Having gone from the Graduate Leadership Programme to working for Amey in Ferrovial Services and making every stop along the way, Emily Davies exemplifies the enormous possibility for millennial-aged career identity and optimism. For Emily, every variety of change can be positive and evaluating every possibility is an inevitable course on the way to innovative solutions for one’s work and career path. This gripping interview provides a glimpse into the multi-faceted Head of Social Impact who believes in practical change with respect to Corporate Sustainability and the joy of a water bottle.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Hertfordshire and live in Oxford, but my heart is either in Exmoor or the Lake District.
How old are you?
33 or 34 depending on when this published…
In which of the company’s business units do you work?
I work for Amey, in Ferrovial Services
And how long have you been working at Ferrovial?
11 years. I started on a Graduate Leadership Programme back in 2004, and have since moved around working in our Consulting, Highways, and HSEQ and HR teams.
What do you do?
I’m Head of Social Impact, which is a mixture of social value and corporate sustainability. My role is to help Amey leave a lasting and positive impact on the natural environment and the communities’ in which we operate; some of this is legislative, some of it is client driven, and some of it is simply the right thing to do.
If you were talking to a child, how would you explain your work?
I’d draw a picture—1 planet and a symbol representing 70 billion people (and growing…) using the resources of 3.5 planets. Next to it, I’d draw a big fat question mark, hopefully followed by discussion and questions, ultimately leading to what Amey is doing to contribute to sustainable development.
Why did you decide to make this your profession? What was your career plan?
My aspiration wasn’t to be in Corporate Sustainability; it wasn’t a conscious decision. My initial interest was the natural environment—I studied Physical Geography at university and a career in environmental management seemed like a good fit. After working on several projects mitigating the inevitable negative impacts, I was intrigued as to what we were doing as a company on the broader agenda of environmental sustainability.
And in truth, the answer was not much… I found an opportunity and a boss that was willing to invest in me. It was at this point I decided to study for a Masters in Sustainability Leadership at Cambridge University, which at the time was one of only two part-time courses I could find in the UK. I was the only person in Amey I could find with a degree or any academics in this subject—whilst this didn’t make me an expert, it did equip me with the confidence to start conversations with colleagues, friends, and other organisations.
What do you need to be good at if you want a career in CS?
I see Corporate Sustainability professionals as generalists, if they’re good; expert generalists, but with something in common—a recognition that business is both part of the problem and part of the solution when it comes to some of our biggest challenges: poverty, inequality, climate change, and loss of biodiversity.
It’s a movement that is bigger than any one person, bigger than any one organisation, and for that reason, somewhat unites us. So, what do you need? —passion, persistence, a sense of urgency, and an ability to work with others to make things happen.
What do you like most about working at Ferrovial?
The potential. It’s so vast and there are so many opportunities to work on different projects and challenges. I just about count as a millennial (just…), who, according to the statistics, change jobs every 3-4 years. Having been here at Amey for 11 years, I guess the message is that it doesn’t have to be to a different company. My role has changed at least every 2 years, changing with client priorities or company structure—I value being able to adapt what I do to meet the demands of the day. That, and when I’m working from our office in Oxford it’s a short, carbon-free 1O-minute cycle ride from home.
What project do you feel most proud of?
Last year Amey joined the Buy Social Corporate Challenge—a challenge which sees us looking to divert our supply chain spending from profit, to not-for-profit organisations or ‘social enterprises’. These organisations have a social mission—their reason to exist, which sits at their core. Last year Amey spent £1m with Social Enterprises and we continue to look for new options. For me, this is Corporate Sustainability at its best—using our existing purchasing power to make a difference in the communities we operate in. As an example, we’ve recently started procuring all our office suppliers from ‘Wildhearts’. They are a social enterprise whose profits are channelled directly into supporting female entrepreneurs all over the world. What’s equally good is that our Chief Procurement Officer has got behind this initiative and is leading it, training his team, and engaging with suppliers. Even after I’ve moved on this is something that I hope is here to stay.
How would you encourage future generations to pursue your profession?
Five top tips to starting out in Corporate Sustainability:
- Like most jobs that didn’t really exist 10 years ago, they don’t naturally fit into a box called HR, HSEQ, Procurement, Strategy, or IT—so be prepared to be flexible and be prepared to move around.
- Don’t wait for a job to be advertised because it probably won’t. Find a sector you’re interested in and people that inspire you, then make the case for why the role is needed.
- Don’t get stuck purely in the ‘charity’ side of Corporate Sustainability—whilst it’s good to give and I’m a huge advocate of charitable partnerships, it’s how you make your profits, not what you do with them once made, that will truly make a difference.
- Be enthusiastic—it’s surprising how far this will take you.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I am an avid fan of mountains—hiking up them, skiing and boarding down them, and jumping off them. Give me altitude, clean air, and a vast expanse of forest, rock, or snow and I’m a happy lady. I’ve set myself a vague challenge to hike up the highest volcano on every continent—2 down, 5 (…and a very long way) to go.
What kind of music do you like?
Anything I can sing, dance, or tap my feet to. Bob Marley would definitely feature on my ‘desert island discs’.
It’s all about the non-fiction. Right now, I’m reading Tim Marshall’s Divided (Why we’re living in an age of walls)—it’s his sequel to Prisoners of Geography. His lens and insight on the world is gripping, a definite page turner.
And from TV?
Grand Designs—in preparation of fulfilling another ambition to build an off-grid, self-sufficient home (no doubt somewhere in the mountains…).
Share a life tip?
Always carry a water bottle.