Interim Insights: A conversation with Mayra Vivo-Torres, ESG, Sustainability and Net Zero Consultant
Zoe Spalding, Resourcer at Odgers Interim, spoke to Mayra Vivo-Torre, a successful freelance ESG, Sustainability and Net Zero Consultant about her career in sustainability, the challenges faced when looking for such roles and her career highlights so far.
What made you want to pursue a role within sustainability?
I always wanted to make a difference and the NGO development sector was overcrowded when I finished my masters 22 years ago. So, after volunteering for two consecutive summers for Oxfam with no real work coming out of it, I decided that sustainable development, which was only just starting to permeate the third sector at the time, was also a good fit for an economist and an area where I could make a difference.
Little did I know at the time climate change mitigation and environmental protection would become powerful drivers to avoid poverty and displacement in the developing nations!
What does a role in sustainability encompass?
The kind of sustainability I practice is quite technical. My economist skills were useful to calculate the ROI of sustainability investments and good for modelling different scenarios and pathways to Net Zero, but to fulfil the full sustainability brief I had to retrain to obtain the kind of technical/engineering skills you need to identify energy conservation measures, outline their savings and understand how different technologies/design elements interact in the built environment.
In addition, the Net Zero targets require good project and programme management skills, including knowledge of construction contracts, so that one is able to develop and implement large and effective multi-site/muti-organisation programmes of work.
Finally, there is a strong element of understanding and implementing carbon accounting standards and principles to excel at reporting.
Please can we discuss your time at Slough BC, Spirax-Sarco Engineering plc, CBRE as well as some of your freelance roles – what have you found most interesting or challenging?
Slough Borough Council was the first client that asked me to look into sustainable construction standards. It was not always easy to agree with their construction partner, but we found common ground in developing some kind of award system so their efforts could be rewarded. This work served as the basis of the Sustainable Construction SPD (Supplementary Planning Guidance) I developed for Milton Keynes, which has won several awards.
Spirax Sarco was all about building an effective Net Zero Programme, e.g. finding and modelling the right leading a lagging indicators, writing global policy and helping them develop their so called ‘green contracts’ (renewable energy contracts, self-generation and sleeving) in a way they felt confident it would avoid the kind of ‘greenwashing’ claims some of these instruments attract. I did that by developing an auditing process in line with the Quality Criteria contained in the GHG Protocol and helping manage a solar development programme.
Both of these clients opened new areas of knowledge for me e.g. EV vehicles or wider sustainability in construction, and I always enjoy learning something new. The challenges are usually related to buy-in, timings and budgets, but nothing that good stakeholder management cannot overcome.
It is still early days as CBRE’s EMEA Energy Manager but I can already see how the integration of good energy management and their sustainability/net zero strategy will pay dividends for our corporate clients. Literally!
Since I left the local authority arena to work for the former Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) as a Senior Policy Executive Officer and went on to roll out Energy Performance Contracts across the country, I have been driven by maximising the impact of my time. I find that these international roles in major multinationals give me the scale I need to feel great about my contribution and continue to expand my knowledge and horizons.
What would you say your career highlights are? Where have you been able to have the biggest impact?
Convincing my colleagues at DECC and Amber Rudd, our junior minister at the time, to expand the Greening Government Commitments a year before the next election when departments like MoD or MoJ were calling for a lull.
Writing global travel policy for Spirax Sarco, requiring that every new vehicle purchased be an EV and that all air travel be sanctioned by the relevant manager.
Taking Re:fit and their Energy Performance Contracting framework to Defra, City of Manchester, Birmingham City Council and many others, ensuring thousands of tonnes of carbon were saved, and will continue to be saved, every year.
Introducing city-wide heat networks to a number of local authorities, securing funding so that they can develop their own plans ahead of the heat networks zoning policy.
What are the challenges faced by clients when looking to hire into sustainability roles?
It really depends. Organisational barriers are slowly being eroded but availability of capital remains an issue, especially in parts of the public sector.
In the private sector I worry about short-termism and misinformation – greenwashing is often the result of those rather than a deliberate attempt to cut corners . We need education, in the private and public sectors alike, about the dangers of double counting and incorrect disclosures when using renewable energy tariffs under market-based reporting, as well as about all of the incentives and finance available to make Net Zero ambitions happen
What are the challenges often faced by Interims working within the sustainability space?
I have been very fortunate to easily jump from one role to the next through word of mouth. Also I am not your typical interim since I tend to build long term relationships with clients and spend on average 1 to 3 years supporting them.
My only challenge has been having to turn down some amazing opportunities because of my plate being full!
How do you get the board prioritise sustainability?
There is so much to be gained by designing and implementing a good sustainability strategy. A Board will always look at the bottom line and wasting energy is not something anyone can afford these days.
In addition, deeper sustainability commitments add value to a company both in the eyes of investors and the public. In fact, I would say that for the kind of FTSE100 and Fortune 500 clients I have the pleasure to work for, it has become a necessity. Sustainability is synonymous with leadership these days.
How do you see roles within sustainability evolving in the future?
I think things will get harder and more technical as we advance in our journey towards Net Zero, once we move away from carbon reduction and we start having to figure out ways to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere. I have never been an advocate for geo-engineering, but carbon capture and storage can be done in “natural” ways. I think sustainability professionals will have to continue to learn and develop to make sure we deliver a safe planet to the next generation by using the kind of science-based targets and pathways we need to avoid the worst of climate change. Me personally, I look forward to it. This is literally the journey of a lifetime.