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Lucy is passionate about nature and land use, but also keen to help people with green careers

Lucy is passionate about nature and land use, but also keen to help people with green careers

Episode 11

3 Nov 2023

33 min 🎧

21 min 📖

Lucy on Natural Capital Management and Honing Skills from ‘Side Hustles’

The concept of natural capital has made its way out of the academic circle and into industries such as real estate and finance, as well as to the forefront in policy. It refers to services and assets provided by nature.

As the Head of Natural Capital for Scotland at Savills, Lucy explains how she’s working with landowners in Scotland to find opportunities in restoring and enhancing the natural capital in their properties. She also gives some insights about several industry guidelines. Alongside her job, Lucy is doing a part-time PhD, looking at trade-offs in different land uses and how to make better decisions.

In terms of tips for green careers, Lucy encourages people to try things and be comfortable about being a beginner! She puts this in action by getting involved in side projects, such as being Trustee in Climate 2050 Group and founding her own business Unwrapped Bars, as well as learning her business skills on the job.

Listen to the podcast or read the transcript below.

Greensider: Could you please tell us what your job involves? It might be helpful to explain a little bit about what natural capital is in the context of the real estate industry.

Lucy: Natural capital is a concept that's been around for quite a while in academic circles. Now it's really starting to come to the forefront in policy and in finance too. It's essentially this idea that we receive a lot of value from the natural processes that nature provides us with, such as clean air, clean water, healthy soils that support farming, timber, renewable energy, and things like that. This idea sees nature as this additional capital resource, in addition to financial capital, social capital, cultural capital, etc.

Where it applies to the estate sector or my job is I work with landowners in Scotland to understand what natural capital they have on their land, estates or properties, and what condition it's in. For example, we think about a peat bog, which are really important sinks of carbon. A lot of peat bogs in Scotland are in really bad condition. They're actually emitting more carbon than they're able to sequester. We understand what condition the natural capital is in and therefore what opportunities they have to restore and enhance and protect that natural capital.

It's a way of thinking about alternative value we get from land. Whereas traditionally, you might just think about farming, sporting or hunting. It's actually thinking about it in a much more holistic way. Fundamentally, it's helping to protect and enhance those processes that support our economy and our society.

Greensider: Is it more of a job for the bigger real estate companies?

Lucy: There's all sorts of different types of organisations that are involved in natural capital, including large estate agencies like Savills and a lot of other estate agencies. I work in the rural team, where it's most relevant working with rural landowners.

Within this area of natural capital, you also have new companies that are buying lands themselves to manage it for natural capital. You have academic roles, policy roles, people who are ecologists or foresters. It's a very wide-ranging area and quite an exciting new area of green work.

Greensider: Do you need to do any field trips?

Lucy: Yes, I'm out and about quite a lot across Scotland, which is a good part of my job actually. I get to see a lot of this beautiful country, although it isn't always kind of walking out on the hill and doing surveys a lot of the time. It's just having meetings. My colleagues who are the ecologists and the foresters, as I mentioned, get to do the exciting getting-their-hands-dirty type of work.

Greensider: I envy you doing all these field trips in Scotland because I really love nature, but nature in Scotland is amazing.

Lucy: It's a really great part of my job. Part of what made me want to do this job is the opportunity to see a lot of Scotland, to work with people across Scotland and to help to make it a better place for nature.

Greensider: Amazing! What happens after the field trips? Do you need to do data analysis? Do you need to write reports?

Lucy: It really depends on what the project is, but a lot of it is about working with the landowner to understand what their land is made of. We do analysis using GIS, for example, to look at what condition their peatland might be in, where there might be suitability for tree planting, and to do some high-level biodiversity assessments. Then depending on what the project is, we might need to bring in specialists to do proper field surveys, hydrological surveys, probe the peat to find out the depth and the condition, et cetera.

My particular role is much more about that engagement with the landowner, almost like an education type piece on what natural capital is, what's going on in the markets and what's going on with policy changes. Then there’s project managing any projects that follow on from that and leading to actual land use change.

Greensider: So it's actually quite multidisciplinary.

Lucy: Yeah, it is. I think that's the case for a lot of environmental jobs. You need to potentially have some technical skills. But more importantly, you need to have skills in writing, communication, analysis and project management. You have to be a bit of a jack of all trades.

Greensider: Since it's multidisciplinary, you probably have a lot of different industry standards to work with. Can you tell us more about the standards that you're aware of?

Lucy: Yes. It's really an interesting question around industry standards, because this is quite a new area.

