Njoud Mashouka, Vertis Environmental Finance
This International Women’s Day (IWD) and Women’s History Month, Sylvera interviewed outstanding sustainability leaders around the world. Read the profile of Njoud Mashouka, EAC Advisor at Vertis Environmental Finance here.
The individuals we’ve interviewed come from a variety of backgrounds and their areas of expertise and responsibility are equally diverse. We’ve learned a lot from them in these conversations and are excited to follow their progress.
Q: Hello! Tell us a little about what you do at Vertis.
A: I’m a Carbon and Energy Attribute Certificate (EAC) Advisor at Vertis Environmental Finance. I’m part of the Vertis Climate Action team, Strive, based in Madrid, Spain.
I help companies calculate their carbon footprint, reduce it and then offset the unavoidable emissions. My scope of work usually depends on the client’s level within their sustainability strategy. Most of my clients come in at the last stage. They’ve already calculated their carbon footprint and they might’ve already implemented reduction efforts. They come to me to advise them on which carbon projects they should be investing in, or purchasing carbon credits from, to offset their emissions. I assist them by advising them on which projects have a high impact, which projects meet their requirements or their requirements of their clients.
Q: Why did you choose to work in this position and space?
A: The reason I ended up in this space is very personal.
I studied International Relations at IE University and have always been interested in social development topics such as social impact and justice as well as generating economic growth in developing countries.
But, five or six years ago, I took an environmental politics class. After that I became vegan and I became aware of my own carbon and environmental footprint. I realized that if I was implementing this in my day-to-day life then I must be very passionate about it so why not pursue this as a career.
I’m interested in many things, such as economic growth, social justice, equity and environmental protection. Sustainability is the intersection between these many social and environmental issues. It really encompasses everything that I would hope to achieve and this is why I’m passionate about pursuing my career in this field.
Q: What are some opportunities and challenges you face in your sustainability role?
A: An opportunity that is given to me almost on a daily basis is that I get to open discussions on the climate crisis and to create awareness. I get to inform companies about the climate and why it’s important.
But this, in itself, is also a challenge, because not all companies have fully developed their sustainability strategies. Many companies from developing countries don’t have a sustainability strategy in place because they are dealing with economic challenges. It’s challenging to convince these companies to see the climate crisis as a priority when they are dealing with the many difficulties that come from an economic crisis. Therefore, my conversations with these companies are longer, though not necessarily harder, than with companies who have emerged within a stable economy and have a sustainability strategy in place.
Q: What skills do you think are particularly vital for you in your sustainability role?
A: Firstly you have to be forward-thinking, and by that I mean you have to think in a futuristic and hopeful way. The majority of people we’re surrounded by see this, the climate crisis, as a dead end. They think it has already happened and there’s no going back, especially since the impacts of the climate crisis are already felt . But if you choose to listen to or believe those opinions then that becomes a challenge in your day-to-day professional life. As those who work in the sustainability and climate sectors, we’re trying to do something for the future and we’re trying to solve something that is already happening and will only aggravate moving forward.
Secondly, it’s important to have effective communication skills. The problems you’re dealing with in the sustainability sector are sometimes very scientific. You need to be able to communicate this effectively to people outside the science sector. You also need to negotiate with people who don’t believe in climate change, have opposing opinions or think that maybe we don’t need climate action. Therefore communication skills are a must!
Q: What other teams do you work with closely or rely on to be successful at Vertis?
A: At Strive, the Climate Action branch of our organization, we have several teams, such as the consulting team, the sourcing team and the trading team. Not a day goes by where I don’t speak to everyone on the team.
This is because we want to ensure that the client is informed about every single aspect of their climate strategy. For example, I might be advising on investing in a project or purchasing certain carbon credits. But I will want to ensure that the reduction policies that they have in place are effective. For this I will speak to the consulting team. I might also want to know what’s out there in the market in terms of carbon projects. For this I will speak to the sourcing team.
Q: What are some trends you’re seeing in the sustainability space?
A: My favorite trend is that more and more companies are being held accountable for their sustainability claims due to pressure from civil society and NGOs.
Because of this private organizations are getting serious about sustainability. During the very early stages of climate talks and environmental protections, it was limited to the public sector. Climate discussions were always limited to the conference tables at ministries. In fact, I remember when I was a student at IE and considered pursuing sustainability, I thought that the ministry of the environment was the way to go. Now there are opportunities at private organizations. This change has happened quickly.
A lot of private organizations are now setting up Environmental Social Governance (ESG) consulting departments. However, I think that before they advise on ESG, they should make sure the first step they take is towards internal ESG targets. One of the most disappointing things for me to see is an organization that is advising on ESG when they are not taking the steps within their organization to achieve ESG goals.
