We spoke to Angela Begg, Sustainable Futures Consultant at Lendlease, about her role in addressing some of the greatest sustainability issues. Hear about what inspired her to choose her career path, who her role models are, and why she believes it’s so important for women to pursue a career in STEM.
Tell us about your job
I’m a Sustainable Futures Consultant at Lendlease. Lendlease is a multi-national development, construction and investment management company whose mission is to create spaces where people thrive. My role is centred around sustainability, and ensuring that these places that Lendlease creates are as environmentally, and ethically responsible as possible. I spend a lot of time working with various different stakeholders (including development teams, design teams, construction teams, and building operators) to optimise building performance and help buildings achieve their environmental performance goals. While we specialise in a range of different aspects of sustainability, our main focus areas are energy, water, waste and indoor environment quality. Energy, water and waste are probably the main things people think of when they think about buildings and sustainability, but indoor environment quality is all about delivering spaces that promote the health and wellbeing of building occupants – such as indoor air quality, thermal comfort, and access to daylight.
The team I work in also spends a lot of time thinking about future-proofing buildings. While it’s important to design and build buildings that operate efficiently now, it’s equally as important to ensure that these buildings (which are still going to be around in 60-80 years’ time) will be able to operate efficiently in the future – especially in a future where climate change may be impacting the environment.
What was the inspiration for a career in Sustainability and STEM? Did your interest start at school? If so, how?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always loved Maths and Science. They were always my favourite subjects at school. Initially, I think the thing that I liked most about Maths and Science was that I felt like they just made sense to me. I liked the logic behind solving equations and learning about how different physical systems worked, and the adrenaline rush you get with the problem-solving element that comes with Maths and Science.
Funnily enough, I can actually pinpoint the exact moment in time when I realised I wanted to study engineering at uni. I was sitting in a Physics lesson in Year 12, when our amazing Physics teacher Mr Riza was teaching us about the photoelectric effect. The photoelectric effect is the physics behind how solar panels are able to convert energy from the sun into energy that can be used as electricity. I remember being absolutely awestruck by this, and wondering if this was something I could learn more about at uni – and something I could do as a career.
That night I got on the internet and did a bit of research. To my surprise, UNSW – which was just down the road from where I’d spent my life growing up – offered an undergraduate engineering major in Photovoltaics and Solar Energy Engineering, and this was the only place in the world at the time where you could study this major as an undergraduate. I was sold then and there, and put Photovoltaic and Solar Energy Engineering at UNSW as my one and only preference for uni. I realise now this was very ambitious of me, but I ended up with an early offer to study this with UNSW, and I’ve never really looked back since!
Who are your role models?
I count myself lucky to have a lot of role models. The first role model that always jumps to mind is my Mum – Mum is an equine vet, who is specialised in internal medicine. Mum’s one of the most accomplished equine vets in Australia, is a partner in her own practice, and was a pioneer in her field. When Mum started out as a vet, it was a very male-dominated field and somewhat sexist (which is pretty different to what vet is like today), but Mum managed to put all that aside and excel at what she does. Mum absolutely championed being a woman in a male-dominated environment, and still, after 30 years has so much passion and love for what she does. Although vet and engineering are two very different industries, engineering is still very male-dominated. Knowing that other women (like my Mum) have been able to find success in male dominate fields is really inspiring.
I’ve also got quite a few role models (both male and female) in Sustainability and Construction that I look up to. Sustainability is still relatively new, so I really admire the people who started pushing for sustainability and low energy buildings before they became as accepted as they are today. I’m lucky to count some of these people as colleagues. Although Sustainability is really starting to take off now, and gain a lot of momentum, I’ve got a lot of respect for the people who have been there for the last 2 decades pushing for change. The reason the industry has been able to move as quickly as it has in the last 5 years, is because of the hard work these sorts of people have been doing in the background – and our industry (and society more generally), has a lot to thank these people for!
Why do you believe other young women should consider pursuing a career in STEM?
I’m a very strong believer that we need as many young women in STEM as we can get. Diversity and inclusion – regardless of whether it’s in the form of gender diversity, cultural diversity, religious diversity, sexual orientation, you name it – is so important for everything, especially when it comes to STEM, Sustainability and Climate Change. I know Climate Change is really scary for a lot of young people (myself included), but I like to think of it as a challenge that presents an amazing opportunity. I believe we’re about to find ourselves in the midst of another energy revolution (you can already see the signs), and we haven’t had a revolution like this since the industrial revolution.
The next few decades are going to force us to rethink and re-imagine our world, and all our systems and processes. Last time there was an opportunity like this, there wasn’t a lot of diversity amongst the decision-makers and engineers – it was really just a bunch of white guys – and, as we can see today, this has resulted in a lot of our systems and processes being non-inclusive, and this created a lot of inequity. We’ve got a golden opportunity to do this again, and to avoid history repeating itself (and to ensure we correct these oversights), we need a very diverse group of problem solvers and designers. The only way this is going to happen is if we encourage young women, and other people who are currently under-represented in STEM, to consider pursuing careers in STEM.
Why are role models so important?
I think role models are important because they’re our go-to’s for motivation – especially on our bad days. People who have persevered, who have been resilient, and succeeded (even when the odds are stacked against them), are always a source of inspiration. We all need inspiration from time to time. They give us hope that we can do the same, and help us push on when we want to give up.
Does your company provide mentorship?
We do! There are a lot of mentorship opportunities available through Lendlease – both internally, and externally. We have formal and informal internal mentorship programs where employees can build relationships with other employees, and programs that Lendlease runs with external partners (such as Career Seekers), where employees are able to mentor students/young people with an interest in the built environment and offer career advice. I’ve personally experienced both our internal and external mentorship opportunities, and have found both equally rewarding. Through an internal mentorship opportunity, I’ve been able to build really great relationship with one of our Senior Technical Managers (who I also count as a role model!), and through external mentorship opportunities, I’ve been able to speak to high school students about what life in the construction industry is like, and how they can find pathways into the industry.
What are the areas in tech that appeal to you most?
Anything Sustainability or Clean Energy related! Given my background in Renewable Energy, I’m really interested in developments currently happening with large scale batteries and how batteries are going to help our electricity grid become more renewable. As we move away from traditional energy generators such as coal and gas, and towards renewables such as wind and solar, our supply of energy is going to become a lot more variable (i.e. “when the sun don’t shine, and the wind don’t blow”). Batteries, along with other storage solutions such as pumped hydro, are going to be key in how we overcome this.
I’m also really interested in electric vehicles, and the challenge that’s going to come with EV charging as more people move away from petrol and diesel cars to electric ones. I’m actually that interested in EVs, that I recently became an early adopter, and bought myself a Tesla Model 3! Although my bank account may not agree, I thought that the best way to understand what challenges are going to come with EV adoption, was to become an adopter myself. I’m the kind of person who likes to dive headfirst into things – maybe it’s the engineer in me who can’t resist the temptation of trying to have a go at trying to solve these problems myself – but it’s been worth it so far!
We thank Angela Begg for sharing her insights with us!