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Green career spotlight: Beth Lillian

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 Beth Lillian, Urban Planner from New Zealand.

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

I was born and raised in New Zealand. I’ve always had a passion for people and the environment and have completed a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Biological Sciences and Psychology. I went into this degree not quite knowing what I wanted to do. I wasn’t even sure if it was a good decision to major in two subjects that, at the time, I thought to be quite different from each other. Coming out of it, I’ve learnt that there is so much overlap between us, our society and the environment we live in – physically, mentally and ethically.

My studies led me to the apex of urban planning where I am currently employed as a graduate planner in local government. I am very happy to have landed in the planning realm and have decided to begin a Master of Urban Planning to further commit to this profession.

What’s your day-to-day like? 

Being early in my career, much of my day-to-day is spent learning, although I don’t imagine this will ever stop. Working for local government, we are involved in a lot of the decision-making for the city. This involves balancing the opinions of external specialists, internal teams, and the communities we serve.

Over the past year, I have been involved in many different workstreams and have come to find there are many different types of planning professions. I began in land use and policy planning and have now found myself in consent planning. For example, land use planners provide input into legislation reforms and are instrumental in the spatial planning of our city. Consent planners provide advice to projects, big or small, to ensure compliance with the relevant legislation.

What do you like the most about the work you do? 

I like knowing that the work I do contributes to better infrastructure for a safer city. I work for a local transport authority and so the work we do is crucial to supporting safe journeys, no matter the mode of travel.

How does your work address societal and/or environmental issues?

As local government, we have a responsibility to balance urban growth with desirable sustainable and community outcomes. To do this, we work closely with developers to ensure that any greenfield developments i.e. on undeveloped land, have a choice of transport modes. This involves evaluating how the area either is or could be served by public transport and how accessible different modes of travel, other than private vehicles, could be. In many cases, much of our work is ensuring provisions are put in place so that new developments aren’t segregated from the rest of the city.

In your experience, what are the main challenges of working with mission-driven and sustainability-focused businesses? 

I think the environment of sustainability-focused initiatives is always changing which is difficult. There is a downstream effect, where national government legislation changes then need to be implemented by local governments. The wording/legal bearing of these is not always clear, so it can be a challenge to incorporate them into business as usual.

Is there anything that you do outside of your job that is driven by similar (sustainability) objectives?  

I suppose my habits in general! I am an avid recycler and ‘repurposer’. I don’t buy clothes new and mainly shop second-hand. Not only do I stop things from entering the landfill by shopping second-hand, but I usually get what I need for less than half the price if I were to buy it new. I also feel especially cool when I get compliments on my outfits and have to tell people ‘It’s thrifted!’.

In your opinion, what are the top skills necessary to be successful at a “green job”? 

I think you have to be authentic. You have to want the outcomes you are seeking. There should be an alignment between your values and the mission statement of the business you are working for. Inherently, I think individuals in the ‘green profession’ have a baseline of empathy and self-awareness as well as selflessness. A lot of the work is to seek better outcomes for those other than ourselves.

What green careers/sectors do you see growing the fastest right now and/or will become mainstream within the next 10 years?

Sustainability consultants are already on the rise and I see this continuing to increase. Whether businesses choose to embark on a sustainability journey for ethics or profit, consultants will be in demand.

What are the most common mistakes or misperceptions you have seen when it comes to green careers? 

There is a lot more work involved than meets the eye – especially for consultants. I imagine there is a level of psychological work required to convince individuals/businesses that striving to operate more sustainably has more merit than the certification that is awarded at the end. In terms of urban planning, I had not anticipated the psychological aspect of the mode shift from a private vehicle to either public transport or walking/cycling. It’s a chicken and egg situation. People have to want to make the shift, but, an alternative mode in itself has to be an attractive proposition for the community, where reliability and safety are also key factors, and not just sustainability alone.

Could you highlight some of the key differences and potential green career paths within industries/sectors you’ve worked with?

A lot of green careers that I have worked with are consultants. In particular, ecological consultants spring to mind, who are an important voice in ensuring good ecological outcomes are sought when delivering infrastructure.

As you reflect on your career journey, what challenges would you pinpoint, especially those shared by individuals in similar roles?

I think a big challenge involved in working for local government, is the changing national government. Although, in New Zealand, our parties are fairly centre-right and centre-left, we do experience a see-sawing effect where legislation is brought in to be repealed by the next governing party and vice versa. This can be unsettling for the funding of projects. Through this, I think it’s important to remember that any outcome doesn’t solely weigh on you as an individual and you can only do your best, which is enough.

And what where the most rewarding moments?

I think the rewarding moments are sprinkled throughout every day. Every day, I find new insights and learn something new. I particularly enjoy reminiscing on the fact that I have a part to play in delivering desirable outcomes for my community.

Any “lessons learned” or advice you can share with others looking to succeed in their purpose-driven career? 

It might be cheesy but stay true to yourself. Whether you believe it or not, your job makes up a large part of your identity and takes up a large portion of your time. Don’t settle for anything that doesn’t make you feel fulfilled – because you can find a job that does.

What inspires you every day to wake up and keep going? 

The novelty of my job hasn’t worn off yet, partly because I love what I do. I don’t get the ‘Sunday scaries’ and feel my stomach drop when I realise it’s Monday tomorrow. I feel very fortunate to be in this position. Right now, I’m counting my lucky stars and hope it doesn’t wear off. Maybe get back to me in a few years!

Kia ora! I’m Beth from Auckland, New Zealand. My studies in Biological Sciences and Psychology led me to the apex of urban planning. I am very thankful to have found my niche, where I can contribute to better outcomes for my community, no matter how small. – Beth Lillian, Urban Planner:

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