Muhammad Ali MIEMA CEnv
Programme Director Climate Change and Sustainability Unit, Ministry of Justice
Muhammad Ali MIEMA CEnv is Programme Director Climate Change and Sustainability Unit, at the Ministry of Justice. He talked to the Green Careers Hub about his route to this position and shared some advice for those starting out on their own sustainability career journey.
Muhammad credits his first move towards a career in environmentalism to his country of birth, Pakistan, where an interest in agriculture and soil conservation is central to the way of life. He says:
“In northwest Pakistan, where I lived, people often go into medicine, engineering, or agriculture. In Pakistan, along with climate change, soil erosion and water pollution are big issues. The first degree I did was in soil, and within that there were a few modules on environmental sciences, and that’s where I was introduced to the world of environmental science. My undergraduate degree dissertation was on water pollution and the water used for irrigation on agricultural land.”
From those beginnings, Muhammad’s interest in environmental management was ignited. He moved to the UK in 2005 and began studying for an environmental management MSc at the University of Nottingham. It was his first formal move away from lab and field work and towards management. He says:
“Any agricultural graduate will tell you that the basics of environmental science is land management. When I was studying back in the early 2000s, the world was waking up to environmental activism. Climate change as a phrase was starting to be used, but awareness across society in Pakistan and in government was very limited.”
While studying for his masters, Muhammad took up a student placement at Groundwork and subsequently worked for Northern Foods as an Environmental Advisor. In this role, he was responsible for ensuring compliance with environmental permit and improving the environmental performance of two food manufacturing facilities by implementing an ISO14001 environmental management system. He recalls:
“It was a role where there was a lot of support on the job. I did my environmental management audit training and became aware of project management qualifications, which gave me skills in communications and stakeholder management. I see those as the basic ingredients of a typical environmental manager’s role.”
Muhammad later took this training and experience into his job working for Transport for London as an Environmental Manager and Portfolio Sponsor for Environment and Air Quality. In this position, Muhammad oversaw the implementation of various environmental improvement projects in line with the Mayor’s Transport Strategy. As well as working on the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in central London, he oversaw the installation of rapid charge points across the city, and various Mayor’s Air Quality Fund schemes.
“Get some experience under your belt, such as doing a placement during your studies, or to help bolster your dissertation research. Also be aware of the soft skills that are beneficial, such as project management, communication, and stakeholder management, in addition to the technical skills which we often get through formal qualifications.”
Four years ago, Muhammad became Programme Director of the Climate Change and Sustainability Unit for the Ministry of Justice, managing a team focused on making sure the ministry is achieving its greening government commitment targets, including net zero. When he began this job, his team was seven-strong. The team has now grown to nearly 30 people working on net zero, ecology, biodiversity, circular economy, sustainable construction, and climate change adaptation.
Muhammad works across the wider Ministry of Justice Estate. He says: “I report to the Chief Sustainability Officer, and my role is to make sure that the MoJ improves its performance across a range of sustainability targets, with a specific focus on net zero. As the team has grown our responsibilities have also increased and today, we work across the department on sustainable procurement, scope 3 emissions, and the wider circular economy and climate adaptation, which we weren’t doing three years ago.”
Asked what advice he would share with someone hoping to move into a sustainability-related role, Muhammad signposts the civil service jobs website, which also has a fast stream scheme, the government’s version of a graduate scheme. He also recommends seeking practical experience to support academic learning and building soft skills to complement formal learning. He says:
“Get some experience under your belt, such as doing a placement during your studies, or to help bolster your dissertation research. Also be aware of the soft skills that are beneficial, such as project management, communication, and stakeholder management, in addition to the technical skills which we often get through formal qualifications.
“The ability to communicate effectively and engage a wide variety of stakeholders are vital skills in roles like mine with a sustainability focus and a requirement to earn the trust and buy-in of diverse groups. I would definitely recommend the IEMA Skills Map – I’ve used it to review and understand gaps in my own skill base.”
An optimistic, committed professional, Muhammad believes that environmental risks and opportunities will become a growing priority at board level. The future of his profession is in the hands of commercially, and financially aware sustainability professionals who understand their power to influence key decisions. He says:
“Over the last two decades as my career has developed, I have seen environmental issues like air quality and climate change gain an ever-higher profile. My personal motto is ‘believe you can and you’re halfway there’, I hope very much that we will soon see that shift in belief as a global population, as more people turn their attention to the climate crisis and begin believing they can make a difference.”
IEMA is the membership body for environment and sustainability professionals