Louise Quarrell is the co-owner and Chief Operating Officer of Carbon Smart – a leading sustainability consultancy based in London.
We caught up with Louise to ask her about running a company and what advice she would give other women who are pursuing a career in sustainability…
1. As a changemaker within your industry, tell us a little about your background?
The natural world, and how it evolves, has always held a fascination for me. Finding the right balance between human development and protecting species, habitats and landscapes is the biggest challenge of our time. This interest influenced my choice of school and university subjects and I graduated with a BSc in Geography, an MSc in Environment and Development, and a desire to work in sustainability. But I also had virtually no experience and was totally naive about the competitive job market and what employers wanted!
After struggling to find anyone to take me on I eventually found a role on the south coast – 300 miles away from where I lived. A house move and a realignment of expectations followed but I finally had a job in sustainability – and I’ve been working in the field ever since.
Over the following years I worked my way up within several boutique consultancies – running programmes and teams of increasing size and complexity, learning huge amounts along the way. After a stint freelancing, I joined Carbon Smart in 2010 as Director, and I’m now the co-owner and COO.
2. What are the challenges you’ve had to overcome to get you where you are today and how did you address them?
Running a company is both hugely rewarding and challenging – every day brings new issues and problems to solve. There are never enough hours in the day and getting the balance right between growing the business, keeping clients happy, looking after the team and having time for myself outside of work is a constant test.
A few years ago, we completed a management buy-out of Carbon Smart and this gave us the freedom to evaluate the business and to build the future Carbon Smart as the type of company and employer we wanted to be. Along with flexible working, company massages and lots of social events, we’ve put in place an employee share scheme giving all staff the option to own equity in the company they are helping to build.
It took me a long time to realise I could be an introvert and still be a good consultant and leader. I wasted a lot of time at the start of my career trying to change my personality until I realised it wasn’t working and was just making me miserable! Now I realise the traits of an introvert are actually incredibly well suited to both these roles. I’ve spent time assessing my strengths and preferred ways of working and that has helped me grow in confidence and understand how to adapt my workload, client and team relationships to better reflect these.
3. What unique qualities do you bring (as a woman) that makes a difference in what you do?
I don’t buy into the idea that women have unique qualities different to those of men. My own qualities which have served me well include: being an optimist; the ability to see the big picture but break it down into manageable steps; empathy; the capacity to focus on specific issues; a healthy dose of stubbornness and the ability to move on when things don’t go my way.
4. What advice would you give women who want to create more impact and influence in the workplace?
Get to know yourself and take responsibility for your productivity. Spend time analysing when, where, how you work best. This can cover everything from whether you work better in the morning, or later in the day; in groups or individually; to deeply focus or be more of a generalist etc. Understand yourself and your strengths and then take every opportunity to build this into the way you operate.
Examine what you enjoy and ask for opportunities to do more of this. Be honest about what you don’t enjoy and ask for help to minimise this. In smaller businesses things can be very flexible – there are usually lots of opportunities to get involved in things if you ask but don’t expect your managers to be psychic, they won’t know unless you tell them.
Ask questions and ask for advice. Don’t be afraid of asking silly questions – there really aren’t that many. This works both ways – as an employee asking will highlight to your manager that you are interested and want to learn, as a manager/leader asking your team may well bring an invaluable different angle to the issue.
The same is true for asking for advice – people honestly like to give it and will never think poorly of you for asking – just the opposite.
5. What successes have you witnessed that we should all be celebrating?
After several years feeling a bit frustrated that the I was having the same conversations I was having a decade ago it feels like the climate agenda is finally moving on a gear. The direction of travel is right, even if the pace is still too slow.
6. When it feels like the world is going crazy, what keeps your vision and passion alive?
When I start to lose momentum it’s usually because I’m run down and tired. I’m getting better at recognising the signs and the best thing for it is to escape London, spend some time with my partner and friends, breath some fresh air, see some sky and ideally some sea, spend as much time outdoors as possible and catch up on sleep.
7. Who inspires you and why?
Greta Thunberg – bringing international attention to climate change, telling off world leaders, being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – these are definitely not the things I was doing when I was 16! Others include Christiana Figueres, Sheryl Sandberg, and Susan Cain.