ESG, impact and sustainable investing. Through this work, I began working with IB1, researching and bringing together industry stakeholders harnessing data to make strategic and financial decisions in light of our net-zero carbon targets. 

Sectors I’ve covered include renewable energy, insurance, recycling biotechnology, space-data for climate change, and environmental start-ups. I did not follow a clear path to where I am now, but using my broad set of skills and experiences, and my passion for sustainability and impact investing, I have managed to find work and forge a career in the environmental and sustainability space. There’s a lot more to do and learn though! 

The challenge was finding like-minded organisations and individuals that you can learn from and work with, while also feeling like your work has a positive impact. I continue to look for further projects and groups to expand my work. 

Are there any top tips you can share for people wanting to invest in green tech/ funds but unsure where or how to start?

Through initiatives such as open banking and continued digitalisation of our world, investing has never been easier and more accessible to the average consumer. Many platforms offer ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) investing and you will see more and more such products due to their growing demand. Some platforms include Nutmeg, wealthify, Pension Bee and many have the easy option to invest in ESG portfolios. If you want to directly invest in clean technology, check out Thrive Renewables, who offer individuals and businesses easy access to investing in renewables in the UK. 

Additionally, investing apps such as Hargreaves Lansdown, Moneybox and others allow you to pick your own stocks (say, if you’ve heard of this really cool cleantech company and you want in!). If you don’t have an ISA, get one! Make sure it’s a stocks and shares ISA (you can use the above mentioned investment platforms for this) where you can either choose a managed portfolio or pick your own stocks (if you feel confident enough!) Familiarise yourself with how the bonds market works, and read up on various online resources to help you get started. And remember, google is your friend and a fantastic teacher.  

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

My biggest success to date is perhaps finding fulfilment and pride in my work since becoming self-employed, working directly within the environmental sector and with inspirational start-ups building impactful businesses.

My biggest learning to date is just how much more learning there is to do, with many people, organisations and countries making huge strides in the sustainability sector — I want to learn about and speak to them all!

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

I am fortunate to have supportive family and friends around me. Sustainability and impact investment is growing in importance, perhaps mainly due to my generations’ desire to do good with their money, so the opportunities in this sector are ever increasing and better remunerated. I would say the biggest challenge is the older generation and their thinking, especially their dismissiveness and scepticism towards sustainability, and the need to make changes not just for financial returns, but environmental, social and other reasons. 

My family continues to encourage me to pursue the intersection of finance with the environment, so I am spared the backlash! That said, I have been lucky. A few years ago my sister finally decided to pursue her life-long passion by leaving her career as a surgeon to work for the Environmental Agency — an inspiration to myself, my family, her friends and colleagues. It was initially hard for my parents and other elders to understand why, but they eventually understood and supported her wholeheartedly. She still gets the odd comment from the family and acquaintances, but following her heart and becoming a key spokesperson for the environment is worth more than any uncle or aunty comments. 

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

I think little things go a long way. I find that sustainable, responsible and conscious living can be achieved through small behavioural changes. Although buying sustainably sourced or ethical products is still not economically achievable for many, I am a strong believer in market forces.

Sustainable practices will become the norm only if there is strong demand for it, and as consumers, expect more and better of our industries. 

Taking an extra minute of your day to appropriately recycle your waste instead of throwing it all into the main bin, supporting your local high-street for locally sourced every-day items (some even have delivery services through apps!) and switching to buying products which have been sustainably sourced, are some of the smallest ways we can address unsustainable living.

Even small things such as turning off lights or using energy saving bulbs, checking if your “expired” groceries are truly expired (use your eyes and nose — millions of years of evolution has gone into refining our senses for survival!) and being conscious of the amount of single-use plastics you use. I love using apps to help guide small changes, such as JouleBug, SDGsinaction and Waterwise pledges to name a few. Be vocal about it, and wear terms meant to insult you such as “SJW”, “eco terrorist” and “environment militant” with pride! 

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 are driven to achieve financial success, I believe more so than others. Our idea of “success” is tied to the “developed world” and is warped by this concept of excess (e.g. quantity over quality), and we are obsessed with attaining “developed” status much the same way the West did through rapid industrialisation (and we know how unsustainable, polluting and damaging that was and continues to be…). 

The challenge is to change the mindset that we can attain success only by these means, and what that “success” looks like. We have smarter, more sustainable solutions to polluting sectors such as infrastructure, transport, buildings and materials. We can solve these problems by supporting and investing in cleaner technologies and sustainable business practices, and discontinuing supporting businesses that are not. 

