Photo of Carolyn Gardner for National Grid's Green Collar Jobs series

Green collar jobs: Carolyn Gardner – inspired by the Amazon

Environmental Specialist Carolyn Gardner talks about how she ended up in her ‘green collar’ career, what her job involves and the ways she’s living an eco-friendly life outside of work.

Traditionally jobs have been split into blue collar (typically manual roles) and white collar (those professions often done at a desk), but increasingly there’s talk of green collar work too. Green collar jobs are all about improving the environment and they’re seen as central to economic recovery and growth in the coming years.

They can be manual or professional roles and can relate to anything green, from reducing the amount of plastic waste to producing cleaner energy. Think people who work at wind farms, those involved with electric vehicle infrastructure, running recycling plants or energy efficiency initiatives.

Our ‘green collar jobs’ series is all about showing just how varied these roles can be and the pathways that led our case studies into their area of work. Here we talk to Carolyn Gardner, who works within our electricity transmission business.

My green collar job is…

I’m an Environmental Specialist – fundamentally I guide the business and senior managers to do more to look after the environment and keep them accountable for it. I’ve developed a strategy and sustainability programme for our electricity transmission business, to reduce the environmental impact from our own operations. I report how we’re progressing on this strategy both internally and externally, including to our regulator Ofgem.

Inspired by the Amazon

I first became interested in the environment when I was seven and I learned about how we were destroying the ozone layer. Then, when I was 16, I went on a school trip to the Colombian Amazon rainforest – we lived in Colombia at the time – and I saw the impact deforestation and climate change had on biodiversity and local communities. That’s when I decided I really wanted this to be a core focus of my career.

Winning over cynics

Even ten years ago, I don’t think many people saw this as a ‘proper’ career choice. I initially wanted to do environmental politics and policy, but my Dad ended up convincing me to go the ‘business route’; as, ultimately, it’s businesses that are responsible for the unsustainable use of natural resources and incineration of fossil fuels.

I did my bachelors degree in Environment and Business at the University of Leeds and was a Sustainability Executive at Calor Gas before I joined National Grid. Subsequently, I did a part-time masters in Corporate Environmental Management at the University of Surrey, while working full-time at National Grid. My dad gets it now and understands why this matters, and recognises how positive my career path is.

Looking towards a low-carbon future

I want to see our electricity network connect the low-carbon energy we need to meet the UK’s net zero ambition, while reducing our own emissions to net zero in the process. Business transformation is going to be critical to achieving ambitious net zero goals. I’d like to be part of the team that leads this transformation.

Green living beyond work

I’ve made the decision not to own a vehicle. I live so close to work that I can walk or cycle, or take public transport. I also have three vegan days a week to reduce my meat consumption. If I liked vegetables I would turn fully vegan but, unfortunately, I can’t make myself like them. Trust me, I’ve tried everything!

I hope we use the lessons of acting quickly against a health emergency and learn to act similarly to the climate and biodiversity crisis our world is facing.

Lessons from the pandemic for climate change

I hope people will establish a new normal of trying to tackle environmental issues once the coronavirus pandemic is over. I’ve seen many more people become interested in the natural world and hope this remains the case.

I hope we use the lessons of acting quickly against a health emergency and learn to act similarly to the climate and biodiversity crisis our world is facing.

My eco hero is…

Greta Thunberg. I was very privileged to hear her speak in a ‘Fridays for Future’ protest outside the White House in Washington DC. I went to speak to her afterwards and she was so articulate and humble. She’s so young, yet she’s achieved a great amount of change.

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