Michelle Lai, Environmental Policy

Michelle Lai, Environmental Policy

Thu, 2023-03-16 16:37
  • Michelle LaiMichelle Lai

Michelle Lai has graduated in Environmental Policy, with concentrations in Human Rights and International Energy. 

What is your role and main responsibilities?

I am the Director of Sustainability at Condé Nast, as part of the Global Public Policy Team. Condé Nast is one of the world’s most renowned media companies, operating across print, digital, video & film, social and audio. Our global brand portfolio includes some of the most iconic brands in media. 

In my job, I identify sustainability policy challenges and provide advisory to the business on strategies to address those. My role is to lead our global sustainability function and I am responsible for developing Condé Nast’s first global sustainability strategy across all international markets. This entails transforming the business by integrating sustainability considerations into every part of the business: corporate operations, supply chain, brand editorial and commercial initiatives. At the public-facing level, I am responsible for managing our institutional relations and engagement on sustainability matters. I am also tasked to steer a number of intergovernmental and industry-level initiatives. Our range of partnerships focus on climate, nature, biodiversity, ocean, circular economy across fashion, travel, food systems, technology, media and publishing sectors, just to name a few.

How did you secure this role?

I came across this job opening in one of my alumni networks. I was drawn into this opportunity as Condé Nast was looking for someone who had experiences in both public policy and sustainability strategy. Prior to PSIA, I started my career in politics and public policy. I used to work in parliamentary advocacy and policy research in Asia focussing on the nexus of environmental sustainability affairs, financial markets and professional services (accountancy and legal). Through my current role, it is a privilege that I am able to take my interests in policy advocacy and sustainability to the global level.

What is the most fascinating and/or surprising aspect of your role?

Typically PSIA graduates embark their career in diplomacy and international organisation. Therefore, it is a great discovery that the private sector also offers routes to doing policy advocacy (or "corporate diplomacy" as coined by some academics). For example, my role is actually an inaugural sustainability position as part of a growing global public policy function. With heightened expectations on businesses in addressing Sustainable Development Goals, I would expect this would open up many more meaningful opportunities to PSIA graduates.  

What fascinates me most is recognising the power of media brands, storytelling and more broadly the creative industry, and how they can contribute to the global sustainability discourse. My role often is the conduit between our institutional partners and creative teams. I enjoy designing innovative strategies to mobilise behavioural change. It is incredibly fulfiling to collaborate with so many like-minded leaders to reshape a value-based lifestyle and culture for our society. 

How did your PSIA experience help you with the role?

The PSIA programme has strengthened my perspectives as I was taking courses together with  students from across PSIA degrees, including more mature students from the one-year programme. This diversity is crucial as I am a firm believer that no just transition of the Agenda 2030 could be made possible without considering both the people and planet. In addition, I was grateful to have successfully convinced the faculty to enrol me onto impact investing modules in the School of Management on top of the usual PSIA courses. This cross-departmental learning has laid solid foundations to my professional development later on.

Studying at PSIA in the lead up to COP21 Paris was definitely an invaluable experience. I was lucky enough to have direct access to the architects and senior diplomats who orchestrated the Paris Agreement, either being taught by them personally, or through job shadowing, research projects outside of the classroom. I still vividly remember the eye-opening exposure to the COP negotiation processes and the Agenda 2030 SDG launch, thanks to the close links Sciences Po Paris has in the intergovernmental policy world. My PSIA experience has given me all the fundamentals and assets I need to further my career in policy advocacy and impact.

What advice would you give to others? 

Be proactive and make time to join those industry research conferences on and off-campus. Reach out to industry leaders that inspire you as we are so privileged to be living in a melting pot full of ideas and cultures. If time allows, I would highly encourage students to take part time jobs so you can quickly immerse yourself into the work environment even before graduating! The flexibility of the PSIA curriculum is certainly helpful for enabling you to do so.

Be brave when taking the gap year decision in between undergraduate and master degrees, or between M1 and M2. It would be a more effective use of time at PSIA if you know how best to complement your profile for achieving your professional goals.

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