Inspired Business with Nicole Yeomans video transcript
Just a quick note before we start: this entire first season of Inspired Business was recorded before the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, hence there being no mention of it in the interviews. Thanks, enjoy the podcast.
Toby Bradford: Hello and welcome to Inspired Business, the business podcast from the University of Derby.
Toby: During this series we are bringing you inspiring stories from across the business landscape in Derby, Derbyshire and beyond. We discussed the issues affecting your business and provide key insights from our guests for you to take away. I'm Toby Bradford, your host for the series. I'm joined by my co-host, business expert Angela Tooley, who will offer you valuable analysis on the topics we cover.
Toby: This week we are joined by Nicole Yeomans who is a Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Specialist, she’s also a graduate of the University of Derby. I’m joined by our business expert: Angela Tooley. Angela, the world is being evermore focused on the environment and what we are doing to it and how we can improve it. It’s interesting that we are talking to Nicole this week.
Angela: Yes it is. Nicole’s job title just completely blows my mind, because it just reminds me what a fast paced world we are in. I don’t know about you but I’ve never met anyone before in that sort of role. And actually it’s fascinating when you start to listen to what she does, the sorts of things that’s she’s talking about in terms of improving – not just fixing what damage, you know, has been done by construction or infrastructure work or things like that. But improving and making a positive net change on the diversity, the biodiversity, of that area. It just shows what a step change we’ve made within the UK in terms of the importance of the environment.
Toby: That’s that whole idea isn’t it. It’s not that… we no longer want to make stuff worse – we actually want to make things better as we go along. And it really is changing the way we’re thinking.
Angela: It’s a real challenge and I think it’s something that not just locally but at government, everyone’s trying to get their heads around. And you can see that in some of the conversations and debates that are happening around some of the big infrastructure projects that are planned in the UK, like HS2, is that; how do you design something that is future fit? Not just in terms of meeting the requirements of a changing population and the needs of that changing population, but also ensuring that you do it in a way that you retain something for the future generation. An actual recognition that what we are doing to the environment is rapidly starting to impact the way we live, we eat, we work.
Toby: Absolutely. Now of course, it’s not just about Nicole’s job this podcast. We talk about her background, and that story is worth listening to just on its own. It’s almost – well she is writing a book, in fact, about it.
Angela: This is what I love about listening to these podcasts interviews, is that we’re having people from so many different backgrounds who have so many different stories to tell. And I don’t think any of them; I think if they reflected and looked back on their 5/10-year-old self, would ever imagine the journey that they’ve gone on. And I just think this podcast series is, you know, we developed this series to inspire people in business. But actually there’s some fantastic stories in terms of careers and development of young people. And I think I’ll certainly be getting my children to listen to some of these interviews, because actually I think what people need nowadays is good role models. And I think we don’t have enough people who are role models who inspire the future generation.
Toby: It’s seeing where people have come from and where they’ve got to in that journey – it shows what’s possible and I think it’s fantastic. Okay well Angela will be back later for our analysis of the interview with Nicole, but for now let’s hear what Nicole has to say.
Toby: Hello! And welcome to Nicole Yeomans, very excited about this. Nicole would you like to introduce yourself?
Nicole: Yeah sure, so as you already hear I’m Nicole Yeomans. I am a Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Specialist, and I’m actually a former student from the University of Derby.
Toby: Go Nicole!
Nicole: Thank you.
Toby: So what did you study when you were here?
Nicole: I studied Zoology, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and I would definitely recommend it to anybody else out there.
Toby: So who were your favourite lecturers?
Nicole: Oooh, my favourite lecturers, am I allowed to say that?
Toby: Good, I find them very inspiring too! You’re a Green Infrastructure and Biodiversity Specialist – who do you work for?
Nicole: I work for AECOM [pronounced "Aycom"] or AECOM [pronounce "A E Com"] depending on which side of the pond you sit.
Toby: Oh that’s what it is, it depends. Because it’s quite a big company isn’t it. So what is Aycom or A E Com, what does it do?
Nicole: Well it stands for – and I have to always check this – Architecture, Engineering, Consulting, Operations, and Maintenance. So in kind of one swoop you get an idea of exactly what it is that the company does.
Toby: That’s everything isn’t it, surely?
