Hi, I am Anuja Sawant Sarangdhar, an environmental and sustainability professional. I am a well organized person with an eye for details, fast learner, resourceful, tech-savvy and thrive in a quick environment, ready to jump in and enthusiastically embrace any challenge.
Who is a Sustainability Developer?
- A Sustainability Developer is the one who provides leadership in sustainability in an organization.
- Supports the organization to meet global and local sustainability goals.
- Challenges the organisation to stay focused and not compromise long term goals for short term gains.
- Coordinates and leads sustainability related work.
- Partners with organizations in the community.
- Works with everyone in the organization and inspires them to keep sustainability integrated into their daily business.
- Monitors, analyses and reports performance of the organization with respective to sustainability goals.
- Monitors and coordinates implementation of applicable environmental legislations for the organization.
Why did you choose Chemical Engineering and then Green Technology?
As I was interested in chemistry, I opted for chemical engineering. I thought I could learn more chemistry and many of my friends were doing engineering. While I studied chemical engineering, there was more of engineering and less chemistry but that was fine, I liked engineering better. I also understood the ill effects of chemicals in our environment and on the people. From then I knew I had to specialize in the environmental field. One day a good friend told me about a course in Green Technology and that’s how I enrolled into it.
I was in the US when I became a Sustainability Developer for IKEA. A change of country meant change of jobs. I stumbled upon this profile when I was looking for an opportunity there. I applied to it and I got the position.
What does a Sustainability Developer do?
A Sustainability Developer would:
- Report, analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of performance indicators (KPIs) to measure progress and recommended improvements to organizational operations in areas such as pollution prevention and control, energy efficiency, water, resource and waste management. Liaise with internal and external stakeholders on improvement areas; collaborate on environmental stewardship and resolve sustainability issues and concerns.
- Advocate with senior management to ensure due consideration of and commitment to IKEA’s sustainability principles and strategies.
- Engage co-workers into integrating sustainability into daily business, through targeted sustainability orientation and awareness activities.
- Manage participation of volunteers and organize community building activities. Manage community involvement budget annually. Work directly with a network of non-profits and schools.
- Investigate, manage and oversee environmental compliance and fill the gaps in regulatory requirements through systematic approach and record keeping.
I have loved my workplace. The IKEA culture and values shaped everything we did on a daily basis. It was great to be a part of that culture and experience it. The people there were amazing, helpful, intelligent, curious and non-judgemental.
What drives you?
To be a part of the bigger picture, to be able to help the people and keep our environment healthy is what drives me.
How different are you from an 18 year old you?
At 18, I would pick a fight for what I believed in. I now have a more empathetic view of the world and the people around me. I try to understand why we do, what we do and see us as a part of the whole. A child of what we call “mother nature”, which is where the holistic concept of sustainability comes into picture, I wasn’t aware of that concept back then.
What steps did you take to land in your present job?
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” – Anais Nin.
- Read and blogged – Writing helped me understand new concepts in the field and helped me re-think old ones. This process kept me updated about my field of interest.
- Volunteered – By volunteering I gained grass roots experience. I learnt how not-for-profit organizations work. I learnt about the local needs and met new people.
- Networked – Over the internet, there are numerous avenues to professional networks where you can connect with people in your field. Use social media for networking. I use Twitter and LinkedIn for it. I also used Google+ to share my articles, now I use Facebook more. There are different kinds of people on each social network. You’ve got to find which one suits your field of work. Know how people in your line of work are using technology. You are influenced by all the people you come in contact with. Be thankful and express it whenever you can.
- Learnt – There are places you can learn new things and that too for free. I also tried to learn new languages to have a strong connection with people whose English is a second language, just like it is for me. Research says that learning new things helps our brain structure to evolve and make new neurons. Bonus.
- I applied not just online but also went to job fairs. Even if you don’t see the kind of job you want in a job fair, ask the recruiters if their company has any opportunities, they might direct you somewhere.