Then again, there are many organizations who are applying their own ESG strategies. They are reducing their own carbon footprint, diversifying their own employees and doing other impactful work. This is something that should make us all proud.
Many organizations are also encouraging their employees to do something about the climate crisis. They organize internal climate conferences for them and create challenges to help them reduce their carbon footprint including activities such as bringing a meal to the office or taking a bicycle to work. This is excellent because the organization is making internal ESG policies a priority.
The growing interest of the private sector in sustainability is important because we need a more integrated approach to sustainability. Public and private sectors look at sustainability from different perspectives, yet sustainability is a solution that must work for everyone. It’s a problem that affects us all so excluding anyone will not give us any benefits. Everyone has to be at the table in these discussions. It’s good that everyone is now joining this talk.
Q: Who are your role models?
A: It’s challenging to pinpoint one person. Many people I’ve encountered throughout my life have inspired me to pursue my path in sustainability. They include people I met at COP, teachers and students I met at university, as well as my co-workers.
I still speak to my university teachers all the time. However, a teacher that is at the heart of me developing my passion for sustainability is Grace Obado who taught me sustainable innovation.
At Strive, I would say our Head of Climate Action, Paz Nachon, is someone who inspires me every day because she’s a problem solver within the team. She’s always helping us work together to overcome challenges.
Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of women+ starting their careers in this space?
A: Firstly, there are professionals who want to make a switch from what they are currently doing to a career in sustainability. I would tell these people, if this is a switch that you genuinely know that you want to make, don’t be discouraged. We often see lots of requirements on job applications and we tell ourselves we don’t have this or that. We’re discouraged even before we’ve applied. But you must try, you must put yourself out there, because you never know what might happen.
Secondly, I would advise people, women or anyone else in the sustainability sector, to not be afraid to voice out their new ideas. What we need most in this sector is new ideas because this is a problem that we still can’t find one effective solution to. Coming up with new ideas, speaking about them and even trying them, is something that is incredibly important. I know that if you’re at a junior level, or you’re facing biases, gender or otherwise, you’re discouraged from talking about your new ideas, but it’s important that you find the courage to speak up.
It’s very difficult to overcome these kinds of internalized experiences of oppression when you’re still facing so much external oppression. Therefore women especially must find the motivation within themselves to overcome this. A big step toward this is courage, because this is something that it is very brave to face.
Q: What can organizations do to hire, retain, promote and empower more women+ in the sustainability space?
A: This is not specifically about women in the field, but the first thing organizations can do to advance the sustainability sector is to have more specific job descriptions. If you search for “sustainability jobs”, you’ll see a lot of “sustainability manager” positions. Under this role they usually list several tasks that are incredibly vague in practice. As a job applicant, you don’t feel like you know what you’re going to do exactly. “Am I going to the initial consultation with the client? Will I have to do the carbon footprint calculations myself? Will I only provide advice after the sustainability strategy is already in place?” These are the questions we ask ourselves as sustainability manager applicants.
For organizations to encourage people to apply and find the right people, they should create more specific job descriptions for everyone’s role within the sustainability sector. Many tasks, projects and objectives are needed to achieve sustainability. You cannot expect one person with the job title “sustainability manager” to increase gender equality and economic growth, decarbonize the organization and carry out the many other tasks related to sustainability. While the sector is still evolving and the job roles are still quite vague, it should be acknowledged that sustainability actually has a very wide scope and encompases many subsectors.
The second step is to listen to why people want to join sustainability and to give their application thorough consideration. There are people who, for example, might have a degree in economics, finance or business but want to do work that is related to, let’s say, gender equality. My guess is that if that person wants to join the sustainability sector then they recognize there’s a problem and they want to be part of the solution. Companies should be open to this. It will enable them to hire the right people.
Q: What do you think about the role of women+ in the sustainability sector and averting the climate crisis?
A: I think women face the same issues within any sector that they’re in. Therefore I cannot give advice specifically to women working in the sustainability or the climate sector. It’s very sad but women today face oppression within any sector and in any country. Naturally, there will be different types of oppression depending on their geography and other factors.
However, within the climate sector itself, women have to look within themselves and push themselves to remember why they’re motivated. Women are the people most impacted by the climate crisis. They are the most vulnerable. This, in itself, is a driver to do something about it.
Being a woman from a developing country, I use this as a motivating force toward what I want to do in my career. I think, “If it’s not going to be me, who is it going to be then?”
If you are a woman, or indeed anyone working in the sustainability sector, you need to remember why you got into it, don’t lose that drive, that motivation, that got you into this space in the first place.
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