What were your favourite subjects when you were at school?

It changed from year to year depending on what we were learning but on the whole my favourite subjects were Maths, Chemistry, Art and Product Design. I liked Maths and Chemistry as I prefer working with numbers and equations than reading/writing large amounts of text. Similarly with Art and Product Design I enjoyed being able to express myself through drawings rather than writing essays. 

When you left school, did you have a clear career path in mind?

When I was leaving school, I’d already accepted a place at university to study Chemistry so I had some idea I would end up in a STEM career. However, I didn’t have a clear career path in mind and I purposefully chose Chemistry as I felt it was a broad enough subject to keep my options open. A career in sustainability was definitely not on the horizon, the word ‘sustainability’ wasn’t even in my vocabulary at the time, let alone a potential career path.

Did you find it tough getting your first role after graduating or was the pathway quite straightforward?

I graduated with an MChem in Chemistry, from the University of Edinburgh. It was a challenging degree and in the end I didn’t achieve the degree grade I was anticipating. I was used to achieving high grades throughout school and the majority of university so when I received the lower than expected grade my confidence took a significant hit.

Whilst trying to figure out what my next step should be, I received some great advice from a university tutor who me that if a career in Chemistry wasn’t a good fit for me, I could easily change career. My tutor highlighted that it was likely I’d have 3 or 4 different careers in my lifetime and that I was graduating in a different time to when my parents were picking their jobs as they would likely keep one job for a long period of time. That advice really helped me to see the bigger picture and I realised I didn’t need to pursue a typical Chemistry graduate career like working in a lab if it didn’t feel right. I ended up working various jobs including being a science communicator, a criminal defence caseworker and box office manager for a couple of years before finding a job that led me on my current career path. So, my tutor was right and within the first two years after graduating I’d already created potential career paths. 

What motivated you to go into sustainability?

Understanding the urgency of the climate crisis and how our planet will be affected if we don’t take action steered me towards a career in sustainability. Taking action for me means trying to live consciously to reduce my individual carbon footprint, such as using a reusable water bottle, eating less meat or avoiding buying fast fashion. These conscious choices do add up collectively, however, I decided that if I could dedicate my career to causes which mitigate the worst effects of climate change I’d be able to make a greater impact than my individual actions. I think it’s important to acknowledge it’s a privilege to be able to make sustainable choices and not everyone can choose to buy something that’s organic, fair trade and zero-waste for example. Reflecting on this, I felt businesses, especially large corporations, needed to take more responsibility for the environmental and social impacts their products and services have and how they should work towards making sustainable choices accessible for all. This is what motivated me to pursue a career supporting businesses to operate sustainably. 

What is your role at B Lab Global and what does it involve day-to-day?

For some context, B Lab Global certifies B Corporations or B Corps for short. We define B Corps as businesses who achieve high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency . As a Senior Business Sustainability Analyst I’m responsible for assessing businesses to meet our standards. I specialise in working with Large Enterprise and Multinational Companies which means I work with businesses with revenues above $100M and who operate in multiple countries. Each day looks different as we are typically working with several companies at the same time who are at different stages of their certification journey. They could be in the process of becoming a B Corp for the first time or they could be recertifying, this happens every three years, where we re-review their business practices to ensure they are consistently meeting our standards. We do this using the B Impact Assessment, which is a free online tool that any business can use to track their positive social and environmental impact.  So my day usually consists of reviewing supporting evidence companies have submitted and assessing if it can verify the company’s practices and meet B Lab’s standard’s requirements. If they are not able to meet the requirements, we can provide guidance on improvements to make. As well as reviewing documentation, my time is spent engaging with businesses ahead of certifying to review the scope of their operations to ensure we certify their impact in a meaningful way.

What do you like the most about your job?

Sustainability is applicable to all businesses regardless of the industry they operate in, so I really appreciate being able to work with a diverse range of businesses around the world. It’s interesting to understand the sustainability challenges different businesses face depending on the industry, geographical location or political climate they are operating in.  

I feel motivated working with multinational companies because if we can support them to make changes and do business in a more sustainable way, it’s great to reflect on the large impact this can have on their workers, the communities they operate in and for the environment.

What has been the most challenging part of your career so far?

As you can see from my previous answers, I didn’t have a clear career path in mind leaving school and still wasn’t any closer to knowing what I wanted to do after graduating from university. It took a lot of trial and error before I had an idea of what sort of job I wanted to pursue.

Is there a particular company or organisation you admire due to their sustainability credentials or their promotion of sustainability?

There are a few that come to mind, I really value businesses who have cleverly designed their business models to incorporate circular economy thinking to minimise waste. For example, British Sugar, produce their sugar from sugar beets grown in Norfolk to make granulated sugar, they then redirect the heat and CO2 generated from production to greenhouses to grow tomatoes. By redirecting their waste streams they were able to reduce their carbon emissions and produce an additional food product. Another company I admire is Fairphone, who manufacture sustainable smart phones. I value their commitment to ensuring fair working conditions and fair wages throughout their supply chains as well as their focus on ensuring precious metals are responsibly sourced. Beyond their sustainability commitments in manufacturing the product they’ve also considered the environmental footprint at the end of the phone’s lifecycle and have purposefully designed their phones to be taken apart so that consumers can repair their phones rather than throwing their phones away. They are also a B Corp which means they meet the high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. For more inspiration of sustainable businesses, you can check out the B Corp directory on our website: https://www.bcorporation.net/en-us/find-a-b-corp.

Do you have any advice for pupils at ESMS who might wish to follow a similar career path?

Sustainability is a broad field, so my advice for ESMS pupils interested in sustainability but who are unsure where to start is to check out the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. These aligned goals by UN members aim to address the most urgent sustainability issues we are facing globally. There are 17 goals so I would recommend reading through the goals and choosing the issues that light a fire in you or sparks your curiosity.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I feel I’ve found a great organisation in B Lab Global so I hope to still be at B Lab in five years’ time continuing to support businesses make impactful changes to how they operate. Though if you look at my CV, you’ll see I like to move on to a new challenge after a few years so I’m not certain where exactly I’ll be in five years but I know I’ll most likely be in a sustainability related role. 

What’s your fondest memory from your schooldays?

My favourite memories include my first day joining Mary Erskine at the start of third year, it was an exciting time starting a new school and it was the day I met my friends who I’m still friends with today! Of course, Carbisdale and the Christmas panto have a special place in my heart but I think what I miss the most is just being able to see my friends every day and the times we could have a laugh together. 

One thought on “Christina Cheung (MES 2011), Senior Business Sustainability Analyst at B Lab Global

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