Nicole: Everything! It’s a global company, it has nearly 9,000 employees, it works in over 150 countries worldwide. I believe it began as an oil refinery back in the 60’s and then it moved into buildings and construction.
Nicole: And it kind of evolved into the AEcom that we know today. So it’s a global company but in the UK and Ireland it has 3 markets, which it focuses on. And that is: civil infrastructure, buildings and places, and environment and ground engineering.
Toby: Is that where you…?
Nicole: That’s where I sit, yeah. Ground engineering, it covers a range of disciplines. These can vary anywhere from the water environment, archaeology, landscape architecture, acoustics, and ecology. And ecology is the discipline that my team sits within. And recently we actually won the award for Large Consultancy of the Year from the Charted Institute of Environment and Ecological Management in the UK for Ecology. So we work with a wide range of clients and yes, they, quite often within our team we work with Highways England, Network Rail, for large infrastructure projects.
Toby: Right, okay.
Nicole: I’m part of the Green Infrastructure team, so we’re a new and growing team within ecology. Which is – it’s always nice to be at the kind of forefront of new and exciting roles. So we basically look at providing nature-based solutions that work across disciplines.
Toby: So when you say nature-based solution – using nature to help solve the problem? I don’t know how that would work.
Nicole: Yeah so basically that might be, for example, creating a green bridge where you could have… you could have had your normal bog-standard concrete bridge, but instead you look at it as an opportunity to potentially connect two habitats. So you would green the bridge, which would be adding in shrubs, potentially trees.
Toby: On a bridge?
Nicole: Yeah, they’re quite impressive. Building up embankments where you can have wildflower meadows so that would support pollinators. You can go into more detailed design features like back boxes and mammal crossings. So green infrastructure: we want to provide sustainable solutions, not only for wildlife but also people and communities as well. So it goes across, we work across disciplines and across sectors to try and deliver something that improves biodiversity and wellbeing.
Toby: How long has this been a focus of AEcom? Because you’ve got quite a decent team of Ecologists now, haven’t you?
Nicole: Yeah! I believe we’ve got over 100, maybe even 150 Ecologists in the UK.
Toby: Just in the UK that is? Through AECom.
Nicole: Yeah, in the Midlands there’s actually the biggest team of Ecologists. Yeah we’re – like I say – we’re a new team. There’s only about 8 or so of us in the Green Infrastructure Team at the moment, but we are… within the UK there are lots of people working on green infrastructure, eco-system services, natural capital policy and appraisal, that all kind of support one another and we work on similar projects.
Toby: So, describe how your team works. What is it you’re looking at? When a project comes to you, how do you approach that?
Nicole: Well, something that we work on quite frequently is biodiversity net gain assessment. So biodiversity net gain means, it’s basically a development that leaves the environment in a better state than it did before.
Toby: Oh, rather than just trying not to make it worse, you actually try to make it better.
Nicole: Yeah, you’re trying to make it better. Despite well-established nature protection laws that we’ve had in the UK for quite some time now, biodiversity is continuing to decline at an alarming rate, quite frankly. So if our biodiversity continues to decline as it is, the value of the natural environment, which is so important to things like wellbeing, our economy, and flood mitigation, clean water, crop pollination.
Toby: Flood mitigation, yeah we noticed that!
Nicole: Yeah we know about that recently, yeah we’ve seen that recently, and climate regulation. So, we all depend very much on biodiversity. Things like land use change and development that can have a negative impact on biodiversity. So by incorporating a principle of net gain, biodiversity net gain, new development can actually enhance the natural environment and deliver long lasting improvements for biodiversity and people. What that actually means in practice is that something that’s fundamental is that you would first off apply; it’s called the mitigation hierarchy to development, where you would avoid making significant impacts to the environment. You would minimise those significant effects. And in terms of net gain you would look to restore or enhance what you have on site and then if that – you could do restoration and enhancement. And if that wasn’t enough based on a biodiversity net gain assessment you might have to offset on third party land some of the losses of the development.
Toby: So I can understand, I can understand restoring something, cause if there’s something there, there’s a wood there, and you want to make that more sustainable - but the new things? Things like the green bridge, I assume that’s, what other sort of things would you be able to put in?