You touched on feeling a great moral obligation to the future generation. For those who don’t know, why should people care about the climate emergency?

A moral obligation to the future generation is only one reason to care about the climate emergency. The effects of climate change are being felt here and now. We do not own this world, and we share it with many other living beings. It is selfish to carry on as is.

For our generation, and especially those who are privileged to have an education, I feel it is our duty with the information and resources we have at our fingertips to undo the unsustainable existence we lead. 

If decisive action is not taken now, climate change is capable of eroding the very foundations of life — access to food, water, shelter, etc. we enjoy today. We owe it to future generations to inherit a world that they can thrive in. 

Of course, there is an economic argument for the climate emergency also, with adverse weather conditions and eroding ecosystems leading to constrained supply chains and increased prices, sustainability gives longer term success through enabling financial stability and resilience in the face of climate change. If we continue to take more than is given, we are damaging our own home and livelihoods. The expression “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” comes to mind.

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?

Agreed, truly sustainable living is not attainable just yet and is inaccessible to many. Although sustainable living is perceived as costly, often the sustainable solution works out cheaper in the long run but the lack of upfront costs is a challenge.

Cost is one challenge, another is access.

Some sustainable solutions require more time, resource and expertise to achieve, which may not always be available or attainable. Solutions that are efficient, accessible and cost effective need to be further developed, invested and commercialised, and we look to the government and industry to stop dragging their feet. I strongly believe in the power we have as consumers to demand more from our industries and leaders; so find sustainable and ethical alternatives and stop supporting polluting and unethical companies and industries not doing enough. 

Other smaller steps we can take include taking an extra minute to separate your land-waste and recycling, stopping single-use plastics, supporting locally sourced products and ethical businesses, buying an electric car instead of a petrol/diesel car, switching to a green tariff with your energy supplier, and pulling your support for polluting multinationals. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Is it a viable industry to enter?

Of course! Our generation’s biggest challenge is to carve a new way of life. There’s much work to be done to overhaul an entire way of living including localised resource management, supply chains, behavioural and cultural beliefs, investments and financing, ecological and environmental impact, and so on. 

One thing is certain, things cannot carry on as “business as usual”, and significant impact is made from those willing to step outside the comfort zone of the “known” and embrace the challenge of carbon net-zero.

It is currently considered a stand-alone industry, but sustainability will become an integral part of any industry and function. 

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

Stories about the consequences of climate change around the world deeply impact me every day. Every news story about a bleached coral reef, devastating droughts, farmers ending their lives over one too many failed harvests, unexpected floods leading to loss of life and its long-term impacts on people and communities… it is hard not to be. 

However, success stories such as growing renewable energy uptake, banning and regulation of plastic uses by various governments, revival of “farmers markets” and local produce, climate change insurance products, ESG investing, and net-zero legislation are all positive steps being taken to mitigate and adapt to climate-change. 

These steps and those leading the charge on the climate conversation serve as an inspiration to tackle my generation’s biggest challenge. Well… that and pandemics, shrinking economies, brexits and the death of tv to name a few. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

It is important to remember that a little goes a long way. Small changes on their own may not seem like much, but together we can make real change. The internet is a wonderful resource and privilege — use it.

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Policy Advisor & Founder of Climate Bites, Aman Grover

We spoke to recently appointed Nuclear Policy Advisor and Founder of Climate Bites, Aman about his experiences navigating through the industry mid-pandemic, his MSc climate adaptation research in Punjab and more

What is your ethnic and academic and professional background?

Hi, my name is Aman Grover, and I’m a Policy Advisor for the Nuclear Directorate at the UK Civil Service (Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy), where I contribute towards overseeing the new nuclear build power stations as part of the government’s energy infrastructure and net-zero commitments. I’m also a recent Master’s graduate in Climate Change: Environment, Science & Policy from King’s College London, having specialised in climate adaptation within the Punjab regions.

I wanted to use this background with my experiences as a public speaker, poet and facilitator to empower and engage with my local communities and networks. So I recently founded Climate Bites, a new educational platform designed to make climate science accessible, engaging and easy to understand for young people, through concise digital content and workshop programmes.

I believe change will happen through discourse and discussion, and at the heart of that lies the uptake of knowledge and education about climate action. That’s what Climate Bites hopes to shape, the conversations in our living rooms around climate change.

