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Sunday, 5 January 2020

My Personal Journey; A Zoologist's Road to Sustainability


It all began whilst watching big cat diaries when I was seven or eight. I had always been a fan of animals in a big way, but in that moment, watching Simon King chase through the plains to follow a cheetah, I knew that nature in all its beauty and darkness was what I wanted to spend my life working in.

From rabbits, fish,cats, dogs and snakes, animals filled my after school time just like nature filled my holidays. Trips to Ireland, Snowdonia, Cornwall. Whether I realised it or not a the time, my favourite memories were created whilst surrounded by incredible beautiful scenery.

I attacked veterinary experience with vigor (most of the time), from lambing to assisting in theatre. When grades didn't reach requirements soon I was enrolled in Zoology at Leeds with no turning back. Three years in and my placement year saw me experience more than some do in a lifetime. I lived in Louis Trichardt, South Africa following and studying Samango and Vervet monkeys dawn till disk and witnessing the wildlife conflict and illegal farming first hand. From there I worked as an assistant keeper in the Rhino team at Chester Zoo where I saw the power large charities can have but also the weaknesses of workplace politics and the true saying of you are only as strong as your team became something of great importance to me.

Finally, I headed to the Wildlife Heritage Foundation in Kent, a private big cat charity working to build populations and work with global projects for endangered species programmes in the hope that some may be able to be part of wild rehabilitation projects in the future. At the end of that glorious year though I was left with a dilemma. Although I wanted to work with wildlife and nature, I didn't want to be a zoo keeper and however much respect I have for researchers I knew it wasn't for me. I was left with the feeling that you need big businesses to buy in to truly change the world.


That is what led me to my masters in Sustainability and Consultancy. A way to learn about business and the built environment. It was a steep learning curve into a corporate world I never expected to enter.

Two years on, I'm 26. I live in a city I never thought I would head to, London. I've left vast open forests and spaces, for sky scrapers and crowded streets. Bizarrely enough I work for one of the largest real estate consultancies in the world as a sustainability analyst working with clients to create sustainability strategies, tackle their emissions, improve practices, create conversation and push for better business.

I cant say that its been easy because it most definitely hasn't been. I may not be on the front line saving a cheetahs as what eight year old me may have hoped. I am however in what I would call the sustainability capital of the world, working for a company really trying to drive positive change in an industry which accounts for 40% of global emissions and real progress can be made.

What I've come to realise on my windy journey into sustainability is that there is no use saving a species that the world in 40 years time will be uninhabitable for. As our oceans rise and cause coral to vanish, and vast swaths of forests burn across the world, trying to just save them alone will not work. We need to change how we live in the world first. And that is down to each and every one of us, both in work and at home, in every decision we make to ensure that our natural world can survive.


I am still a Zoologist first and a sustainability professional second. Being immersed in the natural world brings me the greatest joy, turning my stress to calm and taking my worries with it but for now I know where I can have the biggest impact to create change. We need people in companies who care about where materials are coming from and questioning why people put cost savings above the planet, researchers inventing new ways to use our waste, experts offering advice which stretches clients to go further than they may feel comfortable, individuals who really want change pushing forward new policy and all of us collectively raising our voices and awareness for the issues that matter. Without us, change will not happen quick enough.

We all want a future that is bright, where we can raise families without the concern of air pollution, habitat destruction, species collapse, food shortages, empty oceans and uninhabitable places we once called home. This may sound extreme but it the reality of the challenge we are facing. We can all be part of the solution, doing something however big or small is better than doing nothing and so I encourage you to join me in being part of the solution.

Till the next step in my journey, your sustainable zoologist,
Erin

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