We have two main carbon markets in the UK. Those are the Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code. They both have quite strict standards. If you're wanting to do a project - whether it's restoring your peatland or creating woodland to create carbon credits from it, and that's what we'd call a natural capital market - you have to do quite a lot of, well actually a really quite rigorous adhering to standards and making sure the products are in a certain way. There are various tests to make sure that the product is going to be as high integrity as possible and lead to good outcomes for climate, for carbon sequestration and for local communities and the economy as well.

Besides those are kind of two key standards, there are a lot of developing standards for nature investment in general. Just last week, the UK government released its principles for natural capital investment. Those guidelines aren't regulatory, but they're best practice standards for people working in this space.

The Scottish government has got an interim set of principles, which are very similar. We expect to see those published fully in a few months' time. I expect they'll be quite similar to the UK government one as well, in terms of requirements for high integrity, for avoiding greenwashing, et cetera. This is a space in which there are a lot of standards that are being developed. Often these are voluntary standards of people in the sector trying to make it the best it can be.

Globally, there are several key initiatives. One of them is the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures. That’s a voluntary initiative to get businesses to assess and understand where they have risk related to nature loss and then a separate initiative that's related to help businesses understand where they have risks related to climate change. These are all driving this sector with the understanding that we need to make environmental choices as a key part of the way that businesses run. So that's more on the global picture, but all filtering through into what happens in the UK and these sustainability standards within the sector.

Greensider: So there are actually quite a few standards to juggle with. What parties are involved in making these standards?

Lucy: It depends. It's different organisations involved. Often it's a combination of different stakeholders and it's done through a consultation. Take the Woodland Carbon Code as an example. That's been developed by the forestry commissions of each UK nation. It's managed by Scottish Forestry, but it's been fed by the academia and stakeholders working in the sector. And that's similar for a lot of the other standards. Processes are quite intense on the consultation, which I think is good getting everybody's viewpoints to make sure they're effective.

The final thing to mention on standards would be that the BSI, the British Standards Institute, are actually creating their own high level standard for nature investment. It remains to be seen exactly what is involved in that and how it ends up looking. But I imagine that will be the golden standard and that will filter into everything else because it's been created by the BSI, which is a very well recognized, well respected, endorsed institution.

Greensider: Interesting! And maybe let's get out of standard and come back to what you do. For your job, are there any basic requirements? For example, what kind of degrees? What kind of skills? I know you've mentioned a bit of the skills that are required before.

Lucy: There isn't a single pathway and it is quite a new sector. If you think about myself and my peers who are working in the sector, we all have quite different backgrounds. I have an undergraduate degree in Geography and then a master's degree in Carbon Management. I specialised in that master's degree in nature based solutions to climate change. That was looking at carbon sequestration through land use change. So I developed skills and knowledge that way.

I think there isn't a single degree as a pathway into this sector. It's really important to have technical knowledge about land use, land use change and the environmental systems and ecological systems that regulate the flow out of the way that we use land.

But as I said, people have come at it from all sorts of different backgrounds. As for my colleagues within Savills, some of them have been working as estate managers before. And then they've developed an interest in environmental land use so they've pivoted into natural capital. Others have come from the finance sector, for example. So there's really not a defined route.

Greensider: But I think in a sense, it's good for the industry to attract people with different skills. So your projects can be more holistic.

Lucy: Definitely. I think that's really true. The most important thing is a real passion and interest in the subject.

Greensider: Is natural capital management only a thing in the UK? Are you aware of the situation abroad?

Lucy: It's definitely not just a thing in the UK. The idea of using land to mitigate climate change and the idea that we need to reverse biodiversity losses is global. We know it's a global issue and it is happening in other countries. I would say that the UK, and particularly Scotland, is quite advanced in terms of how much it's embedded within policy.

Take Scotland as an example, there's a big voluntary natural capital market with people voluntarily engaging in land use change. But it's also increasingly written into policy drivers for land in Scotland. So agricultural reform is currently on the government's agenda. Under the new conditions that are going to be coming into play in the next few years, farmers are going to have this thing called enhanced conditionality. Basically in order to qualify for a subsidy, they're going to have to be managing their land in more environmentally friendly ways.

That's quite unusual, I would say, and quite stringent compared to other countries. I think people really do look to the UK and particularly Scotland as leading in this area, but it's certainly not just a UK issue.

Greensider: That's true. I'm currently in nomad mode. I've noticed that the land use style in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece are quite different from each other despite the fact that they share a very similar climate and land types. I think in this sense, the issue of land use is also cultural and local.

Lucy: I think there's a lot of pressure on land use around the world in terms of what it should be used for. Should it be used for producing food? Should it be used for renewable energy, timber, left alone for nature, so rewilding? Should it be used for housing? These are the issues that every single country faces, and they are particularly at the forefront of conversation and of politics in Scotland.

