How to Play Your Part in Furthering Sustainable Development In Industry (and Make Awesome Contacts to Boot!)

One of the important parts, and really quite enjoyable parts, of my role as a Corporate Sustainability Manager is my active involvement in sustainability industry groups – groups, committees, associations or other collectives of like-minded professionals seeking to drive change and seek more sustainable outcomes in industry. In fact, I’ve always been involved in industry groups in some form or other, and actively so, through pretty much all of my 15 year career to date.

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As a young, wet behind the ears graduate in the UK, I signed up to join the West Midlands Branch Committee of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) –  I was the youngest, least experienced person, professionally speaking, there, but that didn’t matter. There was a role for me, as there is a role for anyone who wants to contribute to such things. I brought my enthusiasm and got stuck in with helping to arrange the annual calendar of evening lectures and learning sessions, supporting those and helping them run smoothly. Great experience and great exposure into my new professional field. And I’m still in touch today with folks I served on that committee with.

There have been a number of other groups I’ve been involved with between then and now. Currently I’m involved with the Australian Constructor’s Association (ACA) Sustainability Working Party, the ISCA Waste and Materials Working Group and, probably most actively as Co-Chair of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) Contractor’s Working Group.

The reasons for getting involved and getting stuck into contributing to industry groups such as the ISCA Contractor’s Working Group are threefold for me:

  • It gives you great exposure to and contact with the best, the brightest and those making things happen in an industry or sector. You can learn from them, they can learn from you, and you make some genuine and lasting friendships too, as well as professional contacts.
  • You can be part of something that creates change, that moves things along, that does something within your sector, something that’s difficult to do in isolation.
  • I’m someone that enjoys helping and serving others – playing an active role in an industry group allows me to fulfil that in a significant way.

I also believe that these industry groups are important fora. Why? They allow for a meeting of minds, and allow otherwise competitors to come together in what is really a common purpose in driving change and, in the groups I’m involved in, striving for sustainable development and sustainable outcomes in the delivery of infrastructure in a unified and cohesive manner. If we’re all pulling together in more or less the same direction, giving the same messages and asking for the same outcomes of our clients, colleagues and peers then we stand a much greater chance of actually having successful outcomes rather than remaining isolated attempting to do things on our own.

So how do I recommend people contribute to derive benefits for themselves as well as for the group and industry they serve?

  • Do it! If you’ve been thinking about it, just give it a go. What’s the worst that can happen? You try it out and realise it’s not for you. Best that can happen? You try it out, and realise there’s a wealth of professional contacts, professional friendships, knowledge, experience and so on that you can be a part of, and contribute to some fantastic things happening within your sector. Doesn’t matter if you have zero experience or 25 years experience. We all have thoughts in our heads, ideas, energy all there to tap into and make the most of.
  • Be enthusiastic. I’m not talking about bouncing off the walls, giddy with excitement. I’m talking about turning up, talking, contributing, and not being backward in coming forward to actively contribute to ideas and activities. There’s nothing worse than a talk fest!
  • Approach with a mindset of openness, sharing and collegiality – whilst you may be working with competitors (so perhaps don’t share absolutely everything!!) you’re really all there, as sustainability professionals, with the aim of achieving the same things and that’s working towards the delivery and operation of more sustainable infrastructure and assisting communities in ultimately becoming more resilient, more sustainable.
  • Be prepared to take action. As I said, there’s nothing worse than a talk fest. The group that I Co-Chair, it’s very an action-focussed group, there’s always something we’re creating or aiming to deliver. There’s little point otherwise in meeting and having such a group if nothing is actually happening. And for things to happen requires that everyone involved contributes and is prepared to take action.
  • Work together. Things happen when everyone pulls their weight, but that weight pulling is not evenly distributed all of the time. Realise that sometimes you will be rather busy in your day job and contributions will be minimal from yourself to the group or groups that you’re part of, and that you may need to rely on your committee colleagues to carry a bit of the load. Also realise that conversely you need to balance that out when your group or committee colleagues are very busy and you need to step in and take on more of the work.
  • Enjoy it! If you’re not enjoying it don’t do it, there’s little point. Don’t do something just to have it on your CV. It’s a waste of your time and a waste of everyone else’s time on the group. Look for groups that really resonate with you, that mean something to you, and that you genuinely want to contribute to. And have fun with it. Again, I don’t mean giddiness and silliness, I mean enjoying the fact that you’re working with like-minded individuals that you can get stuck into issues with, and yes, enjoy a light-hearted moment or two!

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