Away from environmental discourse, I co-founded the Two Rupees Podcast, a platform that discusses issues surrounding the South Asia diaspora here in Britain.

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

I don’t have a groundbreaking story to be honest. Like many graduates, I wasn’t sure where my career would take me and chose to pursue consulting and the technology sector after leaving university. I was building applications for clients to transform their business, and it was definitely worthwhile, but I found that I was lacking internal satisfaction towards the work I was doing. It didn’t feel like there was a bigger picture. And when looking at my options, I realised that I had been keeping up to date with articles and books around various aspects of climate science. So I went back to university, choosing to immerse myself in climate policy and environmental change.

I strongly believe robust policy serves as a catalyst for environmental change. And I hope to use this aptitude and drive in my current policy role, to utilise nuclear energy in supporting the UK’s drive towards net-zero and improve how climate change is communicated to the public.

Can you tell us about your MSc research? What were your findings and has it had any significant impact beyond academia? 

Sure! I studied the effectiveness and role of climate adaptation strategies in the province of Punjab in Pakistan, and the drivers and barriers affecting local capacity to build resilience towards climate change.

Both of the Punjab regions represent an important case study in this field, due to their high physical vulnerability and economic significance as an agricultural hub, as well as significant for me since it’s where my family stem from. My research found 4 key themes based on primary research of climate adaptation contributors within the province:

Adaptation strategies in Punjab were difficult to differentiate with other development efforts. Climate adaptation was essentially ‘pasted’ onto bog-standard agricultural irrigation by international donor agencies, and promoted as climate adaptation for appearance and reputation purposes. Respondents from the study implied a disconnect between stakeholders on the ground and external organisation with their climate initiatives.

Coordination and collaboration amongst local stakeholders is key to the successful implementation of climate adaptation in Punjab. Where there has been buy-in and participation from farming communities at all project stages, climate adaptation is largely successful in improving resilience. However, limited communications between departments, as well as external funding being withdrawn when projects finish, threaten the sustainability and longevity of climate projects. 

The bureaucratic systems in place are the biggest contributor to the effectiveness of climate adaptation. This includes power relations between province and district level on who is responsible for climate change management, climate change priorities changing with government transitions, and even corruption. 

Farming communities use very different terminology to that within climate policy, with some communities not even acknowledging and attributing the environmental changes within the region to climate change. The discourse around climate change is written predominantly in English and by external agencies, with little discussion in native dialects and factoring in localised impacts and vulnerability. This weakens attempts to build resilience, since these attempts do not factor those communities that they are trying to help.

The aim of this research was to explore what defined effective climate adaptation in relation to Punjab, which could inform policymakers and international agencies on how best to formalise adaptation and account for vulnerable communities. I presented these findings at a Sikh Research Conference in December 2020 and hope that these efforts lead to more focus and literature on climate change with Punjab.

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

No backlash from my immediate family and close friends, they are very supportive and know enough about me to know that I enjoy my work most when I am creating change and trying to make a difference.

I think I experience ignorance mostly, from people who are distant or don’t know me as well. Sometimes it is frustrating, when you get lots of questions or off-handed comments, or where it’s difficult to engage and have conversations with others because they make no attempt to understand other career paths outside of the orthodox ones. But I believe it’s part of the role, to raise awareness of your career, crucial challenges you’ve faced, etc. Since you’re the one engaging with environmental activities, when you speak about it, you are in the best position to articulate this in a concise and engaging manner to others.

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

I definitely acknowledge that I have a long way to go in order before I can classify my lifestyle as sustainable. But there are ‘quick wins’ which I think anyone can do, and build the momentum to make small changes that feel relatively easy. I don’t eat meat very often anymore, maybe once or twice a week maximum, which has taught me to be more conscious about my dietary choices. I’m a big fan of the variety of plant-based milk available, and have switched between soya and oat for my cereal, coffee, etc. I’m conscious about my shopping habits, and try to make fewer purchases and purchase quality clothing that I can make last much longer, as well as thinking twice before making a car journey.

Making incremental changes takes the fear out of change, and opens you up to make larger adjustments to your lifestyle and way of thinking. The black and white way of viewing the world does not work for sustainability, and it’s okay to accept that you are not perfect.

I see my role primarily as having a voice and being able to articulate myself, in order to project and champion causes and hopefully inspire, so I’ve embraced that as my contribution towards social action.

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?

