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Founding a sustainable business: Emma Pye’s journey to independence 

Emma Pye (she/her)

Director, PYE Management Ltd.

Photo of a rural scene with a winding road through it
Emma Pye has over 23 years’ experience in the environment and sustainability sector, and a vast knowledge of the UK’s highways sector. 
Having sharpened her skills at environmental consulting company WSP, and building materials provider Tarmac, the Chartered Environmentalist and IEMA Fellow took the daunting decision to found her own sustainable business almost four years ago, and hasn’t looked back since.
PYE Management provides the highways industry with a wide range of sustainability services, including carbon footprints, and PAS 2080 and ISO 14001 implementation, as part of its vision to be the sector’s ‘go-to sustainability consultancy’ .
Although she remains as busy as ever, Emma now has the flexibility to work when she wants, while also taking time to mentor the next generation of sustainability professionals. Here, she outlines her journey to independence, and gives invaluable advice to those who are just starting out in their careers.

 

What first sparked your interest in environmental sustainability?

I didn’t know what to do at university but I loved being outside and geography, which I loved at A-level. I studied locally at the University of Hertfordshire, which had a brilliant up-and-coming environmental department. I chose a four-year degree in environmental change and monitoring. At the end of it, you became a member of IEMA.

What are some of the key highlights in your career?

Getting a job at Tarmac was huge for me. I’d spent a lot of time working on local highway authority contracts within very large organisations , but that was my first time moving into a different industry, and at a company with 20,000 people and 550 sites – it’s huge. That was when I thought I’ve  made it to a company where I can make a real difference from an environmental perspective. The other real turning point was starting my own company. 

Photo of Emma Pye at a desk in front of her laptop

I feel a huge sense of purpose, especially now, because it is getting quite scary, but I can reassure clients that we have opportunities to make a difference.

Emma Pye
Director, PYE Management Ltd.
You founded PYE Management in June 2020. Was that a very difficult decision to take?

I was on maternity leave and wanted to return part time, but my employer wanted me full time. My partner said, ‘You’ve always wanted to set up your own business, and this is the opportunity’. I built my own website, met with a colleague who had set up her own business for advice, and messaged contacts from my past to generate work. I went into it a bit naively, but I’m pleased I did, because I may not have done it if I’d thought about it too deeply. You have to go for it and back yourself. That is common with an environmental career because we tend to be on our own, so you always need to believe in yourself 100%.

What professional training has been most useful for you in your career?

My Master’s at the University of Hertfordshire taught me about ISO 14,001, which was absolutely brilliant – I then understood it completely. I can implement it, I can audit, and I had a skill that I could immediately go into a business and do something with. I’ve also done short courses, including an ecology course, and have become a general environmentalist where I can do a bit of ecology, water, waste, and that’s important.

What is the biggest difference working for yourself?

The flexibility and choices you can make. I can give more of my free time to other projects and can volunteer more because I can work in the evening, so I might go out and plant some trees, or do interviews like this one. I’ve also been able to do more work advising people who are up and coming in their career. It’s wonderful to be able to give back.

Are there any downsides?

You always have to be on it, so my brain just doesn’t switch off, and it’s hard to know when you need to stop being a business and switch the computer off. But I like that because it’s my passion; I don’t see it as a job anymore, and the fact that I get paid for it is wonderful. I feel a huge sense of purpose, especially now, because it is getting quite scary, but I can reassure clients that we have opportunities to make a difference.

What are the biggest challenges facing your clients in the highways industry?

The number of job vacancies is huge. We’ve got a shortage of skills and time, but the key challenge is education. The industry is quite old school, and they are using skills that they’ve known and trusted for years, but the changing climate is affecting that, and they don’t have the time to re-educate themselves. The warmer, wetter winters, and sudden, sharp cold snaps mean the road surface just breaks up. We have so many potholes, but people don’t realise that the roads are directly showing the effects of climate change.

Two people standing on the side of a road looking at machinery. Both are wearing high-visibility jackets and hard hats
How has IEMA membership helped your career?

It’s helped me in obtaining roles – it’s often a requirement on job descriptions. When I became chartered and an IEMA Fellow, it opened up the contacts I speak to, and level of expertise you encounter at networking events. You get recognised as an expert in the field, and it really gives you authority in the profession. I’m now able to say in boardrooms that it’s not all about money, and that they need an environmental ethos and conscience, convincing them to do more than the legal minimum.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

Companies always talk about wanting qualifications and experience, which is why I tell people to go and volunteer, take some free courses and get some experience. It’s taken me 25 years to get my dream job, so I would say just go for it, because any experience can help launch your career. I would also tell them to stick at it, because it is quite easy to move around within the sector and there are so many opportunities.

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IEMA is the membership body for environment and sustainability professionals