Building Sustainability Experience as a Student… on campus!

Jess Hawes, QMUL’s Sustainability Engagement Manager, is a recent graduate who also happens to run our student and staff sustainability engagement activities. In this blog post she writes about the importance of compiling work experience whilst studying, and lists a few choice opportunities provided by the QMUL Sustainability team.

As a fairly recent graduate I am all too familiar with the fear that creeps in when you think of landing the job that makes all your studying worthwhile. Trawling websites like Milkround and Reed solidified my fears. I was a geographer, with a light science focus, but I wasn’t sure that a STEM career was what I wanted. Job after job tagged with the ‘environmental’ by-line seemed to require a solid engineering, physics or lab-based background. I just wasn’t sure that was what I wanted to do.

And then I stumbled across the corporate Sustainability sector and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The sector offered so many things that attracted me. At its core, the industry works to make sure organisations are socially, environmentally and economically sustainable. It requires a wide-ranging skillset: a synthesis of leadership, strategy, governance, communication, and operational management. It’s also hugely varied in terms of focus: you can work anywhere from global giants like Unilever or M&S, to smaller organisations like SME’s in the manufacturing sector, to the public sector.

The Sustainability sector can, however, be challenging to break into. There are next to no formal graduate schemes and jobs are available in a huge range of industries, so there isn’t a set path for entry. It’s not heavily marketed as a ‘career path’ in the way that something like banking, HR or accounting are. There’s also the all-too-common requirement for “experience”, which is becoming particularly difficult for students to balance with part time jobs and the need to supplement maintenance loans.

For me, the voluntary experience I squeezed in between lectures was fundamental in landing my current job as QMUL’s Sustainability Engagement Manager. I volunteered as a Teaching Assistant with the South London Botanical Institute, as a Geography Ambassador with the Royal Geographical Society, and then as a Unit Leader with Girlguiding UK. All these roles built my confidence, and ensured I was regularly interacting with people of all ages and backgrounds. They tested my understanding of what it was to be a good communicator, threw me in at the deep end when it came to leadership, and gave me a pivotal understanding of how to balance a heavy workload. Most importantly, when it came to application and interview questions, I was able to evidence my skillset.

With this in mind, the QMUL Sustainability team have a solid commitment to do what we can in ensuring students are able to build experience and access opportunities whilst studying. The list below provide an illustration of some of the on-campus options available to students at QMUL, and tells you how you can get involved:

  • Green Mary Project Assistants

As mentioned above, Green Mary Project Assistants work with staff Green Mary teams to implement the Green Mary workbook. The ultimate goal is to make staff workplaces more sustainable, by integrating simple sustainable changes into the fabric of QMUL’s operations.

This role encourages a hugely diverse range of skills, from leadership, to communications, to persuasion. It’s a great way to diversify your skillset, and to throw yourself headfirst into fast-paced office environments. Because it’s campus based it is highly flexible, you can often work from home or between lectures, and you have a strong degree of control over how and when you work. It looks highly professional on your CV, particularly because it’s office-based. Because of the variety of work you complete it’s also an ideal role if you’re not sure about your career.

If you’re interested in this role, email to arrange a training session.

  • Green Mary Auditors

Every June the QMUL train 20-30 students as Green Mary auditors. During this 1-day volunteering opportunity you receive auditor training, and then visit the offices of staff Green Mary teams to audit their work. With the Green Mary Workbook as your guide, you check the work that teams have implemented, and determine their ultimate award. It’s one of the few situations on campus where you may be marking your lecturer’s work.

Auditing and certification are a hugely important skills in the Sustainability sector. We use it to ensure we’re compliant with legislation, to achieve certification of Environmental Management Systems like ISO14001, and even to verify that our Annual Reports meet internal reporting guidelines like GRI. This is a great way to get a feel for what is involved, whilst affecting sustainable change on campus, and building practical auditing experience.

To get involved, email and ask to be added to the Green Mary mailing list.

  • Green Mary Student Group

The Green Mary Student Group provides opportunities for members to lead or take part in sustainability campaigns and projects, volunteer with like-minded students, and get involved with sustainability-themed social events. It’s student-led and, like societies, is run by a committee that includes a President, Vice-President and individual Project Managers.

Being in a society is hugely valuable when it comes to developing leadership and project management skills, regardless of sector. It also shows that you can work as a team, and evidences your willingness to collaborate. The fact that Green Mary is sustainability focussed also provides evidence that you’re a self-started who puts your passions into practice.

They are on the lookout for new members, so if you’re interested in joining check out their Facebook group and go along to their next event.

  • Student Switch Off Ambassadors

This opportunity is just available to students living in QMUL’s Halls of Residence, but it’s a great way to dip your toe in the water when it comes to sustainability engagement. Student Switch Off is QMUL’s inter-hall energy saving competition. Each Hall competes to save the most energy compared to a baseline (calculated as an average of a number of years energy consumption for that Hall) over the course of an academic year. The winners receive a celebration at the end of the year: last year it was Dawson Hall who got a free BBQ and ice cream party on the lawn at Charterhouse Square.

SSO Ambassadors promote the scheme both in person and on social media. They make sure their flat and friends are saving energy by promoting simple actions like turning off lights, putting lids on pans, and wearing jumpers instead of turning up the heating.

If you’d like to get involved, opportunities are advertised via the QMUL Student Switch Off Facebook, and emailed directly to students through the Halls of Residence eShot.

These aren’t the only opportunities available on campus. If you’ve got a sustainability opportunity to advertise why not add it to the comments below?

Don’t forget to follow our Facebook and Twitter for the latest info and events around campus. You can also get in touch via our email,


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