If you are given a chance to change something in the past, what will you change?
I wouldn’t change anything about my past. Everything I did, successes and failures, have all lead me to this moment. I basically just followed my interests. Liked chemistry, therefore took chemical engineering. Wanted to do something about the environment, hence took green technology. I tried to get into biochemistry too but couldn’t, because I didn’t have a biology background. But, I still had many other things to do that I liked.
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” ― Jalaluddin Mevlana Rumi
Sticking to a single frame of reference or a single plan can stagnate our way of thinking. I personally do not believe in having a vision that doesn’t allow me to evolve.
What things would you do differently in preparing for this career?
- I would join associations related to my field and get certified. I didn’t do this before but I’m doing it now. Better late than never.
- Not berate myself – There were moments in my job search when I was disappointed with the whole process and kept wondering why I was stuck. That’s when a friend said to me that in German, ‘grün’ is also used to mean ‘inexperienced’. That shifted my perspective to thinking that I just needed more experience to do what I have to do. It felt good to not berate myself.
- Improve my communication skills, both verbal and written.
- Work more on grass roots level.
- Remind myself – At times you will feel that nothing is going your way, you may gasp for a sense of control. It is when you should pause and reflect. Remind yourself that even if things don’t happen the way you expect them to be, you can control how you react to situations. You can let yourself become stronger and wiser and make the most of what you have. When you feel like you can’t control things and things will be not yours like you’d want them to be, let your loss be your guide.
What advice you have for your younger self?
“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” – Dalai Lama.
The experiences you’ve had all your life, have got you where you are right now. Some were nice, some were not. Rita Mae Brown once said, ‘Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.’ A lot of the bad experiences may leave you feeling hopeless and resentful, but if you let them guide you to a better place, chances are you will reach there. You are a combination of all these experiences. Even the worst of the experiences and also the people who bring the worst out of you can be your teacher. Whenever you encounter such experiences and people, look at how they can teach you. You will then one day think of them and connect the dots to how you became wiser and stronger.
What do you love about your current role?
- Learning opportunities
- Work-life balance
- Working hours
- People I work with
- Company culture and values
What are the challenges you face in your career?
Sometimes speaking on the spot or presenting on stage, basically public speaking, can be a challenge for me. But I constantly work on it, the idea is to do it often and know what you are talking about.
What is your future aspiration?
I dream of a world where the usual business would be so sustainable that you wouldn’t need specialists like me. The dream seems far fetched at this moment.
How do you like to spend your free time?
In my free time, I enjoy writing blog, reading, indoor gardening, cooking, line dancing, traveling, painting and walking.
Can you please summarise your career journey?
- 12th – Vocational – Electronics
- Graduation – B.E. Chemical Engineering, Bharati Vidyapeeth College of Engineering, Mumbai University
- Post Graduation – M.Tech Green Technology, Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai (formerly known as UDCT)
- On-call Volunteer – Safecity (Human Rights), Aug 2014 – Present
- Webinar Committee Member – International Society of Sustainability Professionals (Environment), Dec 2017 – Present
- Sustainable Blogger – Green Fashion Week (Environment), Dec 2017 – Present
- Volunteer – Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) (Environment), Jul 2016
- Freelance Blogger – Green Hatters
- Intern – Environmental Management Centre
- Associate at an Environmental Consultancy – Prasad Modak & Associates
- Sustainability Developer – IKEA Distribution Services Inc.
- Environmental Professional In-Training (EPt), Eco Canada Dec 2017
What was your best moment in your career?
Best moment in my career was when I got a chance to work with bright and open minded people. My career progressed by working along with such people. Great people will help you progress, they are a big influence on you.
What was your best career decision?
Best career decision was when I gathered the courage to say ‘No’ to certain opportunities.
You got to have confidence in yourself. Do not sell yourself short if you know you can do better or can do what you really want to do. Have a spine. Have patience.
