Australians may despair at the government’s position on climate change, but thankfully many ASX listed companies understand the true consequences of inaction.
And thankfully, those businesses have a lot of help in how to mitigate that risk from Australia’s largest climate change consultant, Energetics.
As COO and Executive Director of Energetics, Dr Mary Stewart’s daily grind is truly critical. She helps big companies address the challenges of climate change by reducing greenhouse emissions, exploring and implementing renewable energy options and clean tech solutions.
She’s helping (in a big way) to give future generations a cleaner country and world.
We caught up with Dr Stewart to speak about her role at Energetics, her daily inspiration and what it means to be selected as ‘Emerging Leader in the Private Sector’ at this year’s Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards.
How does the average day play out for you?
I am not sure if there is ever an average day in consulting. I am lucky that I work four and a half days, with four of those days in the office, so I help my partner get the kids ready for school in the morning. He does drop off and I fetch them from after school care just after 1700. The time in between is spent on coffee, emails, internal meetings, client meetings and working on project deliverables where I mostly do quality assurance and review – but all of it drives towards supporting our experts to do amazing work in the field of sustainability and reducing greenhouse emissions.
What does it mean to you to be a winner of a Women’s Agenda Leadership Award? How do you think this will help your career?
Winning this award has been very affirming, it has demonstrated to me that I am on the right track and doing the rights things, both to stay true to myself, and in working to get the best for my company and my people.
The impact of winning this award has been immediate and startling. Everyone has been very complimentary and positive. This gives me a very sound foundation from which to continue to be brave and do what I know needs to be done, as opposed to just doing what might be easier but is not always right.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
I learned to back myself and stay true to my values from an early age. My parents gave me this gift. My mum is an architect and my dad an accountant. There were never typical male/female role delineations in our house, it was more about doing things because you were able to – like carrying heavy things and fixing and making stuff.
My mom ran an architectural practice from home for most of my childhood in South Africa. She had typical affluent, white client who wanted renovations and plans for new houses. She also had a large clientele of black people who were of much more modest incomes, but the same dreams. She treated every person who came to the door with the same respect and honesty – not something that was always the case in apartheid South Africa. From my father I have inherited a deep sense of fairness, and from my mom the need to treat everyone equally.
I always knew that if I wanted something enough to be willing to put the effort into achieving it, I would succeed. I have a great passion for animals and the environment and this drives my need to ensure that we address the challenges of climate change and leave a world which is habitable for future generations.
What are your big career-goals over the next ten years?
I am currently working through a process to transition to CEO of Energetics, a role which I will take up in the next year. As CEO I intend to ensure that we continue to deliver excellence to our clients and to do everything we can to guarantee that Australia meets its Paris targets of ensuring that carbon emissions remain below a 2 degree temperature rise. I will also keep Energetics at the front of people management practices, driving flexibility and resilience through the business.
I am also looking for non-executive director roles to take my insights and experience into new fields.
What key attributes make a great leader?
I am honest and reliable, I make sure I deliver what I promise. I have clarity of vision and am able to communicate what I mean. I am not afraid of making decisions and acting on them. I am able to accept when I am wrong and change my course of action if necessary. I have a good sense of humour and I am approachable.
Why do you think it’s important that women put themselves forward for awards?
Increasingly I am finding that there is value in the recognition. It’s like I have a tick of approval from someone, so people considering me for speaking positions or committees already have a bit of a guarantee of quality when they engage with me. It is one more string to my bow when I am trying to stand out from the crowd.
What big change/s do you wish to see in your industry over the next decade?
The main thing that our industry has been missing is policy certainty. Australia has lost a decade of action in addressing climate change because of lack of political will. We are rapidly falling behind the rest of the world and it will become increasingly expensive to make up ground.
I would like to see flexible working conditions being extended to more people and for the understanding to grow that enabling people to work flexibly can address a number of social and environmental challenges – climate change being one of them. The changing nature of work will result in changes to the built environment and infrastructure, all of which can have a positive impact on the environment if we manage it well.
What would the world look like, if more women led?
I am lucky to work with remarkable people, both men and women, in an environment with limited diversity challenges. So on a micro level I would say that the world would look the same just with different people in charge.
On a macro level I think the world would be more resilient and tolerant if women led, that we would measure success by metrics of satisfaction, fulfilment and enjoyment and not always in monetary terms.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
The best piece of advice I have ever been given is make sure you are right 51% of the time, then you are winning and that’s good enough. With that outlook, you will be are very open to others’ points of view. Don’t beat yourself up to be perfect.