Meet the climate team

Susan McDonald

Energy Transition expert and NASA Space School alumna
Susan McDonald

Climate change is complicated. But that’s not stopping people around the world to make a difference. We’re lucky to have some brilliant people leading our climate work across the firm. In this series, we help you get to know them, their areas of expertise and why they’re passionate about sustainability.

Today we’re talking to Susan McDonald, Energy Transition lead in our Net Zero Transformation team.

Career lift-off

Susan hails from Scotland and a family with a strong scientific background. Her dad, identical twin sister and brother are all engineers, and her mum is a podiatrist. Her own specialism is electrical and mechanical engineering — although initially her ambitions lay in another direction.

“Aged twelve, I really wanted to be a vet, helping out at my local surgery for sweetie money. But I was always curious about how things worked. In fact, when I was fifteen I won a competition called Scottish Space School, which meant I was one of twenty students to go to space camp at NASA in Texas. If there’s such a thing as career ‘magic dust’, this was mine!

The ten days I spent there were the most incredible experience. We were involved in mock scenarios at Mission Control. We made robots that we navigated in the actual place that they’d tested the Mars Rover. I even spoke to astronaut Michael Foale while he was onboard the International Space Station!"

Empowering providers to go green

Encouraging others to consider opportunities in her field is a thread that runs throughout Susan’s career. Another is her keen interest in renewables, as reflected in her current role at Deloitte.

“My specific focus is power, utilities and renewables, particularly in asset-intensive organisations that are strategic to how we live our lives. I’m currently working with various energy and transport companies to help them become greener and more sustainable.

What makes me excited about my role as a Net Zero strategist in Deloitte’s Net Zero Transformation team is being able to help clients set a new vision and strategy to grow through the Energy Transition through a combination of strategy and simulation. I am passionate about helping put organisations on a course to contribute at scale in the transition to a net zero economy, catalysed by data, technology and innovation.

Prior to Deloitte, I worked at National Grid, where I led the coordination of twelve of the UK’s offshore £1bn+ wind farm projects to the grid; this included all of Scotland’s as well as Dogger Bank wind farm — which will be the largest in the world when fully operational.”

The view from the Grid

It’s a project Susan is particularly proud of.

“National Grid was a real eye-opener. I learnt how to work with lots of different stakeholders to deliver multi-year programmes that were cost-efficient and sustainable. The key was linking offshore wind and low-carbon energy projects, enabling us to build infrastructure that would be there for longer, and would integrate with new capital projects as they came along.”

Her time at National Grid also taught her lessons she has found invaluable in her subsequent career.

“My experiences there have given me credibility with clients. I know what it takes to deliver and be responsible for high-voltage assets and power generation that are going to go live. You need to feel you are putting something into the system that is not only safe, but that is building momentum that will enable a net-zero future. It was the support I was given at the time that enabled me to do that.”

Susan volunteering on a research expedition to investigate Climate Change at the Arctic’s edge

Passing on the passion

On that point, it’s mentorship of different kinds that Susan is quick to flag as inspiring her own career.

“My parents taught me the importance of asking the right questions, and always being respectful while you’re doing it. I also had amazing mentors at National Grid, from line managers to senior leadership."

Susan is keen to play a part in continuing that spirit of encouragement. It’s one of the reasons why she promotes engineering as a career through her ambassadorial role with the Queen Elizabeth Prize of Engineering.

“In the UK, only 14.5% of engineers are female. In energy leadership just 24% of board positions are held by women."

"It’s vital we support talent from all non-traditional backgrounds in breaking through, not least by recognising the need for people to be able to take career breaks, whether for educational reasons, to have a family, or to be a carer. Employers and organisations have much more to do to make that viable.”
Susan McDonald

Looking forward to looking back

So, as well as a more equal balance in gender and backgrounds among those choosing a career in engineering, what else is in Susan’s vision for the future?

“I’m hopeful that we’ll see a more sustainable society. One where we’re more reliant on green energy and we’re all living healthier lifestyles. Fast-forward twenty or thirty years, and hopefully I’ll have a family of own and can look back at all the personal and professional opportunities that have opened up for them through that sustainable future.”

Meet the others

We hope you enjoyed finding out a bit more about Susan, her experiences and her projects. Our climate team are here to help you, so please get in touch if you’d like to find out more. And if you’d like to meet the others, please keep reading below. We’ll introduce you to new people every month.

Laila Takeh

Laila Takeh

Net zero strategist and veg grower
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Gavin Harrison

Gavin Harrison

Internal sustainability lead and eternal optimist
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Katherine Lampen

Katherine Lampen

Sustainable finance leader and frog rescuer
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