From “a plan” to “The Plan”

Patrick Elf has recently begun the Doctoral Practitioner in Sustainability program in CES. Here he reflects on his experience so far:

Plan your future

When I was younger my plan was to make a lot of money and travel the world. As part of my business degree in Germany I was able to go to Chile where I, yes, travelled a lot. I met equally interesting and inspiring people, learnt different language, ate (too often) weird stuff and saw beautiful places. Places made of ice, deserts with little water, rainforest with the most unimaginable creatures and much more – Places only nature is able to create.

Well…I am still fascinated by different cultures, languages, nature and, especially, people; but I realised that there is a bit more to life than making money. Our course director Dr. Jaqi Lee likes to call this probably “this light-bulb moment” some people experience. And it is true, I had one of these moments which made me change my plans.

Plan 2.0

So, back in Germany I was curious what I could do to preserve the environment as part of a rapidly changing society in Western Europe. I’d strike it rich in London, finish my business degree and move to the UK: Plan 2.0.

Plan 2.0 was to do my master in Sustainable Development, to go back to Germany and to live happy ever after as a sustainability expert.

Well, it didn’t quite work out like this as you might imagine by now. And this brings us closer to where I am right now.

During this very intense time I got to know new people. People with a passion for sustainable development who were driving the agenda for decades. Two of these inspiring personalities were Prof. Tim Jackson and our Ian Christie. I had the great pleasure to learn from both during the Forum Masters. Since both are part of the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey I soon became interest in CES’ work and, luckily, kept in touch after I finished my course.

So I moved on, was working for the Greater London Authority as part of the secretariat at the London Sustainable Development Commission (probably Plan 2.1 if you like) but kept on reading all the stuff these academics down in Surrey were doing.

The Master Plan? CES – The Centre for Environmental Strategy

It almost took a year before I told Ian Christie that I am fascinated by the new Practitioner Doctorate Programme at the University of Surrey. It was just the time when my contract with the GLA came to an end and I was about to sign a contract with another company. Interesting job, no doubt, but just not quite as interesting as the project Ian was about to tell me about – A project together with IKEA, the world’s biggest retailer as part of my doctorate studies.

I never planned to do a PhD (or a PD). What I planned was that I wanted to change something; to do something good. For people and for the planet. Well, here it was, the opportunity to develop my understanding, skills and knowledge further and bring them to a whole new level.

During the first three months I soon realised that I made the right decision. Together with my fellow “PDs” who are on equally, if not even more interesting projects, I had the chance to delve into life-cycle thinking, design for sustainability, sustainable development, and learn from the same, and more, experts at Surrey. Dr. Jaqi Lee and Prof. Chris France, together with their team at Surrey paved the way for the next three years or so to make a difference at, and together with our companies. The aim of the PD programme is to create change makers, people who understand both academia and the business world. In other words, people who can work on the interface between both and, well, drive positive change.

The course helped me to develop crucial knowledge which can help me to do exactly this. And even though that I am just 4 months into my PDs I feel well equipped to face future challenges with my already newly acquired knowledge and the backing of my supervisors at Surrey.

My MASTERPLAN? Well, life is full of Black Swans but I am sure that it is the right plan