Working in Energy, Sustainability and the Environment: Stories and Tips from Oxford Alumni

From global energy companies to specialist technology firms, regulatory bodies to think tanks, national power generation companies to micro-generation schemes, conservation charities to mining corporations, carbon consultancies to commodities traders: the range of opportunities in this sector is immense.

Students consider a career in sustainability, energy or the environment for a range of reasons. Many seek to make a positive impact and work for organisations whose values mirror their own. 

Read the below career stories from Oxford University alumni for insights into what roles in sustainability involve, the trajectory your career could take, and tips for breaking into the sector. 

Josefin Malmberg - Senior Sustainability Consultant, 3Keel LLP

MSc Nature, Society and Environmental Governance, St John’s College, 2019

What: As a sustainability consultant, I assess the impact of organisations and systems on the environment and create solutions for a more resilient and sustainable future. Specialising in circular economy, I conduct carbon impact assessments for individual products or entire companies, facilitate collaborations for preventing and managing waste, and carry out research and analysis to develop roadmaps for entire sector transitions to circularity. One day I’m processing data on a retailer’s packaging portfolio; the next I’m working on a survey exploring product consumption and user behaviours.

Why: I wanted a job dedicated to solving socioenvironmental challenges in a practical and tangible way. With this as a starting point, I was drawn to specialist sustainability consultancies where I could apply the principles and insights of my MSc research. I found out that being part of a smaller, rapidly growing and mission-driven team also can be an incredible opportunity for professional and personal growth, as you can get stuck in from the get-go and work directly with both senior team members and clients.

Advice: Sustainability is an attractive and competitive field. Identify an issue of interest that differentiates you and seek out organisations and placements that allow you to explore that issue from different angles. Exposure to additional topics will come along the way as environmental challenges often are related to one another.

Top tips: You are at Oxford; there are thousands of experts, innovators, and change-makers to learn from. Make the most out of this by reaching out to the people that inspire you. Ask how they got to where they are and what advice they would have for you, and keep a notebook with insights.

Alistair Duffey - Low-carbon Energy Consultant, Element Energy

MPhys Physics, Hertford College, 2019

What: Together with my colleagues at Element Energy, I work to provide clients with in-depth understanding on the future of low carbon energy. My work focuses on the alternatives to fossil-fuel heating in buildings. In my 18 months here, I have worked on projects for local and national government, the energy industry, and a leading university. Most of my work is quantitative modelling and analysis, using a combination of Python, Excel and QGIS. However, the consultant role is a generalist position, so I also write reports and do more qualitative research, as well as handling project management tasks like running meetings with clients.

Why: I wanted a job where I could make a positive impact on climate change, while being challenged and using skills I had developed through my degree. I also saw consultancy as a great way to gain experience and knowledge of the low carbon space, since I tend to be working on a new project dealing with a different topic every few months.

Advice: The low carbon energy sector is full of people motivated to help solve climate change. It’s important that you can demonstrate in your application that you are on board with that mission.

Be ambitious and apply widely. While this sector is competitive to get into, it’s also expanding rapidly as more industries, organisations and policymakers begin to accept the need for deep emissions reductions in the near-term.

Consultancy: My experience is that job titles like ’consultant’ hide a lot of variety in roles and responsibilities across different companies. Before applying, it’s worth putting some effort into understanding the following: What does a typical project looks like for this company? and What would my role be in delivering those projects?

This should help in understanding whether you really want the position, and what skills and experiences you would need to highlight in an application.

A chat with someone at the company before you apply is invaluable for this, but looking in detail through some recent reports on their website is also useful.

Looking for more?

The alumni profiles above were originally featured in the 2022 Oxford Guide to Careers.

For more alumni career stories, tips on how to build applications that stand out, how to improve employability skills, and more, read the Guide.