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25 Oct 2023

A day in the life of a head of sustainability

Our head of sustainability, Laura Shellard, takes us through a day in her role.

Why and when did you join Notting Hill Genesis? 

I joined in 2015 as a sustainability manager and became head of sustainability in 2021. The main thing that attracted me to the role was the ability to make a difference in people’s lives. I’ve always believed sustainability can be a positive transformation force – creating warmer, more comfortable homes with lower bills and nature-rich green spaces.

Working at Notting Hill Genesis, I can be part of the debate about how people can come together to tackle global issues like climate change in a way that delivers tangible benefits for local communities. It’s hard to think of something different I’d rather do!

What is your role? 

I support the development and delivery of our sustainability strategy – working alongside colleagues and other stakeholders to support them in making changes and integrating sustainability into their normal business activities.

A key part of this is helping us as an organisation plan and deliver improvements to our housing so our homes emit less carbon, use less water and are protected from future climate impacts like heatwaves and flooding. For our residents, this should mean homes that are energy-efficient, warm, dry and well-ventilated – ultimately homes that are happier and healthier places to live.

What can a typical day(s) look like? 

My days vary, which is great. I love being out of the office - talking to people and understanding what their priorities and aspirations are for their home and community.

I spend a lot of time working alongside different professionals involved in delivering home improvements – like insultation, new heating systems and renewables. The process of improving the energy performance of homes can be complex and there’s a huge range of skills involved – whether it’s building surveyors, architects or specialist installers. It’s a fulfilling experience when a project team comes together to create homes people will enjoy living in for years to come. 

How did the lockdown or Covid-19 conditions change your job?

I didn’t have as much face-to-face interaction with colleagues, which I missed. I really value meeting people and residents as seeing and hearing things in person gives me a different level of understanding.

What do you find the most rewarding? 

Hearing directly from residents about how changes to their homes and green spaces have made a difference in their lives. My experience at Notting Hill Genesis has made me appreciate how important good housing is for providing a stable foundation for people's lives. It makes the job of providing safer, warmer, more comfortable homes feel all the more important.

What are the frustrations? 

Frustrations are a normal part of working in sustainability and you learn to use this to be more creative. Many sustainability professionals feel frustrated by a lack of action at different levels of society. Organisations like housing associations can develop and innovate to tackle environmental challenges. At the same time, we don’t operate in a vacuum and rely on government to support the wider industry and sector through legislation and funding. I believe housing associations can be a force for change – by demonstrating through the work we do that a sustainable future is both possible and desirable.  

What do you do in spare time? 

I spend a lot of time with my family and love to be outside in nature. I often entertain the idea of being an amateur conservationist or taking up a botany course but struggle to find the time. I’ve been lucky to meet residents who are talented gardeners and who’ve shown me around their own green space projects. I won’t miss an opportunity to talk about plants!

Is there a situation that you were able to resolve that stayed with you?

There’s lots of opportunities to resolve and improve situations – which keeps me coming to work each day. I always remember the day I moved a family into a home that had been beautifully renovated and re-designed to be wheelchair accessible. Their old home was very cramped and it was difficult for one family member to move from one room to the other in their wheelchair. There was so much joy that day – I felt privileged to share the moment

One thing you would like residents to know about sustainability and how it affects them?

Sustainability is a broad term and can mean different things to different people. When people talk about environmental sustainability – a lot of focus is on tackling the climate crisis and pollution. I’ve always been interested in the idea of climate justice – which recognises the world is facing multiple challenges, in housing and health, which can only be addressed through a joined-up approach. In my role, it’s really important to connect the issues and show how action on climate can create jobs, improve homes, reduce energy bills and increase physical and mental wellbeing.

I think everyone has an opportunity to shape a different future for themselves and future generations – whether it’s as a citizen, parent, worker of a company or voter. People shouldn’t doubt the influence they can have in ensuring change delivers benefits for their communities and potentially a fairer society

Funniest thing a resident has said to you? 

I can't think of anything specific, although I'm sure there have been funny things. I always take something away from every conversation, whether it’s some local history, or understanding a new perspective or different way of thinking.