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Students for sustainability… Monash University Malaysia's Janak Preet Kaur

The PhD student wants to join a company with the biggest environmental footprint—so she can make a big difference.

Janak Preet Kaur was first drawn into the world of sustainability by the wide-eyed enthusiasm of Steve Irwin, whose shows she watched as a child. It was the crocodile-wrestling conservationist’s ability to warn of the dangers of wild animals while also teaching us to love and care for nature that inspired Kaur to pursue a career in an environment-related field.

Now an environmental advocate herself, Kaur is in charge of capacity-building for the Malaysian Youth Delegation, a group that raises awareness of climate policies among young Malaysians, and engages with the government on environmental issues.

Having graduated with a degree in chemical and environmental engineering from the University of Nottingham in the UK, she is now studying for a PhD in alternative energy at Monash Malaysia University. But she already has a good idea of what to expect from a job in sustainability, having interned with consultancy The Biji Biji Initiative and worked full time for property firm Sunway.

Sustainability, she says, can be a “thankless” job, because not everyone outside the sustainability department understands the purpose of the role. But she relishes the impact the job can have, and would rather work for a firm with a big environmental footprint where she can make a big difference.

People always complain about oil and gas companies, but we still rely on them. The best way to change these companies is to join them and change them yourself.

In this interview with Eco-Business, Kaur talks about why she chose environmental engineering rather than becoming the next Bear Grylls, what she learned from her time in the corporate world, and why she worries about the future...

...My international hero is Forrest Galante [an American outdoor adventurer who hosts a TV show about animals on the brink of extinction], I follow him on Instagram. I admire how he throws himself into what he does, and his passion for spreading the word on animal conservation and environmental awareness.

How hopeful are you for the future?

Being part of the Malaysian Youth Delegation, I have been exposed to international climate negotiations. From this experience, I admit to being rather pessimistic. We keep talking about flattening the Covid-19 curve, but there’s another curve that we need to flatten and fast—the climate curve. 

The pandemic has helped to reduce emissions, but it’s not enough. Recession is going to come, so the focus is going to be on how to restore the economy. But a bigger threat is coming and the clock is ticking. As Batman once said, “it is not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me,” and even though I’m pessimistic, I will still do whatever I can to make a difference.

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