Welcome to our interview series where we speak with purpose-driven and sustainability-focused professionals from around the globe. Every few weeks, we’ll dive into their journeys, learn about their wins and challenges, and the resources they couldn’t do without.
Prepare to be inspired and learn something new!
Today’s guest is Adri Meyer, environmental assessment practitioner, environmental control officer, content creator.
Please tell us a little bit about who you are, your background, and your current job. What inspired you to start a career in sustainability and what was your journey to where you are now?
My name is Adri Meyer and I live in Mossel Bay, South Africa. I have a Bachelors of Science (BSc) in Conservation Ecology from Stellenbosch University and a Masters of Philosophy (MPhil) in Marine and Environmental Law. My first job out of University was as an Intern at BirdLife South Africa (a partner of BirdLife International) where I worked at the Coastal and Seabird Conservation Programme. I was responsible for fieldwork, which involved deploying GPS devices on the endangered African Penguin at breeding islands around South Africa. After two years, I entered the realm of Environmental Consulting. I practiced as an Environmental Assessment Practitioner for four years, where I was responsible for conducting Environmental Impact Assessments, Environmental Audits and worked closely with environmental specialists, government authorities and the public to approve and monitor development projects with as little impact on the natural environment as possible. Due to personal life changes, I quit my job as an Environmental Assessment Practitioner to pursue my dream of conservation-writing. I am currently a content creator (i.e. writer) for three different companies where I am responsible for writing environmental, conservation and EHS based content for their websites.
What’s your day-to-day like?
As a content writer I have lots of flexibility in my day, and I am fortunate that I can work from anywhere. At the start of the week, I either am given the topics to write about for that week, or I submit topic ideas to my employers. From there I do online research about the topic, looking at various different sources of information (blogs, peer reviewed articles, opinion pieces and news sources) and compile first the outline of my writing piece, and then the content. Once an article has been completed, I submit it to my employers for review. I am very fortunate that each day looks different for me, and I can stipulate my own working hours. In my previous job as an Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP) I was not awarded this flexibility, and all days started the same: arriving at the office, checking emails, and getting started with report writing. Oftentimes I had the opportunity to get out of the office, either to go investigate the site conditions of a new project, or to conduct an Environmental Audit Inspection at approved projects that were under construction, so there was also some variability in my day, however it was still an 8 – 5 job.
What do you like the most about the work you do?
I am constantly learning, which is something I really enjoy. Although I have a lot of experience in conservation and environmental writing, it has happened where a topic is completely new to me, and I get to educate myself about something new. I believe we are never too old to stop learning. I also love writing – I used to write stories as a child and considered becoming a journalist so I can write about environmental issues) – so it is really great that I get to pursue my writing passion and that I get to write about something I care about.
In your experience, what are the main challenges of working with mission driven and sustainability focused businesses?
The biggest challenge would be the costs associated with a green business, as unfortunately it is not cheap to be sustainable. Our world has been set up in such a way that new, affordable technology often causes a lot of environmental harm, while green technology still has expensive costs associated. For example, I currently write for an Activewear brand that uses recycled nylon in their clothing, as well as contributing to Great Barrier Reef conservation. Due to the increased costs of recycling and reusing nylon fabrics, their clothing has a slightly higher price tag associated with it, and many people would rather just support the (very unsustainable and polluting) fast fashion industry as it is more affordable, and simply ignore the environmental costs associated with their choices.
Is there anything that you do outside of your work that is driven by similar (sustainability) objectives?
Of course! Firstly, I recycle where I can as this is something that is easy and free for me to do. I also try to repurpose old clothing items, as clothing waste to landfill is a very big problem in modern society. In terms of my passion for nature and the environment, I try to walk when I can (e.g. if I just need some milk, I would rather walk to the shops than drive), and I also volunteer at a penguin and seabird rehabilitation center in my free time. I also try and raise awareness with family and friends about the current global problems facing the Earth, such as extinction of species, impacts of climate change, and the small changes they can make to lessen their impact on our environment and live a more sustainable life.
In your opinion, what are the top skills necessary to be successful at a “green job”?
Although perhaps not a skill, you definitely need passion and conviction. You will often be faced with lots of backlash or challenges while pursuing your career, and green jobs are not the best paying jobs, so if you are passionate about your purpose, you will be able to face these challenges. Environmental policies and regulations are constantly changing, so you also need to be able to research applicable policies to understand what is required of the different industries you may find yourself working in. Lastly, communication skills are very important. You need to be able to communicate possible results, data, or facts to different people or stakeholders in a non-technical way.
What are the most common mistakes or misperceptions you have seen when it comes to green careers?
Unfortunately many people perceive us as “hippies” or “tree huggers”. Many people in green careers got there through years of study at colleges or universities, and are highly educated individuals that are trying to find solutions to problems caused by all of humanity.
You have a diverse background and experience working in conservation and environmental consultancy. Could you highlight some of the key differences and potential green career paths within industries/sectors you’ve worked with?
Conservation: There are many career paths to take in the field of conservation. You can stay in academics as a researcher (a PhD is often required for this), or become a qualified game ranger and field guide at a game or nature reserve. You can also become a wildlife or conservation manager with enough experience. In terms of the Consulting industry, the most common career would be that as an Environmental Assessment Practitioner (EAP) where you conduct Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). You can also become an Environmental Control Officer, where you go to construction sites or operational organizations and conduct environmental audits. Many EAPs decide to become specialists, and focus only on one element of the environment, such as Botanists, Freshwater Specialists, Geologists, Soil Scientists or Heritage and Palaeontology Practitioners. All these specialists play a crucial role in the EIA process as they provide specialist input regarding the environmental impact of a project.
Any “lessons learned” or advice you can share with others looking to succeed in their purpose-driven career?
My favourite motto is “no rain no flowers” and I try to keep this in mind when I go through a difficult patch, or feel like I am losing sight of my career goals. I entered my first year of university convinced that one day I will be running my own big cat sanctuary, I hated birds, and I had no interest in consulting. After university, I not only ended up working for a NGO that solely focuses on protecting birds, but I also became specialized in environmental laws and consulting. We cannot go about our life with preconceived ideas or we will be disappointed. We need to constantly adapt our expectations and be open to new opportunities that may come our way. It is often tough. There are not a lot of “green” jobs out there yet and competition is tough. So it is important to remember that without the tough times, without the rain, we cannot grow and bloom.
What inspires you every day to wake up and keep going?
Even on tough days, I am able to get up, shower, sit in front of my laptop, and get working. Sometimes it feels impossible, and I feel lost or uncertain about the decisions I made (should I have become an engineer or a dietician) I know I am making the smallest difference to the future of the planet – through recycling and also through sharing information and getting to write about environmental problems and solutions. Also, unrelated, I have an 11-year-old rescue dog, and Xena has seen me through some really tough times in my life, and she is an inspiration to keep going.
Adri Meyer holds a BSc in Conservation Ecology from the University of Stellenbosch as well as a Master’s in Marine and Environmental Law from the University of Cape Town. She has over 5 years’ experience as an Environmental Assessment Practitioner and Environmental Control Officer in South Africa, where she specialised in waste management, agriculture and residential development projects. She has experience in conducting environmental audits and environmental impact assessments, as well as liaising with stakeholders from government, project developers, contractors and the public. She is a member of the South African branch of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIASA) and in the process to be registered with the Environmental Assessment Practitioners Association of South Africa (EAPASA).
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