Deloitte alum Alison Howard has always been passionate about environmental issues – from her career beginnings as an engineer managing wind farm projects, to time spent in various sustainability teams for large companies, she’s always worked to make a difference. Her time at Deloitte was no different, so we caught up with Alison to hear about her memories of the firm and the innovative, challenging world of sustainability…
What was your role at Deloitte and when were you here?
I was an Associate Director in the Sustainability practice between 2013 and 2017.
Were you offered any strong pieces of advice at Deloitte that you still use?
I can think of two examples. One was that if you listen to potential clients and focus on building the relationship with them, the work will come. That was really good advice – to prioritise building relationships, as opposed to trying to further your own agenda, and allowed me to relax more with potential clients.
The other came from a couple of Deloitte partners, who shared with me how they approached their work/life balance and helped me understand that everyone structures that differently. The important thing is to make your own rules about what a work/life balance looks like to you, and then stick to that.
What do you think is unique about working in Deloitte compared to other places you’ve worked at?
I really loved the camaraderie of Deloitte. I think it’s unique in having such a large collection of really bright, talented people who are focused and have a whole lot of energy and fresh ideas. Also I feel like I learnt so much at Deloitte that has been valuable to me and had the opportunity to do such a wide variety of work. It made me better at my job and I really value having had that experience.
Tell us a little about your role and work at Meridian Energy.
I am the Head of Sustainability, which involves advising on what our company’s approach to sustainability could or should be, and how we can use that to bring our purpose to life. I spend my days talking to people about topics like climate change and energy hardship, in order to empower others to take action and make the world a better place through our company.
When you talk to people about climate change, which statistic do you think most accurately conveys the size of the issue?
There’s definitely a background awareness of climate change these days, so most people know that it's important, but one fact I do often tell people is that both individually and collectively, we need to halve our fossil fuel emissions by 2030. That seems to bring the scale of the challenge home to people because it asks of us - how are we going to cut half of the carbon out of our own personal lives? That's half the driving, half the flying, half the purchasing. It's a lot, and it's not a small change. It's making large wholesale changes to how we organise our lives and businesses.
What achievement are you proudest of in your career so far?
I’m proud of the connections I have built with other sustainability professionals, both in Wellington and across New Zealand. Working in sustainability can be at times a lonely job to have - most companies only have one or two people working on it and you're asking people in organisations to make significant changes. Those connections across that peer group are really important, and they bring me pride because I think that's how we're going to really move things. Businesses are a powerful agent of change and if that power can be harnessed towards a more sustainable, human-friendly planet, that would be amazing.
What do you think is most important change that businesses can make?
To really understand what their purpose is beyond profit; if they want to be a long term company, they've got to be thinking about more than short term gain. One of my favourite quotes is 'businesses cannot succeed in societies that fail', so for me, businesses need to be taking sustainability seriously. That’s not only because of the moral imperative or because it's the right thing to do - those things are true - but also because you will not be a successful business in the long term if you don't.
And finally, what do you do for fun outside of work?
I play with my four year old and two year old. I'm discovering the joy of blocks, running games through the backyard and swimming… all sorts of stuff!