Monday, May 12, 2014

2012 Essays | Exploring Values

This is the second of two essays I wrote in 2012, shortly before deciding to return to Australia.

Please provide a short personal statement (1-2 pages) describing the evolution of your personal values and professional aspirations. What steps have you taken in your career to actualise your values in your work? If you havent been able to do so, what has held you back?

My professional aspirations have shifted far more then my values over the course of my career. My values have remained relatively constant (even since childhood), if somewhat cliched: honesty, integrity, fairness, generosity, courage, patience... all underpinned by love. Some have really only found their face since I met my wife and my personal journey has been an interesting and sometimes bumpy one (as would anyone's I think), but the values I profess have remained relatively constant.

When I first left university, my career aspirations were quite low (in retrospect). I wanted to earn a good salary and work in a field that included both the environment and engineering. Beyond those attributes, I did not have a clear picture of where I wanted to go or the type of organisation I wanted to work in. As I had a bursary from SABMiller, I started my career making lots and lots of beer - something that achieved the engineering, and some, but not all of the environmental aspirations I had at the time.

In the autumn of 2005, shortly after realising that perhaps a career in brewing was not for me, I had a fortuitous Easter weekend with an old school friend. Over a bottle of wine, we unpacked what we wanted from life - well, work actually. And it turned out that I didn't want to work for a corporation, and I didn't want to make beer anymore. I still wanted to earn a good salary and mesh engineering and ecology, but the 'how' was clearing up a bit. By August 2005, I had resigned and moved to Australia and by October I was working for a sustainable design business looking at green buildings.

And so my career aspirations took a bit of a step up - I now wanted to work on the most awesome buildings in the world and help reduce their environmental impact. The aspiration was still predominantly self-centred, typified by a once-stated life goal to be published in The Economist. During my four years at Advanced Environmental, I managed to achieve many of these goals (although not The Economist one), and slowly came to realise that it wasn't the whole picture. I had the good salary, the engineering/environmental mix and was working for a smallish private firm... But there was a lot of resistance to broadening our offering to explore the social impacts of our designs and also to really engaging with the complexity of ecological systems. We liked our 'environment' in easily packaged energy, water and waste bites and no further complexity was necessary.

So when the opportunity to return to South Africa came about, I jumped at it (even though through the acquisition of Advanced Environmental by WSP I was now in a big corporation again). The chance to engage in a new green building industry in a country with pressing social needs meant that my aspirations took another step up - I now wanted to play a role in shaping an industry to more closely reflect my values.

This latest part of the journey has given me the chance to work on some incredible projects across Africa and to work closely with the Green Building Council of South Africa in shaping their green building tool. I have had the chance to do non-profit work informing the technical elements of the Green Star SA rating tool, to write a green lease guide, to work with a Nobel Peace Laureate on her new Centre for Peace and Environmental Studies in Nairobi and to speak at national and international conferences. My thinking has been broadened to include Biomimicry, Integral Thinking and Regenerative Design. I have wakened to the importance of resource equity, governance and peace in underpinning sustainable development. The latest chapter has seen a focus on The Future City, and the levels of complex design, trans-disciplinary thinking and technical excellence required to see it built.

As my vision and aspirations have broadened, so have I changed the place and nature of my work. Moving companies, moving countries, changing roles and building new service offerings... Each plateau in engagement/interest has led to a change and another learning curve. My biggest challenges have been finding mentors who are willing and able to shape both my technical expertise (the easy part) and give form to my values (the hard part).


And now my aspirations have shifted once again. I now want to work with and learn from the global thought leaders who are re-imagining how our built environment will be designed and constructed to best meet the needs of current and future generations. I want to work on world-leading projects, taking urban sustainability in all its breadth into account, looking to the future and understanding the past. My time back in South Africa has been focused on sharing my knowledge and experience with our African business and the local industry via the Green Building Council. Now I aspire to take a new step and find global mentors who can guide me on this continuing journey.