Nicole: Well the green bridge is a bit of – that’s kind of separate to biodiversity net gain because – well I suppose at the moment there are ways of incorporating things like green bridges into a net gain assessment. But the easiest way of looking at it is if; say for example you had a woodland, you’ve got a hectare of woodland on your site and you want to take 50% of that woodland away, you’re going to have to put back (generally) a 10% increase. So you’d have to put 60% woodland back somewhere.
Toby: So describe to me how an offset would work. You’re doing some work somewhere and you need to make a net gain but you can’t do it on that site necessarily so how would that work?
Nicole: You would look to get a third party landowner agreement, and you would use your biodiversity impact assessment. The first steps would be to look at how many biodiversity units they’re called; it’s a way of measuring biodiversity losses –
Toby: So that, is that species or…?
Nicole: No we use habitats as a measure of losses, so basically you would map out all of the habitats that are on the site. That’s where you would use satellite imagery, GIS mapping, you’d also use an ecological survey called a Phase 1 Survey. That’s where an Ecologist has actually gone out onsite and mapped out the various habitats and made any notes on what species are present and that’s kind of the first survey before they would go back and do detailed protected species surveys. But, for our assessment we’d need the phase 1 mapping, so then, we would then convert that into a map that would give us areas, quite specific areas, that go down to kind of 5 decimal places of each habitat type. And then we have various biodiversity calculators, which are amazing tools, which will measure out the losses and the gains. So when we put in our initial habitat types, we get a list of the habitats on that site. Could be deciduous woodland, species rich grassland, it could be bare ground. You know, all the habitats that are there. And then we would provide a condition for those habitats, which is given to us for an Ecologist that’s actually been out on site most of the time. And these habitats have already been assigned a distinctiveness, which helps to give them their scores. So like a woodland would have high distinctiveness compared to immunity grassland – which is like the grassland you walk past when you walk into the University, you know. So we would get a value of what the pre-habitats were on site, and then we would look at what’s being lost, what’s being retained, and within what’s being retained: can we enhance any of that? And that’s how we’d get our final figure. And in the post development calculations you look at things like time to target condition, as well, difficulty in creating that habitat. There are new ways of calculating the losses and gains through, Defra have realised their own… they’ve realised a new calculator which looks at habitat connectivity and strategic value. So if it’s within a strategic location like it’s within a Local Authority Plan for example, they’ve got priority to enhance this habitat type, and that all influences the calculation that you get at the end. One of the ways that we like to work as well is that we get involved in each phase of the design process - so if you have a biodiversity net gain assessment as an iterative thing rather than, it gets done at the end of a development, you can meaningfully influence the design and then try and help.
Toby: So rather than saying “right, I’ve done all this massive plan, this is what I want - have a look to see how it will affect the environment”, you go, “right, we’re going to start on this site, what can we do here?”
Toby: So right at the beginning you’re in there.
Nicole: Yeah, that’s how we’d like to work because obviously when you, like you say, if you come in right at the end then the score is the score – and we can’t change that unfortunately. So that’s when you would look to offset.
Toby: So what I’d like to skip to now, is kind of, questions that I’m very interested in – how did you get to where you are now working for this company? Where have you come from? We know you’ve done a Zoology degree at Derby but what’s your history?
Nicole: I’ve got a very diverse history. I am the daughter of a reptile expert. So he, my dad, used to have the UKs first ever reptile farm in the 1990’s, so… in Nottingham, which is obviously an interesting place for a reptile expert and a reptile farm. So yeah as a child I grew up on a farm, which had rooms and rooms and rooms full of leopard geckos, chameleons, corn snakes. It was just amazing, absolutely amazing place to grow up. And then we also ended up diversifying into farming crickets and locusts, which is also bizarre. So I kind of was a sponge to all of my Dad’s interests. I grew up loving animals, I was very…
Toby: But not just cows and sheep and dogs and cats –
Nicole: Yeah! Venomous snakes, you know, alligators, cobras, you name it, black mambas, you name it we had it all. So yeah I was inspired by my Dad growing up and had a love of animals. My Dad was very influential on my interests and my personality and yeah, so I am actually writing a book about him. The book is called ‘King Cobras in the Living Room’.
Toby: Because you had King Cobras in your living room!
Toby: In Nottinghamshire?