Greensider: In the real estate industry, are there any green jobs other than natural capital management?

Lucy: Yeah, absolutely. We have a big team called Savills Earth. They do a lot on renewable energy, carbon accounting, carbon capture and storage etc. Fundamentally, the real estate industry - if you think about it in terms of that it covers both large rural land holdings, like the area that I work in, and buildings - that's a huge portfolio of businesses and of sectors that all have to engage with net zero and with the drive to reduce biodiversity loss.

Green skills, like in most sectors but particularly in my company, are really important to have as part of everybody's job rather than sitting in one silo. Something that I have noticed in my role is everybody has a little bit of knowledge about environmental issues and green issues. So it definitely isn't just within the natural capital area.

Greensider: That's a good sign that many people would love to hear. For me It's quite surprising to find out that the real estate industry actually has green jobs.

But alongside your role with Savills, you're also doing a PhD research. Could you please tell us a bit of your research topic?

Lucy: Absolutely. It’s with the University of Edinburgh. I'm looking at how we can better understand and make decisions around these benefits and trade-offs of land use change. I mentioned there's a lot of different pressure on land use and the different things that we could do with it. And land is a finite resource, so you can't do everything. Therefore, choices have to be made about whether a particular area of land is used for producing commercial timber, for example, or whether it's used for more native broadleaf woodland - that's what we would call an amenity woodland, which is not for commercial production, but for biodiversity or leisure.

We have to make decisions around different land use choices, and they involve benefits and trade-offs. So my research is looking at how we can better understand those benefits and trade-offs and make better decisions around that, hopefully helping to reduce some of the tensions and difficulties that are around, particularly in Scotland.

Land use change is quite a fraught area. There's quite a lot of disagreement and contention. But there's an idea that perhaps if you could help people to better understand the different choices, benefits and trade-offs, it would help to reduce some of those tensions. That's what I'm looking at. It's a part-time PhD. I've just finished one year, so I've got maybe five six more years to go, so it's quite a long project.

Greensider: It must be challenging to handle the research in parallel to the job. But it also sounds like they are helping each other because there’s a big connection between your job and your PhD, right?

Lucy: Yeah, they're very similar. A lot of what I spend my time in my job discussing with colleagues and clients, is really relevant to the research that I'm doing and the things that I'm exploring through that PhD research. Although it can be quite a lot and I'm quite busy, it's also quite complimentary.

Greensider: So you enjoy it? It doesn't interfere with your quality of life?

Lucy: No, not too much.

Greensider: That's great! Apart from your environmental skill set, you're also quite business savvy without any formal education background. So how did you hone your skills in this area?

Lucy: For anyone considering a career in the environmental sector, I think it's important to realise that you don't necessarily need to go down a formal educational training route. There's a lot of experience that you can get on the job, so to speak.

Actually, I think it's really important going back to what we were talking about earlier about being quite interdisciplinary in your work and having multiple different skills. I think it's really important within a green career to have lots of different skill sets. So business development being one of them, but also project management, financial analysis, etc. It's important to make sure you don't just become a technical expert at a specific part of the environment sector. You need to have these broader skill sets.

I learned a lot of my business development skills on the job. In my previous role at the University of Edinburgh, I was responsible for leading an innovation centre that was designed to help get academic research out into the real world. So partnering academics and industry together to help solve industry problems or to do collaborative research projects on particular issues. We were all focused around circular economy and broader sustainability questions. That involved a lot of the same skills that I need to use today, such as relationship management, stakeholder engagement, identifying opportunities, project management, et cetera. A lot of these skills are really translatable.

As I said, I don't think you necessarily always need to have strong formal training in it as long as you're always open to realising that you're having on the job training and making sure that you're paying attention to that and that you're able to take that forward with you in your career.

Greensider: I really find your previous experience very interesting because you were involved in many kinds of organisations as well and you even founded your own business.

Lucy: Advice that I would give to anybody wanting a green career, or I guess in any kind of career, particularly when you're maybe slightly earlier on in your career, is to just try things.

I was on the board of 2050 Climate Group. That was a really fantastic experience that taught me a lot about the charity sector and about financial management. Trustees have particular responsibilities that you don't get in other types of jobs. It's really interesting. Also it was a voluntary position, so you build this stuff around your day job. It then gives you a lot of interesting things to talk about as you go for your next position, or maybe stand out from the crowd a little bit more when you have a wider variety of experiences.

