Profile of Sandra Tavares

Sandra Tavares

Principal, Tavares Group Consulting Inc., London, ON

What does it take to lead a rewarding career in the constantly evolving field of corporate social responsibility? Sandra Tavares, Principal of Tavares Group Consulting, offers a special inside look.

What is your current job title? In this role, what do your typical work activities and responsibilities include?

I am the Principal of Tavares Group Consulting, a corporate social responsibility consulting firm based in London, Ontario. Our work focuses on sustainability planning and implementation, specializing in the areas of environmental health & safety (EHS) management systems, greenhouse gas inventory and auditing services, communications and training.

How did you get into this role?

I had a global EHS role with a multinational communications company based in the United Kingdom. When they decided to pull out of the North American market, it was a perfect opportunity to start my own consulting firm. At the time, I was pregnant with my second child and I wanted the freedom and flexibility of my own business. Additionally, I felt I had gained the experience and confidence to begin consulting.

How would you describe your career path? Has your career changed a lot over the years? If so, in what way?

I can describe my career path as “well orchestrated”. When I was in University completing my Master’s in Environmental Science, I wanted exposure to the environmental field and I attempted to volunteer at a number of consulting firms which would not allow me access due to confidentiality and liability issues. I was fortunate to volunteer at a local Environmental non-profit which gave me the initial exposure I needed. That experience was a springboard to my next role in industry as a local EHS coordinator in which my responsibilities grew to regional (North America) and global levels. It was there that I began to see how EHS fit into the corporate social responsibility / sustainability framework and I decided to focus on that aspect when I began consulting. I would like to call it more of an “evolution” rather than a “change.”

What are the factors that you believe contributed to your career development and success?

Perseverance, first and foremost, but passion for my work has a lot to do with it as well.

Please tell us a bit about your educational background. What types of education, training and professional development have been essential for your career?

I have a Master’s in Environmental Science from Western University in London, Ontario where I have returned to lecture in their Master’s of Environment & Sustainability Program, which has also evolved. When I left school, it was imperative that I immerse myself in the business side of managing environmental issues. This meant integrating health & safety issues into my lexicon (many of these positions are joint in many organizations), learning all I could about legislation in both areas and ultimately discovering environmental management systems, which was revolutionary for me and many of my colleagues. It was also important to join organizations that kept you current on all these issues. For example, the Canadian Advisory Committees on Environmental Management and Social Responsibility have allowed me to be involved in the development of the ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems Standard and ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility, respectively.

Why did you choose to get the EP(EMSLA) designation?

Having audited for much of my career, it was important to be viewed as a credible professional when I started my own firm, so I worked toward my designation. Additionally, conducting third party audits required this type of designation.

What are some of the biggest opportunities and challenges that you’ve encountered in your work?

The biggest opportunity and challenge has been the integration of sustainability into existing management practices. It is an issue that we have been working on for a very long time and we have finally resolved the issue with the Sustainability Toolkit, a joint venture with another local consulting firm, Kuzuka.

In ECO Canada’s latest research on the impact of the green economy, we found that environmental employment is undergoing a remarkable phase of expansion, in which environmental workers need to apply their expertise in new contexts.

Would you say that your industry has undergone major changes that impact the types of work that environmental professionals do? If yes, please describe the changes that you’ve noticed.

Again, I choose to use the word “evolution” rather than “change.” Sustainability has been emerging as a major area of concern with many supply chains over the last few years and we have seen the requirements increase. This is something we have addressed in the Sustainability Toolkit in an attempt to assist organizations in managing these requirements.

Are there any aspects that make your industry unique?

Sustainability consulting is a very interesting and challenging field to be a part of. Given the fact that sustainability addresses all facets of an organization, sustainability consultants must develop a very comprehensive understanding of their clients’ overall operations. This is different than most specialized consultants, who have a specific issue that they address for their clients. Having had roles that have ranged from managing specific local EHS issues to developing global EHS programs, I can bring that overall understanding to my clients.

In your opinion, what does the future hold for your industry? What are the things that you expect to see in your field 5 to 10 years from now?

We expect to see an increased emphasis on sustainability reporting for organizations in the coming years, to the point that it becomes an expected part of public information disclosure for both private and public sector organizations.

What would be your best advice for someone considering a career in your industry? What training/education should such a candidate pursue and how should he/she connect with employers?

  1. The best way to start is to understand your areas of interest within the environmental industry. Volunteering is a good way to start – smaller firms may be more amenable to this.
  2. Bring funding with you. There are a number of employment programs out there that have the objective to provide experience to people coming into this field. If you are eligible and approved, you are more likely to be hired, at least for a short term. ECO Canada’s IEYC internship program is one example that is currently accepting applications – learn more here
  3. And, I would also say that it is important to work towards a certification – this will strengthen your credibility.