Nicole: In Nottingham, yes. And it’s basically a memoir about my Dad’s life. So he was a King Cobra expert who ended up devoting his career to trying to help protect King Cobras, which unfortunately had a tragic ending. So he was actually bitten by one of his King Cobras and he passed away. So it’s kind of…
Toby: Oh, heavens.
Nicole: Yeah so it’s kind of a book about my Dad’s life, my life, before I was born and what inspires a man to dedicate his life to reptiles. How does a man from Derby in the 1960’s become a world-renowned King Cobra expert? And all of the crazy things that happened in between that, like, I like to call him a cross between Steve Irwin and Johnny Rotten.
Nicole: That was the kind of personality that he was! So there’s a – it’s hopefully an amusing and an inspiring story of my life with my Dad.
Toby: And he certainly inspired you.
Nicole: He did, yeah, he did. So yeah I’m just working on that at the moment. That’s what I do in my spare time. I didn’t go to university as a teenager. I moved to Spain instead, and when I moved to Spain I worked with the Head of Reptiles in the south of Spain at the Fuengirola Zoo, which is a fantastic zoo where, they were one of the first people to breed the false water gharial which is an amazing crocodilian that’s from Malaysia which is very very rare. But yeah so while I was working at the zoo there, I got the opportunity to do things like help train Komodo dragons.
Toby: Train them to do what?
Nicole: Well, they liked, they wanted to be able to move the Komodo dragon safely. So this amazing creature called Rayo, I believe, was about 4 foot even when he was a young juvenile, and his tail was about 2 foot.
Toby: I’m just picturing that in this room, that’s quite… along the table that’s, quite a big thing.
Nicole: Yeah it’s quite some size. Yeah so they wanted a way to be able to train him almost like a dog. So we used to go in to cage and we’d train him to tap his nose on a red ball that was on the end of a long stick. So once he’d tapped his nose on the end of a long stick we’d give him a mouse – which is what he ate – a defrosted frozen mouse. So eventually he would become trained that if he followed the red ball wherever we needed him to be, so from one side of the cage to the other so we could safely contain him for whatever reason: if we needed a vet to come out for example. Which we did once, I actually had to go and help with him having an ultrasound cause he had digestive issues. But that was, that was another day at the zoo! So yeah, and whilst I was in Spain I realised that I was so passionate about Zoology and I hadn’t been to university and that I really wanted to come back to England and go to university and become a qualified zoologist.
Toby: So what inspired you? What was the decision that you took? How did you come to that decision to go to university?
Nicole: Just because I was working in Spain at the time, and I realised that I wanted to take Zoology seriously and I wanted to do it as a profession. And I’d actually been inspired, my Dad always inspired me and he had some amazingly interesting friends, and I – one of them came to stay and he was an amazing zoologist that had lived in the jungles of Cameroon. He’d lived there for 14 years and he’d done research for National Geographic.
Toby: What was his name?
Nicole: Chris Wilde, perfect name as well for a Zoologist. And yeah so, my Dad wasn’t a Zoologist but he had – he didn’t go to university, he was a self –
Toby: But he was a Zoologist obviously…
Nicole: - He was yeah but he was a self-taught person. He never got a degree so, that was never something that was necessarily in the forefront of my mind, that I needed to get a degree to be passionate about animals and work in Zoology. But then I met Chris and I was like, “this guy is amazing, he’s so inspiring, all his tails.” Looking for Gaboon vipers that have the longest fangs in the snake kingdom, researching giant frogs, all these incredible tales. And he definitely influenced my decision to be a Zoologist and to get a degree and to come back to England and to take academia seriously. So, because I didn’t follow a traditional path I had to, kind of, do extra exams and it took a bit longer than I would have liked, but then that’s when I ended up at the University of Derby. And then when I got here then my world was completely blown open cause I suddenly started to find interesting bacteria. And did a complete U turn and went from loving, which I still love them, but I was very much interested in microbes and genetics once I got to university –
Toby: Went from enormous lizards to things that you just can’t see at all?
Nicole: Yeah that’s – yeah. And also the marine environment, I’ve always loved marine biology, so that’s how I ended up getting to know Michael Sweet. So…
Toby: Who is a Marine Specialist who does a lot of work with corals and things like that.
