The conversation opener of ‘how is the weather in London?’ has hidden layers to it when the person you’re talking to is Hannah Dunn.
Like the rest of the world, London receives regular weather reminders that climate change is a growing threat with Dunn noting, early in the conversation, that it is above 30C in London at a time of year when it would normally be about 20C, “And no-one is sleeping because historically there’s been so little need for air conditioning in UK homes.”
This situation is particularly significant for Dunn because in her current role, she is helping her corporate and government clients join the fight against climate change through more sustainable practices and energy usage.
“I'm a problem solver and I really love overcoming challenges related to climate change and the energy transition,” she says from the London offices of Jacobs Solutions, where she is Senior Associate Director of the New Energy & Advisory Practice within Jacobs’ Global Energy and Power Business.
Allowing that the time for sitting on the sidelines of the climate crisis has well and truly passed, Dunn’s dedication and aptitude have seen her take on the big projects. Last year, she and her team used highly complex modelling scenarios to understand and rethink the energy use for all modes of transport across Scotland, no less.
The goal is to switch Scottish transport away from fossil fuels and towards electricity, hydrogen and potentially, in the case of shipping, ammonia. As big as this project is, it is only part of Dunn’s remit, “Day to day I’m working alongside my team to make sure we deliver what we need to for our clients.”
Talking to Dunn, you get a strong sense that she is a sponge for information who can use that information to usefully shape outcomes, so it’s not surprising that early on, she studied communications and in fact, topped her cohort.
This led to several roles in corporate affairs, including a stint at the energy network, TransGrid, “I learned a lot from that experience,” says Dunn. “Building high voltage power lines is difficult and often controversial. I went to some very emotional and very necessary public meetings.”
TransGrid also gave her a practical grounding in the energy industry generally, preparing her for what has become her path, further cemented by her time as a Director at the Department of Planning and Environment (including Energy) – remembering that at this time, she was still only in her twenties.
This was also the period of her career when she realised that she needed to build on her existing education to better understand budgets, build business cases for environmental action, and develop her leadership skills. Soon after, she enrolled and obtained a scholarship to undertake a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the University.
I’m not sure if it was correlation or causation, but it changed the entire trajectory of my career.
Certainly, the course broadened her business skillset in just the way she’d hoped but when Dunn decided she wanted to find climate change-related job opportunities in the UK, the MBA also helped her shine in interviews that led to the position she now holds at Jacobs.
Her MBA’s international certification and her performance in it, also led to her being awarded a scholarship at Cambridge University’s prestigious Institute of Sustainability Leadership.
When Dunn started her MBA, her executive role at the Planning and Environment Department was demanding, with piles of briefs always needing to be urgently reviewed for ministerial advice, but she dedicated her nights and weekends to the MBA classes and assessments. She soon found a rhythm, with the course giving her plenty of reasons to stay on track.
Two truly transformative experiences were the international units that her MBA cohort did in Shanghai, China and Bangalore, India.
“To have client and business meetings in Shanghai boosted my confidence and my self-belief,” she says. “It also gave me a much more diverse global perspective.”
A global view is essential for many modern businesses, but it’s just as important for people and organisations working to protect our environment.
Tackling climate change has to be done by every nation, every culture, in every language and everyone everywhere has to move together - so it was great for me that my cohort was so diverse. There were people of different ethnicities and professional backgrounds from finance and human resources, to the military and medicine.
“I made some of my closest friends through the MBA. But I also have the ongoing benefit of being part of an MBA community of hundreds of people. I regularly tap into the experience and network of those people who will step up and help each other by becoming information sources, supporters and advocates.”
Dunn describes her early career as being ‘a fly on the wall’. She’d sit in rooms where big things were decided then her role would be to communicate them to the world. But she knew early she wanted to be one of the decision makers. Her MBA helped her get to the front of the room.
“I didn't realise I was going be a lifetime learner,” she says before being called away to a meeting. “But I somehow became one.”
Written by George Dodd.