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By Caroline Parkins on

Sustainability career stories to mark World Environment Day

Climate change is the most pressing challenge facing our planet. We all need to come together to take urgent and sustained action to protect people and the natural world. Today is World Environment Day (Saturday 5 June), a day to inspire people across the world to take action to improve our planet.

To mark World Environment Day, we’ve interviewed two of our corporate STEM Circle member, Catherine Mulhall and Dr Laura Dempsey, to find out how their intriguing sustainability work is making positive change in their industries to help combat climate change and protect our environment.

Catherine is Sustainability Operations Lead at Sanofi Consumer Healthcare, which is one of the global business units of 
Sanofi, a biopharmaceutical company. 

As sustainability lead, Catherine uses her knowledge, skills and experience within the pharmaceutical industry to integrate sustainable practices across Sanofi Consumer Healthcare to help make a positive impact on people and the planet. 

Catherine is Sustainability Operations Lead at Sanofi Consumer Healthcare
Catherine is Sustainability Operations Lead at Sanofi Consumer Healthcare

 I believe that all careers will eventually incorporate sustainability in one way or another; whether you’re a chef, a teacher, a solicitor, or a doctor.” 

What excites you most about your role in sustainability?
Making this career move allows me to spend more time on a topic that I’m deeply passionate about. I want to do all I can to ensure we respect the Earth’s resources for future generations by making choices today that are good for people, the planet and business. I know that we can all make a difference, this role allows me the opportunity to use my knowledge and skills within my sphere of influence to tackle the environmental and social crisis today.

What inspired you to pursue a career in sustainability?
Travelling in the Far East opened my eyes to the enormous pollution issues facing our generation, and the socio-economic inequalities existing everywhere. I returned home with fresh eyes, new ideas and a paradigm shift in my perspective on health. The health of humanity and the health of our environment are intrinsically and indisputably linked. I immersed myself in books, articles and documentaries about climate change and sustainability. I enrolled in an MSc in Environment and Sustainability, which is giving me the opportunity to learn directly from experts in the field and is a springboard to diversify my career in the pharmaceutical industry.


Catherine’s favourite subject at school was maths

What was your favourite subject at school?
Hands down, my favourite subject was maths! I always put it first, and admired the logic and structure that my teacher, Mrs. Costello took. However, even though I don’t solve too many mathematical problems daily, the logical thought processes required to do so is a critical skill that helps me in my role.

What skill helps you most in your day-to-day role?
It may sound like a cliché, but communication. Sustainability is such a broad topic and it affects every one of us. It can be overwhelming, and it demands a lot of radical action. Critical to the effectiveness of my role is the ability to synthesise vast amounts of data that show the impact we are having on the environment and society. Then I need to be able to articulate that information in a way that grabs people’s attention making it relevant to them and their role in order to inspire action. Action is key to tackling climate change and with so many conflicting demands and deadlines, it’s imperative that I use my communication skills to drive the sustainability agenda.

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in sustainability?
Do it now! The Earth’s community needs all the energy and enthusiasm it can get. I believe that all careers will eventually incorporate sustainability in one way or another; whether you’re a chef, a teacher, a solicitor, or a doctor. No matter what career you’re interested in, there is a need for sustainability to be embedded within it. 

“I know that we can all make a difference.”

Laura is an Application Engineer for MathWorks, who develop mathematical computing software for engineers and scientists. 

As an Application Engineer, Laura supports a wide variety of engineering companies seeking to tackle climate change, by providing guidance on data analysis, mathematical modelling and software development in MATLAB, a programming and numeric computing platform. 

Laura Dempsey, Application Engineer at MathWorks
Laura is an Application Engineer for MathWorks

“When you delve into a real-world project, you begin to appreciate the scientific and commercial constraints in that industry.” 

What inspired you to take on the role of helping companies tackle climate change?
Growing up in Colorado, USA, I was surrounded by wilderness that was affected by severe drought and catastrophic wildfires resulting from climate change. This experience shaped my interest in the preservation of the natural world and green initiatives. When I moved to a large city, I was struck by how disconnected many people were from the environment. Consumption was the norm, with its consequences on remote areas hidden by busy urban life. My desire to change this attitude, combined with the growing body of scientific climate change research, motivated me to work more closely with companies developing sustainable solutions.

How do you help to tackle climate change?
My work has spanned from minimising the costs of installing offshore wind farms to testing the safety and efficacy of electric vehicle batteries. I work directly with engineers by having technical discussions, delivering training and collaborating on projects. I also advise traditional businesses looking to improve their legacy practices, for example, minimising pollution and increasing efficiency in chemical manufacturing. 

NASA is using MATLAB to build an early warning system for detecting forest disturbances, while Vestas has developed control software for wind power plants that simulates how a plant will perform. These are two great examples of how MATLAB is being used to monitor climate change and deliver renewable energy, respectively.

Using MATLAB, Vestas has developed control software for wind power plants that simulates how a plant will perform

What skill do you think helps you most in your role?
I use my problem-solving skills every day to diagnose issues and recommend solutions. I rely on them heavily for debugging challenging pieces of code, but they are also important when speaking to scientists and engineers in sustainable industries. 

How did you get into your career? 
To help me process experimental data and run simulations as part of my work toward earning my PhD in Biomedical Engineering, I used MATLAB extensively. Once I graduated, I decided to expand the application of the technical skills I’d gained to a broader range of subjects. I was keen to pursue a career where I could remain in an engineering role, but better utilise my soft skills and develop my growing interest in business.  

Throughout my studies, I participated in extra-curricular activities that helped me to grow my network, which is when I met my current manager at MathWorks. Once I’d graduated, he reached out and recommended that I apply for an Application Engineering role. The blend of customer-facing and technical work has been perfect. I split my time between writing code, developing business strategy, and speaking to engineers who are building incredible tools.

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in sustainability? 
It’s so important to gain work experience, whether that’s through an internship or involvement in academic research. When you delve into a real-world project, you begin to appreciate the scientific and commercial constraints in that industry. This allows you to enhance your contribution to a company by developing creative approaches that have a genuine chance of succeeding. Beyond work experience, I would also recommend joining societies like Engineers Without Borders where you can take part in meaningful work whilst simultaneously building your network. 

“I use my problem-solving skills every day to diagnose issues and recommend solutions.”

About the STEM Circle

The STEM Circle is the Science Museum’s Corporate Membership programme that brings together a community of organisations that are committed to inspiring the scientists, inventors, technicians and engineers of the future. As recent history shows, we rely on science to help identify solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Never has science mattered more, and never has it been more critical to work together to build a scientifically literate society. Thanks to our current partners including: BloombergCisco, MathWorks, Northern Trust and Sanofi.

For more information about becoming a corporate partner of the Science Museum Group, please feel free to contact us via one of our museums: Science Museum, Science and Industry Museum, National Science and Media Museum, National Railway Museum.