With Unwrapped Bars, it was a similar thing. It was an idea that I'd had for a number of years. I'm a runner, so I’m always eating these energy bars when I'm out on my runs. I'd made some just for me and my partner and used beeswax wrap because I was trying to experiment with reducing waste and the amount of plastic that I was using. Eventually I was involved in a community of sustainability interested runners. And I asked that group: would you be interested in this kind of thing? I ran a small pilot study with them, made a few prototypes of the bars, and got some feedback.

And then I thought I'd just set this up. Again, it was alongside my job. I was just doing it in my spare time. I ran it for about a year. It was fairly successful. I had a good customer base. People seemed to really like them. In the end, I didn't pursue it because it wasn't my main area of interest. It was more of an experiment than what I wanted to dedicate my time to doing. But I would really encourage people to just try things and think beyond the nine-to-five job and whatever your interests are, or your skill sets are. Just try and pursue them. Hone those skills and see where it might take you.

Greensider: It's definitely great advice. Prior to doing this podcast, I had zero experience and I'm still trying out other skills or other ways of doing the podcast.

Lucy: Well, there's only one way to get experience, right? That's to try something. You can't just become an expert at something overnight. You have to be a beginner at first. I think it's really important to be comfortable with being a beginner.

Greensider: Exactly. You also created this Green Careers Handbook. I find it very interesting. Why did you create it?

Lucy: It came from a couple of different places. One is that I'm really passionate about helping people in their careers. I'm always happy to talk about mine and I'm still building mine very much. So I’m always happy to share my experiences and anything that might help others, particularly in terms of the green or environmental sector. I think it's such an interesting and important sector to work in. I'm really keen to encourage people to work in it and to build their careers in it.

Secondly, in my work with 2050 Climate Group, I was working with a lot of young people between the ages of 18 to 21 or so. They were feeling real anxiety about the climate crisis and about the biodiversity crisis and everything that was going on. Such is a sense of powerlessness. I really believe that the strongest antidote to anxiety is action, so I wanted to demonstrate how you could have a meaningful career in this sector. You can't solve everything by yourself, but actually it is an option for people. These jobs are the jobs of the future. And it's, I believe, a really important way to help feel like you're able to make a difference as to work in the sector. And there's so many different types of jobs.

That's where the Green Careers Handbook came from. It's not prescriptive about a specific type of green job. It's designed to help people think about how their skill set, experiences, interests might help them find a green job. It was just something that I put together. I hope it's been useful for people.

Greensider: I totally agree with you that taking a green career is actually quite an important climate action. Maybe green jobs are not for every single person, but at least people should know that there are options out there.

Lucy: Yeah, although I do think it is. If you look at a job like yours or like mine, that is very much within the green jobs spectrum. But I think it's really important going forward that every single job, whether you are a lawyer or a doctor or whatever, you have a knowledge of the environmental impacts of your job and ways to reduce it. Actually these green skills or awareness should be a part of everybody's job and should be a part of every single university course or school program.

Greensider: Indeed, according to a survey conducted by Students Organising for Sustainability, an organisation in the UK, 82% of their surveyees said that they would like to see sustainable development incorporated throughout all courses in the place that they study.

Since the publication of the Green Career Handbooks, did you get asked any interesting questions?

Lucy: The most common thing that I get from people is asking if my company is hiring or where they can find jobs. I still think that people find it hard to find jobs and I totally get that. Looking for a job is universally acknowledged to be a pretty painful experience, even with amazing tools like LinkedIn. Looking for and applying to jobs is hard. So yeah, that's the most common thing that I get is people asking for help to find a job or can I put them in touch with somebody. I always direct people to resources like or various other sites that list all these green jobs. They do exist. It's just maybe people don't have visibility of them.

Greensider: Spoiler alert, we are also building a green job posting platform and hopefully that would be helpful to green job seekers in the future.

Speaking of the projects that Greensider is doing, we also have a community book club to read books and learn lessons about how to build our future in a more sustainable way. Do you have any recommendations for us?

Lucy: I have two recommendations. One is by my favourite writer Robert Macfarlane. It's called Landmarks. It's really powerful the way that he talks about landscapes and land, and the way that they impact us and we have impacted land, as well as the importance of nature and the importance of nature restoration. He writes in a very beautiful way, so I really recommend that one.

The second one is slightly different. It's by Yvon Chouinard called Let My People Go Surfing. He is the founder of Patagonia. Your audience might be aware that Patagonia has really pioneered what sustainable businesses could or should look like. He wrote this book, not necessarily just about sustainability, but more about his approach to running a business. It’s the idea that we shouldn’t be tied to our desks the whole time. We should have a much better approach to work and a much more sustainable approach to work in every sense of the word. These are the two books that I recommend.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the mentioned organisations. Greensider Foundation does not accept sponsorship for the production of this content. The above interview transcript has been edited.