Nicole: Coral reef. Yeah he’s a Coral Reef Expert and a Molecular Ecologist; and he’s a very interesting man. And yeah, so whilst at university I went to the Maldives to research coral reefs out there on one of Michael Sweets research trips. Which, you know, he had to twist my arm to get me to go to the Maldives – it was such a hard life in the Indian Ocean! It’s just fascinating, especially the research on coral reefs you know they’re such an incredible habitat and they’re decreasing at an alarming rate. And yeah I was always passionate about the marine world as well so it was just a great experience to come to University. And you don’t know where that experience can take you; I’ve met some amazing people. Some of my friends that I went to university with, they’ve gone on to have fantastic careers working for the Sanger Institute for Genetics, and all sorts of amazing things. So it was just a brilliant experience and I would highly recommend it. When I finished University I was looking for a marine based role and I was lucky enough to be accepted into a position as a Marine Planner, working for the Marine Management Organisation.
Toby: Marine Planner? What does Marine Planner do?
Nicole: Well, my role consisted of policy development for the south marine plans. So the UK was split up into marine plan areas. I was lucky enough to be based in Poole in Dorset and worked on the south coast marine plan, which was a complex area because it had one of the busiest shipping channels in the world – well – first off it went from the River Dart in Devon all the way to Folkestone and it covered an area of 20,000 square kilometres. So it was a huge area with, like I say, one of the busiest shipping canals / channels. It had 60 marine protected areas as well as military activity on the coast, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. So it was a very complicated area to provide policies, which meet social, economic, and environmental –
Toby: So you’re having to work out a plan for all this area. Is that just the water? Or how it affects the communities?
Nicole: Well, it goes from all the way up the tidal extent of rivers, so anywhere that’s influenced by the sea. So the tidal extent of rivers all the way out to the Exclusive Economic Zone, which is where we border - in the south marine plan - France, Jersey. So they span huge areas and obviously it’s very complex and there’s a lot of different needs. So we had social policies on fishing, we had environmental policies on marine protected areas; there were policies on oil and gas extraction and aggregate extraction, which is like the sand and stones, which we use to build. So obviously they even – aggregate policies have influence across the whole of the UK construction industry.
Toby: Which is kind of, you’re going from bacteria to many more things. You’re not just looking at the marine life –
Nicole: That’s what I really enjoyed about that role actually, was having a wider perspective on things. Cause I think sometimes you can get blinkers on and just focus on one single thing, and that’s also brilliant to be a specialist, but it was nice to go back and look at the whole of the marine area and all the different disciplines and –
Toby: So you’ve gone from a tiny little blinkers looking at microbes, to a massive expansive thing. Which takes you back to AECom I suppose?
Nicole: Yeah, yeah. It’s another large company, which expands the globe, covers a wide range of disciplines, so yeah.
Toby: So how important do you think it is that people like you exist within large companies like AECom?
Nicole: I think now that, there’s a complete paradigm shift that large companies wouldn’t be without people that work in the environment sector. Because I think it adds so much value and it’s so important in terms of risk and resilience and future proofing. And that’s kind of the world that we live in now, we can’t just push environmental sustainability under the carpet. And I think any big company understands that. And that’s why we have companies like AECom creating new and exciting roles. Like, for example, in our team alone we have things like Digital Visualisation. Where we use 3D imagery / VR to inspire our clients and let them see kind of what - things like the green bridge for example, like what does that look like in the landscape? What are the benefits it will provide? And inspire people in a way that was never done before. And we also have things like Ecological Modelling. So we’ve got an Ecological Modeller in our team now who is a Data Wizard, I like to call him, -
Toby: Does modelling / programming?
Nicole: Yeah, so that – we’re kind of – AECom especially are a very innovative company and they always drive forward new and exciting areas that can strengthen the company’s resilience, that can inspire people. Because when a workforce is inspired as well, everyone wants to feel like they’re making a positive contribution.
Toby: So how important is it that business takes the environment seriously?
Nicole: I think it’s fundamental that business takes the environment seriously. I know that AECom look at delivering innovative, pragmatic and resilient, sustainable development solutions. The world is reaching for solutions that challenge issues; like how are we going to feed and house a population of 10 billion people, with all their needs for energy, land, water, climate challenges. So AECom weave in development solutions into the daily activities of our clients. So we look to assist them in making better decisions on investment, corporate strategies, supply chain, and procurement. And we also work in partnership with some leading academic institutions, which help enhance our research and development capabilities.
