Peter Leighton-Jones CEnv MIEMA FICRS - Senior Climate Change Programme Manager, Wakefield Council
How did you get into CRS, and why did you choose this profession?
From being a young child I always held an avid interest in environmental issues; particularly in terms of ecology and conservation. This passion for the natural world never left me and I committed myself to forging a future career in the field. I studied zoology at university but upon graduation I quickly came to the realisation that the only way to protect nature was to address the sustainability of human activities, by changing people’s behaviours and reducing the impact of economic activities undertaken across every sector and industry. This led me to refocus my vocational path, and I specialised in supply chain engagement and improvement work, using sustainable procurement as a lever to incite positive change. More recently, I have diversified into decarbonising organisations, promoting sustainable lifestyles, and ensuring that business and development activities also pay full consideration to tackling the ecological crisis.
Describe a typical day in your current role
A typical day involves anything from engaging in stakeholder consultation events to planting a tree, visiting a construction site to install solar panels, and reporting on progress made to reduce organisational carbon emissions to the directors and elected members. CRS work is always varied and interesting, and that’s what appeals.
What do you need to do your job brilliantly?
Any CRS professional needs to be resilient. Sustainability work within organisations involves embedding transformation and systemic change, but people don’t like being told to do things differently! Overturning entrenched attitudes and negativity requires persistence, patience, and the ability to influence and persuade. Essentially, a lot of ‘soft’ skills are needed to do this job well. On the more formal side of the equation, you can’t blag knowledge of sustainability issues and solutions. This field moves at pace and you have to be on it to keep abreast of the changing landscape. Almost daily research is a must. Having a relevant degree or masters is highly beneficial, but membership of other relevant professional bodies can be real bonus too; for example, through the Institute for Environmental Management & Assessment (IEMA) or the Society for the Environment (SocEnv). Knowing about good project management practices is useful as well and Agile is a great methodology for efficiently delivering CRS programmes.
Where do you see room for personal development over the next five years? What skills do you want to grow?
I’d like to ensure that I’m more than just a generalist. It’s important to have specialisms and in the medium-term I see myself branching out into ecological restoration work, as an outlet for business CSR that can change the fate of the natural world. This might involve aligning carbon and biodiversity offsets to create unified projects that make a real difference, whilst also providing added value from ecosystem services, ecotourism, and new jobs within a green economy. Developing my skills to make this a reality is something I’m currently exploring.
Why did you join the ICRS?
I massively respect the work ICRS does. Having seen first-hand the exceptional materials ICRS had put together for practitioners in this space, over several years, and experienced the high quality webinars and events they facilitate and host, I felt it prudent to seek to affiliate myself and get involved. It is with immense pride that I can call myself a Fellow of ICRS as I believe that this professional body represents the gold standard in this field. I also think that holding this membership can set you apart amongst similar peers, and therefore makes you a more marketable, well-round individual when applying for CRS roles.
If you didn’t work in CRS, what would you do?
I’d either be a conservationist working in the deepest, darkest recesses of the Amazonian rainforest or I’d be a washed up boxer, without a penny to my name!
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your role?
My favourite part of the role is working on such a diverse array of CRS projects, covering everything from buying electric vehicles to building solar farms and creating wildflower meadows. The thing I dislike most is those people you get in all organisations that block innovation and change, especially where this is done for no good reason apart from to frustrate and exert dominance.
Which professional project or achievement are you most proud of? Please include any relevant links and images.
My sustainable procurement work was recognised and referenced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), with some of the pioneering work I did within this discipline feeding into the dedicated ISO20400 standard that came into being in 2016. This is probably my proudest singular achievement.
What is the most challenging part of your role?
Sometimes I find it hard to convey the urgency attached to dealing with the climate change and ecological crises that we currently face, without getting terribly frustrated by the slow pace of realisation within organisations. I need to learn to better maintain my composure in such scenarios but it isn’t always easy!
What makes your sector unique from a CRS perspective?
Local government is the very epitome of CRS in practice; it’s what councils exist for, i.e. to serve the public’s needs and wider still, to meet the expectations of all stakeholders. It’s like a giant case study in what pan-organisational CRS means.
If you could change one thing about CRS, what would it be?
The inability of people in positions of power to horizon scan the future to understand how bleak it will be for their children if they don’t use their influence within organisations now to embed the sustainability centric changes that our society needs. I also detest the dubious claims, greenwashing, and generally unethical behaviours that are often rife in CRS. I’ll always call out any business and comms practices that try to use misleading campaigns and/or mistruths to hoodwink unsuspecting stakeholders or consumers.
What do you think are the most important skills for working in CRS?
Resilience, strength of conviction, passion, dynamism, and relentlessness.
Why should people choose a career in CRS?
Quite simply, CRS is the future. Our old ways of life are dying. Why? Because they have taken humanity to the precipice of destruction. We are slowly coming to the realisation that ‘growth’ cannot be infinite in a finite world, and an economy that relies on extraction and exploitation of natural resources will never end well. Wealth shouldn’t just be measured using simple metrics like GDP. Real prosperity is about maximising health, wellbeing, and happiness too. Working in this field allows people to be the change they want to see in the world, and to pioneer a better way for our societies and economies to work, within a framework that doesn’t destroy the planet. It’s a win-win.
What advice would you give to others on getting into CRS?
Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. The burden of proof should fall on the naysayers to provide the evidence that things can’t be done in a more sustainable way. If they falter when questioned, maybe they are doing things inefficiently. It’s also vital to understand the importance of how commercial facets influence decision-making. You can’t always rely on goodwill to underpin new CRS initiatives in a capitalistic world; sometimes you need a valid business case too. But be creative! Natural capital considerations and metrics to put a value on negative externalities, such a pollution and carbon emissions, can make things easier to sell, as can the use of whole life costing.
Who or where do you look to for inspiration on CRS topics? And, who do you follow on Twitter?
I have invested considerable time in building up my profile on LinkedIn to maximise my exposure to like-minded individuals. This has reaped massive benefits and I now have access to a huge network of talented peers and industry voices, who provide inspiration and invaluable resources on a daily basis. There are too many exceptional people to mention without writing an essay but in terms of twitter, I like radical thinkers and activists. In my opinion, some of the best trailblazers across the broad spectrum of CRS are Chris Packham, Derek Gow, Ben Goldsmith, and Jason Hickel.
What one question would you like to pose to the ICRS community?
How are we going to address the elephant in the room when it comes to creating more sustainable societies and preventing runaway climate change and mass extinction, i.e. overpopulation?