Grishma Jain: A Life in Sustainability.

This month, as part of our focus for One Planet Week, we had a chat with Grishma Jain who tells us about her exciting career as an independent researcher within the field of Industrial Ecology, and her work as a senior consultant at the sustainability project management and consultancy firm Sofies. 

What course did you choose, why did you choose it and why York?

After my bachelor’s degree, I was looking for an advanced course that would help me combine my passion for sustainability and environment conservation with my subject of interest – chemistry. I spent a long time researching a range of courses at universities across the world, created a list of the top 5 that fit my interests and York was at the top of the list –  specifically due to the world-renowned master’s course in Green Chemistry and Sustainable Industrial Technology. I was accepted into all 5 universities. But when the letter from York arrived, I knew that I didn’t have to make the choice. York had chosen me!

Describe your experience in 3 words.

Eye-opening, challenging, fun!

What happened after you graduated? What role did you move into?  

Upon graduating in 2009, I was hoping to gain a couple of years of work experience in the UK before returning to India. Unfortunately, due to the global recession, the job market was very lean. Fortunately, that worked out quite well for me. Back in India I was quite certain about the kind of job and company I would like to work for – a smaller entity where I hoped I would be able to make an actual impact.

I reached out to a few research organisations and NGOs that looked promising, and scheduled interviews. The first organisation left me wanting more, while the second instantly felt like a perfect fit – they specialised in Industrial Ecology, a topic very close to me as it was at the heart of my Master’s research project with the National Industrial Symbiosis Project in the UK, and a field that I wanted to build on in India. During the first informal meeting, the director of the organisation told me that there were no available positions at the time. However, I was called back the next day and given a project to work on immediately! And thus began my career as a research associate at Resource Optimization Initiative (ROI).  

Your background appears to be very focused around sustainability- is this a topic you have always been passionate about? What made you focus on this? 

Sustainability was always an integral aspect of life growing up, and in the lives of most people around me. In subconscious ways at first, it became an inherent way of life, of looking at the world and hoping to address the lack of sustainability in it wherever it was within my capacity to do so. All of my formative years of schooling were carried out in an alternative weekly-boarding school set in the midst of a protected forest. We aimed to live a low-impact lifestyle, and were made keenly aware of the delicate balance between human intervention and the sanctity of the environment. I try to carry that understanding with me in all spaces of life, and extending that into my education and career came most naturally to me.

“Sustainability was always an integral aspect of life growing up, and in the lives of most people around me.”

Could you tell us a bit about what led you to your current role at Sofies?

After a couple of years of working at ROI, when the organisation shut down in 2012, I shifted to working as a freelance/independent researcher for the next five years. I continued doing similar projects – primarily focused on indoor and outdoor air pollution research, and was fortunate that this was possible through the contacts I had made during my time at ROI.

In 2017, I decided that I would like to explore new fields of work, find more learning opportunities, and explore go back to the topic I found most fascinating – Industrial ecology. It is a field that I knew would add value in terms of sustainability to industries in India. I approached the founder of ROI, who had also started a sustainability consultancy firm called Sofies in Geneva, and the firm now had a branch in India as well.

I joined Sofies as a Senior Consultant and have been working here as an environmental sustainability practitioner in developing, implementing, and managing national and international projects – primarily in developing countries, often funded by multilateral international organisations. My key areas of expertise at Sofies lie in the fields of Resource Efficiency and Cleaner Production (RECP), Industrial Symbiosis (IS), Eco Industrial Park (EIP) development, and Waste Management – with a focus on e-waste, hazardous wastes, air pollution, and legislative tracking of the environment and waste sectors.

What does a typical day look like for you at Sofies?  

In India, Sofies has consultants based all across the country, sometimes with 1 or 2 consultants based in a given city. So we primarily work from home (yes, this was the case even pre-pandemic!), and travel to different parts of the country/world when required to carry out on-field assignments for specific projects. Most of my time is spent working on multiple projects, which includes coordinating with local/international implementing partners who may be working on the field, preparing deliverables in the form of reports, having meetings with clients, or carrying out research for ongoing assignments. During field-visits (unfortunately, this has been limited in the past 2 years due to the pandemic), the typical day would include meetings and visits to the implementation sites (industries and industrial parks) to conduct technical assessments, or in carrying out trainings and workshops.

If someone wanted to pursue a career as an independent researcher, what tips would you give them? 

The most important suggestion would be to explore all opportunities and follow up with every potential contact. Without the backing of an organisation, in order to establish yourself, you will need to work harder, and in perhaps innovative ways to showcase your expertise and capabilities. Another would be to always look for ways to challenge yourself, and avoid boxing yourself into a narrow idea of what kind of job you would like to do or think you may excel in. Be sure to showcase your strengths, and do not hesitate to learn from your weaknesses.

Do you have any tips for how we can be more sustainable in our day-to-day life?

I would be hesitant to provide specific suggestions as I feel there are plenty of valuable resources one can turn to for that. I believe that every sensitive human being strives to find their own balance and ways of being more sustainable. I would only suggest that we be more mindful of our actions and of our footprint on the earth, and keep in mind that we can ALWAYS do more.

“Be sure to showcase your strengths, and do not hesitate to learn from your weaknesses.”

Has your research opened your eyes to the environmental impacts of something we do in our daily lives that we might take for granted? 

At the risk of not answering the question directly, EVERYTHING we do has an environmental impact. And, unfortunately, as it seems to be with human nature, more often than not, our actions are damaging rather than beneficial. However, as more of us ask questions and look for solutions in our daily lives, I have found that research plays a crucial role in holding up a magnifying glass and enhancing our understanding of these impacts. Research helps raise awareness, and can lead to direct actions and potential positive outcomes. 

What has been the most impactful part of your career for you personally?

Almost every single project or assignment I have been a part of at Sofies has felt immensely impactful. A few projects carried out across a couple of south-east Asian countries and related to industrial ecology are close to my heart – we worked with Industrial parks and companies to help them substantially reduce their environmental impacts by becoming more resource efficient, and by adopting cleaner technologies and practices.

What’s your favourite thing about your job? 

This job allows me to expand my horizons and learn something new every single day!

This is made possible by working with the most wonderful and collaborative group of colleagues, and having continuous opportunities to interact with, work closely and learn from the most brilliant and knowledgeable minds in the field of sustainability from across the globe.

What’s next for you?

I have always been happy to keep things fluid and have an air of mystery to life. The key for me has always been to pursue things that bring me meaning and joy while also challenging me to learn and grow. I am fortunate to have found that environment working as a sustainability practitioner with Sofies. I look forward to continuing this journey and also everything that lays ahead.

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