What are the skills required to be a Sustainability Developer in 2020?
A Sustainability Developer needs the following skills and experience:
- University degree or documented in-depth knowledge about Sustainability.
- Basic knowledge about project management.
- Remain highly motivated with little supervision, work independently and act decisively.
- Passion about sustainability.
- Excellent communication and negotiation skills with the ability to inspire and motivate people.
- Ability to build trustful relationships.
- Problem solving skills in conjunction with organization’s core values.
- Good example and culture bearer according to organization’s values.
- Basic analytical skills.
I am 17 and I am planning for a similar career path like yours. What advice you have for me?
Find relevant courses right after 12th grade. You don’t need a chemical engineering degree for this. You could jump straight into environmental field after 12th.
Develop an interest in life and this world. When you do different kind of things, you are allowing yourself to have a different perspective, you are letting yourself connect the dots which you couldn’t have if you hadn’t done those things.
Hobbies – I consider hobbies as a support system too. When nothing seems to work out, hobbies are always there for you to give yourself a much needed break. Breaks and rest are good for creativity. You could also think of hobbies as an investment. When you are old and unable to do your usual work, some of these hobbies might someday come handy. Hobbies also boost your creativity and creativity strengthens your brain muscles in its own magical way. I like taking pictures and I also like to put them in my blog posts. Having pictures in your articles engages the readers. So that’s a kind of a professional trick you got to learn. That’s how hobbies and work can be integrated together. I even paint to express myself better.
What is a typical career path for a Sustainability Developer?
A post-graduate degree in environmental field should help with your career as a Sustainability Developer.
Why do you think IKEA hired you?
They see several things in a potential recruit:
- Passion for sustainability, environment, and helping people
- Ability to work with people coming from different cultures
- Knowledge about IKEA’s sustainability efforts
- Ability to learn from mistakes
- Good educational credentials
- Good communication skills
What are the alternative career options in this field?
- You could work as an environmental lawyer.
- Start your own – a green product business.
- Create a new technology to help solve environmental problems.
Who do you think should take up this Career choice?
Careers in environmental and sustainability field are varied. It could be a field or a desk job.
Environmental scientists often have to go in the field.
- If you are interested in oceans, you will have to work in and around oceans.
- You like crunching data, then you could be working with organization that collects data on ocean temperatures and acidity.
- If you like using your mind and doing research, you could work with consultancies, think tanks, policy making organizations and the government.
- If you are worried about pollution, you might work on field for remediation, or assessing sites for contamination, or you might work in a lab and test polluted waters.
- You could work at grass root level, many not-for-profit organizations do that.
To put it broadly, if you are interested in protecting the environment or the people, there are many ways you can do this and you’d need to do some research on it. You got to be aware about the issues faced by the society in order to understand what is needed. Then assess yourself against it and see if you can help find a solution in any capacity.
What are some resources you use to keep yourself updated about the industry?
I follow a lot of websites and organizations on social media and it is difficult for me to list them here. However, if you follow me on social media and follow my blog you should be able to find those resources.
What do you think everyone leaving higher secondary school should know?
My mom always said to me, “You are in your school/college to study, keep that in mind no matter what you do.” That always encouraged me to focus on my studies. Friends and events, come and go, not to say that you shouldn’t make friends, just don’t get bogged down by relationships that don’t work for you.
What are the few things parents can do to help their children choose the career/course options after 12th?
- I’d say that parents should expose students to everything they possibly can.
- They shouldn’t restrict their opportunities by worrying about societal conceptions.
- Never berate children for their failures, help them overcome their challenges with compassion instead.
- It’d also be nice to introduce children to their social circle at this stage so that they can learn from them.
I was never forced to choose my career steps. I’m lucky that my parents wanted me to be happy and to find my happiness, and do well whatever I set out to do. I didn’t come from a very rich family but my parents managed to help me with all my educational needs.
More importantly, listen to what the child really needs.
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