Ciara Macfarlane

Sustainability Graduate at JLL

I did my undergraduate degree in Geography at Newcastle University and then progressed to doing my postgraduate degree in Environmental Impact Assessment and Management at the University of Manchester. Climate change and sustainability were consistent themes throughout both of my degrees and, as I learnt more about it, I became very passionate about these topics. This led me to my current job at JLL as a sustainability graduate within the Net Zero Carbon team, which is part of the wider UK sustainability consulting part of the business.

I’m still relatively new in my STEM career but my main piece of advice would be to just back yourself, whether that’s during an application process for a job, or at the beginning of a new job in STEM. I think we as women have a tendency to doubt ourselves and our abilities quite often, but you will be 100% capable. With new jobs in particular it is just a case of trusting the process – no one expects you to know everything at the beginning – and just absorb as much as you can and you’ll pick things up quickly.

I would say my career area is best summed up as sustainability within the built environment and the real estate sector, and the primary reason I got into this was through my masters degree. I knew about sustainability before, but at quite a holistic level through my geography degree, and also through climate change becoming quite a prominent issue in society and in the media. Then I completed my masters, which was very focused on the importance and relevance of sustainability within the built environment, and this spurred by interest in it and has tied nicely into the career area I am in now.

During my masters I had work experience in the Manchester University NHS Trust, which encompasses 12 hospitals across Greater Manchester. The aim of the project was to review and update the Trusts’ Climate Change Adaptation plan and create a sustainable materials database for the construction of new hospital buildings and retrofits. It offered me great exposure and insight into the NHS’s ambitious Net Zero Carbon goals and how they are anticipating and adapting to the effects of climate change. The primary result was an internal climate change adaptation report available to all staff, which will be used to implement actions to reduce the climate risk that the healthcare services and buildings within the MFT will be exposed to now and in the future.

At JLL the projects I have primarily worked on are net zero carbon strategies for developers and asset owners, which involves helping clients set or reach their net zero carbon targets. The result is multiple strategy reports to assist the client in achieving their net zero carbon goals.

I would say starting my own business during lockdown was something I am proud of achieving. The company, called Outlaced, sold shoelaces made from recycled plastic to encourage people to make more sustainable fashion choices through changing their laces, not their shoes. The idea came from my love for shoes, particularly trainers, and I realised my slight shoe addiction was quite an unsustainable shopping habit. After some research, it was clear people are often buying a whole new pair of shoes for a slightly different look, without any acknowledgement for the environmental impact of this fashion choice. So through simply changing their laces, this offered a much more cost effective and sustainable way to change the appearance. With the idea consolidated, I then spent six months doing the groundwork to get the business up and running at the end of 2020. It ran successfully for over a year and a half before I had to put it on hold indefinitely whilst I went away travelling and then started my graduate job.

I start my day going through my emails and planning my day then, once I have my admin done, I will move on to client work. Generally, around 80% of my workday is focused on client work, and my tasks could vary from assisting with carbon projection modelling, to creating reports and presentations, doing a peer review for a client, joining client calls, and doing research on new climate-related legislation for internal use. As it is consultancy work, no two days are the same, and we usually have multiple projects on the go at once, which are all at different stages, so the days vary greatly depending on what projects I’m working on and what stage they are at. Despite the dynamic work I do always consistently take lunch for an hour and finish the day around 5pm.

My favourite part of my job would be that it is very dynamic, and the work we do for clients is always varied. I guess my favourite part of the job would also just be knowing that the work we do is driving sustainability within the built environment, and this is doing something good for the planet, which I find is very satisfying personally, and it keeps me motivated in my job.

Applying to graduate roles certainly had its challenges. The process can be difficult and time-consuming, but the more you do, the more you begin to learn what employers are looking for and feel more confident in presenting not just your CV but yourself and what you can bring to a role in face-to-face meetings. For anyone going into or through that process, I would say do not give up, learn what you can from every bump in the road and continue to believe in yourself and your abilities.

I would say Greta Thunberg is one of the main role models and motivational figures I have. I feel like she has really brought climate change and sustainability to the forefront of people’s minds, including myself.  She also encourages anyone of any age to be able to make a change and hold people accountable in terms of climate change and the future of this planet, which I find very inspirational. 

In my free time I like to stay active and get outside, as I find it good for clearing my head and having a reset from busy city life. At the moment, I am training for our work charity triathlon so I have been mixing up my time between running, swimming and cycling. I’m also a big sports fan so I try to watch and go to as many men’s and women’s football games as I can, and will also watch the international rugby with friends when it is on.

Yes I would say I have. I probably have a tendency to play down personal achievements when they happen and just move onto the next thing without fully acknowledging them and letting myself feel good about it. I deal with this by making note of my main career milestones so they’re there for reflection when I’m in times of doubt or feel like I have not made any real contributions to my work.

I believe this passion for STEM is shared in my workplace as our work is focused on the built environment and the impact it has on climate change, whilst climate change is also influencing decisions in the built environment. Science is therefore a foundational pillar of our work, and we share this passion within our team through lots of knowledge sharing, whether that be through formal knowledge-sharing sessions or casually sending round recently published research on topics relevant to our work.

Being a woman in STEM, to me, means taking the science around climate change seriously, being driven, and having a desire to do better for the future of the planet.

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