Toby: Cool. So, AECom is clearly doing quite a lot, but what about other businesses? Is business doing enough, as far as the environment’s concerned, and as far as sustainability’s concerned?
Nicole: I think there’s always room for improvement. I think there has been a shift in the way that businesses think. So previously it was always a win-win situation whereas now, businesses look to their long-term influence. There’s been a shift, definitely, in the way that businesses operate. Now that there’s a drive towards being more sustainable – it – not only does it draw in potentially more clients, because people want to work with companies that are sustainable, that have got a good reputation, that are resilient to things like climate change and biodiversity losses. But then it also inspires, inspires employees for example. I actually read a study recently where UCLA found that employees of companies that adopt sustainable practices are 16% more productive apparently.
Nicole: 16%. So if that’s not a reason to be sustainable then I don’t know why not, improve that productivity and get more out of your employees – value for money!
Toby: Well if people are happy to work in a place and if people have their own environmental thoughts, then that’s going to help. So, it’s your job – you’re actually – it’s actually your job to make the place better than it was when you found it. Which sounds to me a great thing to be able to achieve. So should we be taking more individual responsibility as far as the environment is concerned?
Nicole: I do think that we can all make a difference and do our bit. But I think fundamentally it should be a top-down approach and that there should be key policy changes. So at the minute in biodiversity net gain, there’s been a lot of momentum around – and a lot of support with various policy documents – so we’ve had the Lawter Review, the White Paper for Natural Environment, the Natural Capital Committee, the 25-Year Environment Plan, and the soon to (hopefully) be appointed: Environment Bill. Which will make a 10% net gain mandatory for all development under the Town and Country Planning Act. So things are moving in the right direction, and that’s really because of key policy changes. You know, we’re given a clear – and plus we’re having big players like Highways England, and Network Rail, and the Birkey Group all opting in to achieve a no net loss, or a net gain, before it is a mandatory requirement. They’re basically giving the message to all their supply chain that you know, this is it, this is the way forward now, this is how we’re working.
Toby: It’s more important than just complying with the law, it’s important because it’s important.
Nicole: Yeah, exactly.
Toby: Now, I’m so impressed by what you do. It’s something that a lot of people feel is very important and the fact that you’re able to do that on a daily basis – to try and make the world a better place for all the creatures that live in it. But what do you consider has been your greatest achievement? What’s given you the most satisfaction?
Nicole: Well, it was recently actually, it was when I was invited to join the University of Derby’s Board of Environmental Sciences Advisors. Yes. So that was, I felt very honoured.
Toby: So what was – what does that involve, from your perspective?
Nicole: That involves just feeding into ways in which the Environmental Sciences Department shape some of their courses.
Toby: So you’re influencing what we teach to our students, you’re working with our academics?
Nicole: Yeah exactly, in a way, yes.
Toby: Cool. Do you come in and do guest lectures?
Nicole: That’s something that we’re currently working on, yeah. We’re planning on doing that, and we’re coming to the Wild-life Conservation lectures hopefully and talking a little bit about biodiversity net gain, green infrastructure, yeah so all that is to come hopefully next year I believe.
Toby: Now we’re coming towards the end of our podcast, and I’m going to ask you a question that we ask all of our podcast-ees. What’s the single most important piece of business advice you can give to our podcast listeners?
Nicole: I think it is to always be yourself, be professional, but be yourself. Let your personality come through. Nobody likes a corporate robot. People do business with other people so let your story, let your personality, let your strengths show. Because that is – that’s how we get the best out of people and that’s how you end up with a vibrant, dynamic team, which is fundamental to business.
Toby: Thank you Nicole Yeomans.
Nicole: Thank you for having me.
Toby: I’m joined again by business expert, Angela Tooley. Well Angela, how fast is the world changing?
Angela: Very fast indeed. It’s really interesting isn’t it, when you listen to interviews like Nicole’s. It kind of smacks you in the face and makes you realise that; every day’s a learning day and I think that this interview reminded me of that. Compared with other interviews that we’ve done together, I found this quite a challenging interview to listen and analyse to, simply because Nicole’s talking about concepts and terminology that is completely alien to me. So, you know, things like net gains and nature based solutions, are just phrases that I’d never heard of before the interview.
