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Green career spotlight: Sajeela Ghaffar

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 Sajeela Ghaffar, Environmental & Sustainability Consultant from the United Arab Emirates.

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? 

I am Sajeela Ghaffar and I am from Pakistan, currently based in the United Arab Emirates. I have a Masters in Environmental Engineering and have been fortunate having come across a variety of opportunities during my career including research, public and private sector. I am a published researcher for work done at NUST, Pakistan and Michigan State University, MI USA. I was working full time with a provincial government department in the Infrastructure Policy and Planning in Pakistan when life threw a curveball and I ended up in the UAE. The move actually changed my career path too because of a different job market and my family situation. I fortified my knowledge and obtained certifications, enrolled in online courses and self-learned about the current trends in ESG. I am currently self-employed and work as a Environmental / Sustainability Consultant providing ESG assessment and reporting services. I am also associated with KlimatelinK as a Community Facilitator – a UK based company that works for carbon emission reduction at scale. 

What’s your day-to-day like? 

As a self-employed professional, I enjoy the flexibility of time though it is also a drill of self-discipline. My day starts early with kids and depending on the time of the year, school drop-off or a slower start of the day in summer. Then I catch up on emails and work for a while until lunch time. Most of the work happens later in the day (night actually) after kids go to bed. During my time being self-employed, I learnt time management, discipline, negotiation, communication unlike anything I did at a full-time formal work environment.

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

There are two aspects to what I like most about it. As I mentioned before, I enjoy the spatial as well as temporal flexibility – I can work on weekends if I know I am taking a break during the week or a vacation. I can work anywhere on the globe (with internet access!). 

Secondly, I look at it as a contribution, however miniscule, to creating a better world and preserving the planet and its resources including human resources (as we only tend to think of water, plants, air and such as resources).  

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

Sustainability, more specifically ESG – Environment, Social, Governance – is all about environmental impacts as well as communities, human rights, resource exploitation, upstream and downstream supply chain and the working practices in those supply chains. It is about transparency and impact of the actions taken by organizations / investors / governments. The scale of the GHG emission problem is huge but the potential impact of actions that could be taken is also huge if done correctly. Helping organizations in impact identification, reporting and assessment of that reporting and gap analysis is my input towards addressing societal and environmental issues.

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

Main challenges include misconceptions about sustainability, greenwashing by companies which can actually hurt the progress of sustainability as a whole, relatively higher price point of green-labeled products and changing the mindset of consumers in developing countries’ markets. 

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

I grew up in a home and a society where reuse was very high. There are many factors to it: cost, wasting is looked down upon, (informal) recycling was high, a product passed through multiple hand-me-downs before being discarded. All of these habits were reinforced by my academic training when I got to know on an objective level and global scale about the waste (food and plastic being the most significant and damaging for the planet). The habits reinforced by knowledge translated the reuse and recycling as well as water saving practices into my daily life that I am passing on to my kids.

“The scale of the GHG emission problem is huge but the potential impact of actions that could be taken is also huge if done correctly”

Sajeela Ghaffar, Environmental & Sustainability Consultant

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

There are objective and subjective aspects to this question. 

Objectively, you need an academic background and/or an experience for a “green job”. This might mean a degree in environment and sustainability or climate change related subjects or an experience in a green organization or anything at all in your professional career that introduced you to the green jobs. In both cases, more so in the latter, you would need to update your knowledge and there are tons of learning resources out there and certifications that can help broaden your knowledge while also boosting your profile.

Subjectively, an understanding (or an urge to understand) climate change and the scale of GHG emissions, environmental impacts of human activities, and a passion to conserve the planet and contribute to the mitigation of those negative impacts is another plus to have.

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

Circular economy, GHG emission reduction, ESG and sustainability reporting and assessments are definitely something that is going upwards for next decade. The urgency of the situation, more awareness of the problems, and ultimately mandatory and/or voluntary reporting requirements for organizations, corporations, investors and governments are creating this huge demand in this area.

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

The most common misconception and point of contention has been that environmental / sustainability / climate change professionals are against industries, manufacturing, infrastructure and are anti-progress that find fault with anything. It comes from preconceived ideas that need to be challenged with facts and science.

You have a diverse background and experience working in the environmental services industry. Could you highlight some of the key differences and potential green career paths within industries/sectors you’ve worked with?

Since sustainability is becoming mainstream and understood better now more than ever, there are actually a lot of potential options in green industries. With increasing mandatory ESG reporting, circular economy projects, renewable energy business, and climate change policies, there is a need for environmental and sustainability professionals in more areas than ever. EHS is also an area that ultimately translates to the Social aspect of ESG and has been on the rise in non-manufacturing businesses and organizations.

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

Be prepared to adjust your expectations, encounter speed bumps, slowing down (I call it warming up to pick up pace), work to keep your knowledge and skills up to date, invest in yourself (wellness, soft skills, family time – you are the most important resource that you have) and never be afraid to pick a different path than what you planned early on – there are multiple paths leading to same point. Speed is not the key, consistency is.

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

I recently learned that “motivation / inspiration fades while discipline is what keeps you going”. Inspiration is subtle and sweet but delicate too; discipline is more practical and thick-skinned that does not sway with negative thoughts or a lack of motivation every single day per se. Trying to achieve where I see myself professionally in 5 years and 10 years pushes me to work every day. Trying to preserve the nature that my kids can enjoy in 5, 10 and many more years is also a huge factor that makes my work so meaningful and important to me.

Sajeela Ghaffar, Environmental & Sustainability Consultant

Sajeela Ghaffar is an Environmental / Sustainability Consultant with a Masters in Environmental Engineering, certified by NEBOSH for Health & Safety and on a GRI certification journey for sustainability reporting. She has about a decade of experience ranging across academic sector, public & private sector and is currently self-employed providing consultancy and advisory in sustainability / ESG areas.

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