During the summer of 2020 we launched a series of conversations with alumni to hear their memories of Trinity and catch up on what they’ve done since leaving. Matt from ARDO spoke with Euan Murray (1995), CEO at The Sustainability Consortium. You can read his story below. You can find more stories here.
Natural Sciences (1995)
Why did you want to study at Trinity?
I was set on going to Edinburgh to do Civil Engineering, but my best friend at school, whose family was from Oxford, decided he was going to apply there. I thought ‘Hang on, I’m doing just as well as you’ – and decided to apply to Cambridge almost out of spite, to try and get one up on him! I was doing Maths, Chemistry, and Physics, so Natural Sciences was an obvious choice. I thought I’d specialise in Physics, but enjoyed Materials Science more so went down that route.
Where did you live while you were at Trinity?
I started out in Angel Court, and growing up on a farm definitely gave me good preparation for sharing a bathroom with what seemed like hundreds of other people! Then Burrell’s Field, Whewell’s Court, and New Court in my fourth year – New Court especially was an awful lot of fun.
Do you have a favourite part of College?
If I have to pick one, I have to say the Backs – I played a lot of rugby at Trinity, and also coached the women’s team. I remember dragging everyone out of bed on a Sunday morning, down to the Backs to train – it was a fantastic way to spend a Sunday morning, and was a great excuse for copious amounts of bacon sandwiches afterwards!
Were you involved in any clubs or societies?
I did a little bit of everything – a lot of rugby, and coaching, and it was great to see non-sporty people just getting stuck into it. Coaching the women’s team was actually much easier, and they were better, than the men. I also played a bit of volleyball, and squash – more for fitness and fun rather than anything serious…I also once got dragged into water polo, but never again!
What was your first job after leaving Trinity?
I’m a complete stereotype – science degree, went into investment banking and consulting…So I was a junior consultant for a few years, until I ended up leaving because one of the partners in my company got some venture capital money and we set up a digital credit card business.
Tell us about your path from that first job to what you do now?
From that early part of my career in consulting and financial services, I did what everyone at the time thought was completely crazy – I quit my job to go and try to save the world. I did a couple of different development projects in Africa, then ended up moving back to London to work on climate change and helping companies cut their carbon footprint. I’m now Chief Executive of the Sustainability Consortium, which is a non-profit that helps companies make everything we buy, all consumer products, more sustainable. When I left the business mainstream, sustainability wasn’t a thing, people were just starting to wake up to the idea. It was scary, it took me a year to pluck up the courage to quit and follow my dream, but at the same time, what I’m doing now still uses big chunks of my scientific training, analytical processes, and my ability to talk to companies about money and decision making, as well as hugging the occasional tree!
Have you received any great career advice, or had any role models who have inspired you?
The thing that I didn’t realise, and I think everyone needs help to realise, is that the options are much broader and more diverse than you think they are. I went through the Milkround process, and it was brilliant, and gave me great peace of mind to know that I had a job in the bag before I sat my finals. However, it meant that I didn’t really question the conventional wisdom of this very linear path. I remember when I was 22-23, looking around at my extended peer group – only about two of them were still in the same industry as their first job! It’s important to make a good start, but you don’t need to stick to the obvious or usual path based on your degree, or your interests, and you don’t need to make that decision at the point of graduation – there are plenty of ‘jumping off points’ where you can change tack.
Finding role models is hard, and I’m not sure there’s any obvious structure or support network that sorts that out. You kind of have to work it out for yourself, but it’s really important to ask lots of questions and keep finding out more about a person, but also about yourself as well.
Is there an achievement that you’re most proud of?
It’s a really difficult question to answer, so I’m going to give a semi-flippant one – in the early days of climate consciousness in the UK, I ended up doing a regular turn on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4. I talked about climate change and shopping, and how people can buy a more sustainable lifestyle. That was an achievement in it’s own right, but it was also the most random thing – if you had told me at graduation that I’d be on Woman’s Hour, 12 years into my career, I’d have thought you were nuts!
What advice would you give to a current student at Trinity?
The thing I always worried about was that I didn’t know where I wanted to be in 5 years’ time. My advice would be that that’s ok – make the smartest choice you can at the time, with the information you have in front of you. Get that right balance between having fun and getting the work done, make sure you do actually graduate!
Recorded in August 2020
If you want to get involved and share your story, please get in touch with Matt and Rachel at email@example.com