Toby: Well the whole job role is completely new. It’s the whole idea of creating these roles that will look at the environment and how these companies are going to affect the environment, from the outset.
Angela: Exactly. And this is happening in so many other sectors. And I think one of the challenges that we have as educators, as parents, as responsible employees or employers in the local business community is: how do we support these young people? So how do we develop skills in our young people that allow them to be curious and be creative and build resilience so that they can cope with an ever-changing world? Recognising the increasing pressures in terms of well being in the workplace and things like that. Because these skills, in some respects, are more important than the hard technical skills that we provide them, because they are ever-changing. And you think about some of the new technical roles that are coming out like Data Scientist. You have to be refreshing that skills base every couple of years just to make sure you are still current.
Toby: Because in 5/10 years there will be new roles that we haven’t even thought of might exist yet.
Angela: Exactly, and Nicole’s is certainly one of them. And I don’t think Nicole when she’s started… I think it was a Zoology degree?
Angela: - Ever really contemplated where she would end up and by the sounds of it she – it’s a fascinating and interesting career that she’s fell into. I think she was always going to end up in some sort of conservation / sustainable sort of, animal / plant-based career based on her background.
Toby: And making a Netflix film about her life obviously!
Toby: But it’s been a massive culture shift hasn’t it? Everything is changing so fast, everything is moving towards a different view. You look at the way government are now having a much keener eye on the environment.
Angela: Yeah – yes it is. And what’s interesting is that we – we recently heard about what China is doing. I mean China are the biggest polluter in the world and there’s always been this thing around, people say “why should we keep doing stuff and look at trying to be more sustainable in our own business and our own local community – when China, as the biggest polluter, is doing nothing”. Even that’s now changing. So recent announcements from China about single use plastic being phased out from the end of 2020 is a massive step forward. And that’s because – I’m sure it’s become because of pressure from other governments, from their own people, and actually just seeing the effect that that is starting to have.
Toby: But that is the thing; it’s personal pressure, pressure from the population, pressure from the consumer, pressure from the workforce. The interesting statistic that Nicole brought out that companies that have a sustainable policy – their employees feel 16% more productive.
Angela: Undoubtedly there are lots of, what I would call soft-benefits, to an organisation or a business community being more pro-environmental, trying to be a bit more sustainable. The problem that we’ve got at the moment is that because it’s still in very early stages of evolution, there’s not a lot of data around – research is limited. So actually, we’re starting to see some statistics in terms of the amount of companies who are now increasing the amount of sustainable products that they produce. It’s the biggest growing sector, so that low-carbon consumer good sector, is the biggest growing sector and has been since 2008. There’s statistics around that show – Nicole’s spoken about productivity but there’s statistics around that show that the highest performing businesses are ones that have some sort of sustainability agenda that they work to. It can certainly help you win new business, and one of the positives things that is being done is that in most now of public tenders, there’s an increasingly large amount of score that is assigned to you demonstrating your responsible business practices. So actually when you are bidding for a piece of work, for perhaps a local council project or something like that, you have to demonstrate; not only what your policies and procedures are, but also what you are doing. What you are actively doing. And so those sorts of things are starting to encourage people to do more.
Toby: Because it is starting to affect the bottom line.
Angela: It is starting to affect the bottom line, yes. I mean, sadly, unfortunately in many businesses – that rate of return on investment is still absolutely key. And we still see that at government is that; it’s all well and good doing all these things but ultimately if it’s not going to make a net positive impact on my bottom line… It’s still a very difficult business case for many businesses to get over the line with their shareholders and their investors. I think it will change. I think one of the challenges is – and we touched on culture earlier – culture takes time. So a changing culture, and that sort of transformation, is a long-term process. And we’ve spoke about this on previous podcasts, but actually particularly around low-carbon, sustainability, things that are happening so fast. People are struggling to get their heads around it and mind-set changes are really important.
Toby: Because the general population - the consumer mind-set - is changing almost daily. You know, from one day you suddenly find some new information and now I’m going to be completely green, I’m going vegan, I’m want to buy an electric car. And that is a sudden change of mind-set and maybe the business community’s not ready for that? They haven’t seen it coming.
