‘If only she applied herself’: How the words of my teachers ring true for sustainability

Dr Viv Heslop

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times my parents came home from my school interviews to tell me that the main message from my teachers is that I need to apply myself more to realise my potential. At the time I did not really understand what it meant and was unclear about what I needed to do differently. But the message really did stick with me and in many ways it has helped shaped my professional career.

So how did I decide to apply myself? When I reflect back over the past two decades or so of working as a sustainability professional, I can see how a central theme is a focus on change. And that I decided to apply myself to working with organisations and people who were committed to changing the ways they did things to create a better future for people and the planet. 

The work that has given me the most pleasure and sense of achievement has been when I have been mentoring and coaching emerging sustainability leaders, forming strong and productive partnerships, helping to tell the stories of positive action, co-creating sustainability strategies and working alongside senior leaders to create the conditions within organisations to really amplify sustainability outcomes. It is when I can help people see that we need to do things differently and guide them through change. The reality is that we need to do almost everything differently if we are to tackle some of the biggest challenges we face as a planet and a society. 

You have probably all seen the cartoon that says that climate change is caused by two things: human activity and human inaction. I strongly believe that we are in a position now where we do not need to argue ‘why’ we need to take action, there is no shortage of information available on ‘what’ action needs to be taken, but unless we also pay attention to the ‘how’, progress will be limited… we need to tackle human inaction and get people to apply themselves differently.

We clearly need to do things differently to make the kind of progress that the planet deserves and I am energized more than ever to focus my professional efforts on guiding organisations, programs and individuals to define how they need to transform in this decade of doing.

This means I have decided that 2022 is the year of transformative change for sustainability – transformative change in the way people think and act. So, how do we change the way people think and act? 

This is the question that I will be exploring in a series of articles over the coming weeks covering themes such as:

  • If it was easy, everyone would be doing it – core components of sustainability transformation
  • There is no such thing as impossible to those who try – showcasing those who inspire us through the change they are leading
  • Sustainability transformers – creating change agents in disguise
  • Cracking on with it – the art of valuing progress over perfection

I am hoping that this series will get everyone thinking about what applying themselves could look like. Without a doubt, the sustainability transformation is a collective effort, so let’s start discussing it together! 

I would love to hear from you if you would like to chat further. Please get in touch with me via email [email protected]

About Dr Viv Heslop, Global Lead – Built Environment Transformation at Edge Environment

Viv knows that leading change is tough, but she is up for the challenge. And when the change she is focused on leading requires some fundamental shifts in processes, structures and skills of people, to tackle some the planets biggest challenges, then it is understandable that the task can seem overwhelming. Luckily, she is not short on energy and is driven by the belief that we can convert the rhetoric of sustainability into real action and change – and Viv has spent many years doing just that.

Viv’s focus at Edge is working with clients to define their sustainability ambition and translate it into tangible and measurable action that delivers impact. Viv has over 20 years professional experience in strategic sustainability advisory for several sectors including urban regeneration, infrastructure, transport, property, aviation, agriculture, and central and local government. What really gets her out of bed in the morning is the opportunity to provide capacity building and transformation advisory to organisations who understand that they need to change the way they work to have a bigger positive impact.

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