As a community, we have placed our trust in education and believe it to be an empowering platform across all aspects of our lives. Education provides the refinement and the tools to contribute to society, shape our future and live meaningfully. It is what has allowed South Asians to succeed in many fields. But, when it comes to environmental concerns, I’ve found my communities to adopt a ‘someone more specialised or knowledgeable than me will fix it’ type mentality.

It’s as though we believe we are inferior, or we must be an expert, that we can only act when all the conditions around us are perfect. So this is the biggest blocker – disassociating ourselves from the mentality that we need to be all knowledgeable to act.

Fighting the climate crisis is a continuous learning process, both on a deeply personal level and on a large international scale. And in order to empower this, the technical and policy knowledge on why we need to tackle the climate crisis and tangible strategies that we can all align with needs to be easily available and digestible. 

Climate Bites does this through informative weekly videos on a range of environmental topics, from sustainable behaviour to new technologies. I hope to use my experiences, of seeking this knowledge out myself, working in the education sector and being a public speaker, to make this process easier for others. And in turn, with the right information delivered through an approachable medium, we as individuals feel a greater competence, and can support and align ourselves with local organisations that are doing the hard work. Whether that’s holding our local authorities and governments accountable, tree-planting in your town, community-clean ups or pushing for changes in our school curriculums.

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

The largest barrier I’ve seen when working with young people is the belief that one person alone cannot make a difference. It causes us to question whether our voice and the value we project out into the world is worth listening and watching. If we are heard, we feel as though we are unworthy or a fraud. I continue to experience it myself regularly. I felt it when I left my job to pursue a Masters degree, and questioned whether I’d be able to keep up with everyone due to my inactive study skills. I experience it when I run workshops with young people, and wonder if I even have anything valuable to pass on. Experience is the best teacher. Planning and strategizing is useful, but it can be debilitating as well.

I realised that I want my career to focus on contributing towards humanity’s biggest challenges, in any way I can, which would make me feel like my efforts are worthwhile. So I was drawn to climate change, and I’m just beginning that journey.

My advice would be to pay attention to the causes that mean something to you, that bring out real power and passion when you speak about them. Then, throw yourself wholeheartedly into them and ask questions later. I have a favourite quote that I fondly remember when someone asks what impact one person can make. ‘Those who question what difference one alone can make, have obviously never been trapped in a room with a fly’. That keeps me smiling. 

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

The entire process of public speaking for me has been defining. I’ve always loved speaking and narrating from a very young age, but I found myself gravitating at it towards university. I thrived in situations or scenarios where I could influence and inspire simply by using my presence and voice. That realisation was incredible. I feel very complete on any ‘stage’, whether it’s performing at poetry slams, at the front when delivering a workshop or keynote speech, or on a screen presenting to clients and stakeholders in my career. It’s a very grounding feeling, and it’s one I want to continue building towards and pursue every opportunity to do so, as I champion the causes I care about – including education reform, climate and sustainability, creativity and the South Asian arts, etc. So that’s where I hope to end up, with a microphone in my hand, creating change and opening minds. 

What was it like trying to find a job in the industry during challenging COVID-19 times? Do you still think you made the right decision to choose this industry?

It was immensely difficult, for a number of reasons. Like other graduates across multiple sectors during this tough time, there was a lot of self-doubt and internal turmoil that comes with job searching. I think that there is less awareness about the environmental and sustainability sectors overall, so I definitely found it harder to seek career advice and expertise, both from close family/ friends and professional contacts.

Whilst there are people to connect with on LinkedIn and aspire to reach a similar position, I feel as though the options for resources, job boards, forums, etc are all fewer than more orthodox pathways e.g. Finance, Consulting, etc. But I don’t regret aligning myself with this industry, and I am so pleased I am now contributing meaningfully to our government and low carbon energies.

I found the feeling of continuing to contribute whilst job searching kept me going, through volunteering, speaking at events and raising awareness, as well as creating educational resources. Climate change represents a substantial challenge spanning across all sectors, so all of us have a role to play.

How do you feel about the UK government’s TCFD & 10-point climate change plans?

I think the greatest aspect of the 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution is what it represents. It shows initiative and intent, and a degree of gravity about achieving net-zero. Better yet, it incentivises green jobs and community involvement.

Economic gains will always generate the most interest in the current society and systems we operate within, especially to large investment organisations, so stressing that environmental measures can also be economically viable is definitely the way forward. So it is definitely encouraging. But it just represents the beginning, and an opportunity to demand more from the organisations that we interact with, for increasing environmental transparency, accountability and action at every stage of their processes. 

Find out more about Aman and Climate Bites