As part of a series of stories profiling people of influence from around Beca, we asked Carbon Navigator Phoebe Moses to tell us about her career journey and life outside of work.
If someone asks you what you do for work at a social gathering, what do you say?
I work with building designers to try and reduce the carbon emissions from building activities and building design.
How did your current role come about? Was it a case of pursuing a passion that became a career?
As is often the case, the more you learn about something, the more interested you become and the more you care about it. It was a bit of a virtuous cycle of both doing more sustainability at work and becoming more passionate about sustainability more broadly, and then this role being offered to me while I was in Edinburgh doing my Masters. I am really glad that people at Beca saw that there could be space for a role like this.
I was a structural engineer in the Buildings team at Beca for six years. I'd say it was probably the most important aspect of all the things that I learned, leading up to this role. To reduce carbon in buildings you need to be able to have real conversations with design teams around what might be possible. A big part of my job is trying to find compromise between cost and environmental outcomes. I still work with structural engineers all the time – they're the people who can have the biggest impact from a design perspective.
What made you decide to study engineering?
I was lucky to go to a high school that put a lot of emphasis on getting people in to talk about possible careers – and one of those was engineering.
I liked that it had the highest entrance requirements for university. I was very competition-motivated!
A group from school went to Enginuity Day at the University of Auckland, which was great. I think there are not enough opportunities for school-aged girls to get a non-intimidating feeling of what it's like to be an engineer. I think it's really important to have those spaces where female excellence is shown more broadly, as a normal thing.
What were you like as a child?
I was very into reading. I would prefer to read at lunchtime than play with my friends, if I had a good book. And I loved sport – I played anything and everything.
We shifted to Tanzania when I was 7 and we were there until I was 14. So I spent most of my schooling years in an International School in Arusha. It was a massive culture shock, going both ways.
There were so few people in the school, and so you stayed together as a group and grew up together, which was quite wonderful. There were 26 people whose parents were from 24 different countries. It gave me a sense of multiculturalism in the true sense.
What took your family to Tanzania?
My Dad got a job with the United Nations as a prosecutor for the Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal. He would interview people who'd had the most horrific experiences of genocide. Looking back, I'm amazed that he was able to do that. He’s now a judge in South Auckland.
Mum is a pathologist. She's definitely where I get my nerdiness from. She was a GP for many years and when we came back from Tanzania she decided to retrain. It’s a hugely academically challenging discipline and she studied while parenting three teenagers. I’m super in awe of my Mum. She loves her job and never wants to retire.
When we came back to Auckland, we moved back into the same house we were in before we left. We had thought we’d only be gone for two years at the most, so we’d packed all our things into containers, including our clothes – thinking we’d still fit them! It caused so much joy unpacking that – to see the things that I wanted to keep at age 7.
How did the time spent in Tanzania shape you?
Have you heard the term ‘third culture kid’? It’s when you're from one country, but you spend a big formative part of your childhood in another country.
I don't feel this so much now, but it was like... you're not Tanzanian, but that's your home. You're from New Zealand, but it's not your home and you don't really feel like you belong there. So you don't have a culture and you don't have a settled sense of identity.
Doing te reo Māori courses at AUT really helped with that, because [while learning to say your pepeha] you really pick apart the places of significance to you – they are all part of your identity.
Did you come back from Tanzania with a different accent?
Oh my gosh, yes. Ha! It became a running joke with some friendship groups, because I insisted that I had an 'International accent' because I went to an International School. They said I sounded British. Those three years of high school in Auckland were not my favourite – it was a very challenging time!
What’s your home life like now?
I live with my husband Mike in a house that he designed and built, in Wesley. It’s a narrow piece of land so he designed a house that’s only 4m wide. We spend most of our time in the vege garden. Mike is obsessed with different forms of compost, so often our weekends will involve trying to collect different forms of brown matter like dead leaves off the cycle path, or seaweed from the beach after a storm.
How did the two of you meet?
We met at a 1930s party. I was Mary Poppins and he was the Tin Man.
You’re a keen cyclist?
I cycle into work every day on my ebike or my push bike depending on the day, but I don't bike on weekends. I don’t actually enjoy biking, but I enjoy it compared to other forms of commuting.
If a young person tells you they want to work in sustainability, what do you say to them?
If you are passionate about sustainability, you'll find your way there no matter what you study. There are people from all walks of life in the sustainability advisory space, so do what you're good at and apply it to what you're interested in.
Do you ever find working in sustainability overwhelming?
Yes, I've talked with my seniors quite a lot about this, because being quite fatalistic about the state of the climate, it can feel like what you're doing day-to-day isn't going to make enough difference.
I actually see a big part of my work as advocacy. Probably the favourite part of my job is when I get to meet with a new design team who haven't done a carbon assessment before and talking them through the process, what carbon is and what they can do to help. That's where I find most meaning in my job, through the influence I can have on other people's sustainability journeys. So I do feel a lot of hope in what I do, still. But it's definitely a harder job to leave at work, because I care about the outcomes personally. It's more than just a job.