Insider Insight: Claire Jakobsson

Claire Jakobsson, the new head of climate, energy and environment policy at EEF considers her career decisions.

Claire Jakobsson, new head of climate, energy and environment policy at EEF

Did you see yourself as a future head for climate, energy and environment at EEF ten years ago?

My career began as a Defra adviser at the House of Commons back in 2005. If someone had told me then that I would be head of energy and environment policy at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, I would have looked at them in surprise, but in the years that followed I learned that my talent lay in this field and I am delighted to be here.

What has helped you get where you are in your career?

I was originally brought to Defra policy as a veterinary science graduate to work on the Animal Welfare Bill. I was fortunate on taking up the role that environmental policy was gaining traction. It was a time of transition, with a new Conservative leadership under David Cameron, and the latter days of Tony Blair, and the spotlight was firmly on the environment. Being at the heart of this challenge, not only provided me with an excellent stepping stone into the next phase of my career, but also evoked a passion for making it happen. Thus followed the career choices that have led me to where I am today.

Do you have any tips for people about to embark in your field on how to make a success out of their careers in sustainability?

Get experience in a number of different areas across the public and private sector – a key learning is that sustainability has relevance to every sector be it manufacturing; energy; retail; services etc. Be prepared to think creatively and embrace new ideas. Listen and ask questions. There is a lot of information out there, but there is no point pegging yourself to a sector, or a particular way of thinking, without challenging views (including your own). This way you will appreciate where the problems are and come up with workable solutions.

Who have been your role-models/mentors in your career?

I have been lucky to have worked with some of the best policy makers and influencers in the environmental and energy space - contacts who will last a lifetime. Also, groups such as the Conservative Environment Network, Young Energy Professionals and Powerful Women, to name just a few, have kept me on task when my confidence has wavered.

What have been the stumbling blocks or barriers along the way?

Making the transition from public to private sector was probably the biggest challenge for me. Learning to deal with commercial pressure was a steep curve. You must go where the business determines and this can sometimes feel like you have been put off task. It taught me that, although environmental objectives are not always clear, it can still have its rewards.

What stages of your career have been the most challenging?

There are moments when you might struggle to see where you are going. Someone once said to me “just make sure you can tell your story” and it made sense. Careers are not always linear, in fact, sometimes you have to side-step to get back on track as I have done on occasion.

The most rewarding?

Working as part of the environment team in parliament was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding times. Positive outcomes were tangible and I felt like I made a real impact for the future of our environment.

What have been the groundbreaking instances or milestones in the sustainability field that have really changed the way you have to work? And how did you adapt to these events?

Seeing the passage of the Climate Change Act in 2008, which I had worked on, felt like a big landmark moment for the environmental agenda. There was a momentous lobbying effort from all sides and it was a real achievement when it finally passed.

What qualifications have been necessary/most beneficial in your career?

A good science degree was really useful. It teaches you to objectively question and analyse the evidence in front of you to generate ideas.

Could you sum up, in one sentence, what has changed in the industry since you first began your job?

The dialogue has changed dramatically and the environment is now a mainstream discussion topic from the pub to the boardroom - a marked difference from 10 years ago.

What are the biggest challenges the manufacturing industry faces in environmental terms?

Sustainability in manufacturing is not just about environmental targets, but also staying competitive in a global market. The challenge will be ensuring we have the right policies in place to deliver our environmental goals, whilst having a thriving British manufacturing sector in the long-term.

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