Angela: Yeah I think that’s the case, and I think there’s also this weariness as well is that – is this just another trend that will disappear again? So you look at sort of other significant changes that happen and some things stick around – if you think about the music industry, you know, the amount of new things. We had Betamax that disappeared; we had Minidisc’s that disappeared. And I think that people are like, well actually, is it worth me investing in this? Is this going to be a long-term thing? Or is this just going to be another fad that people have just decided they’re going to be vegan for 2020 and actually they’ll go back to eating meat again later? So I think that there needs to be a bit of time as well, for things to level out, and for people to start seeing what those trends are going to be and what – which of those elements that are going to stick around for longer and that are going to be long term things that actually we do need to make some sort of change around. I think the other interesting thing from Nicole’s interview, and one of the things that she highlighted is the link between biodiversity and nature and well-being. And this is important, and this is something that, as employers, we do need to take responsibility for. Increasingly we are seeing businesses being impacted by loss of time, loss of productivity, through people being off through stress, through illnesses that are related to being stretched, to pressures that they’re seeing at work or in their private lives and things like that. And actually, I think Nicole’s absolutely right. We all know how good it feels when you go for walks in the woods, or by the river, or by the sea or something. You know, you come back and you feel refreshed, so actually there’s some validity to what she’s saying there. So maybe, something that companies perhaps could do as a starting point is think about, well actually, let’s not think about how I can relate being a more sustainable business to my bottom line, let’s perhaps think about how I can think about it in terms of supporting my people and supporting the development of wellbeing in the workplace, and that is something that we all need to be responsible for, so perhaps if people think about it that way as a Step 1. Then it doesn’t matter what the bottom line says, because actually that can just be something as simple as a team or as an organisation going out and doing a community project together. Or as a team having a day a week where you go for a team walk. My team, in the summer, bizarrely, get the tennis rackets out and sometimes play tennis in the car park for 20 minutes and laugh at each other and run around. And actually, I think that’s really important for their time together and for the stresses that they have for the other 7 hours of the day. So, I think, you know lets think about things in different ways and not just keep reflecting on or focusing on just one thing, which is ultimately the bottom line.
Toby: Nicole’s final piece of advise was to be yourself to people, to businesses, do you find in business that people don’t act as themselves? That they put on a persona?
Angela: It’s increasingly changing actually. I think the new generation – we talk about Generation Z and Millennial’s – I think they’re a very different workforce. And I think their expectations in terms of what they expect from a career is certainly very different from mine and your days when we were starting out. And I think, it’s not just about salary that’s an attractor to businesses, I think they look for a business that has similar values to what they have – they want to fit. They want things like, the right work / life balance. So I think that, this is something that businesses really need to start getting their heads around. How do I make myself attractive to a future work force? How do I make myself attractive to encourage people with the skills that I need? Because I think that businesses don’t always look in the right places sometimes for their future work force.
Toby: So what characteristics do you think businesses should be looking for when they’re looking for new people?
Angela: I think they need to be focusing more on the soft-skills. Identifying potential employees who have that thirst four knowledge and learning, and creativity, and are agile. Because they’re the skills that a business who is going to grow and succeed in an ever-changing world, is going to have to have.
Toby: Because the world is becoming so flexible in a sense that you know, you need to have people who can move with it and sway with it and bend with it.
Angela: You could almost teach someone with those sorts of soft-skills, the basics of any role. But they’re the skills that you can’t necessarily teach them quickly, or from a manual or a textbook.
Toby: Well thank you, Angela, and I’d like to thank Nicole Yeomans again for bringing some new ideas to this podcast. And I’d like to thank Angela Tooley, our business expert, who has helped us explore some of those – thanks Angela.
Angela: Thank you.
Toby: Next time we’ll be joined by Dean Jackson, the boss of Derby Wetsuit Specialist: Huub. You’ve been listening to Inspired Business, a podcast from the University of Derby telling amazing and inspirational stories from businesses in Derby, Derbyshire, and beyond. Please subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcasts. Leave us a rating or review and tell a friend who might also like to listen. Also, if you’d like to be a guest on a future episode of the show please get in touch. You can find contact details and more information about the series at www.derby.ac.uk/inspiredbusiness. Thanks so much for listening, we’ll catch up with you again very soon.