Career profile: Andrew Whitehorn
General manager, ENGIE
Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?
In 2000, I read The Carbon War by Jeremy Leggett. I had recently left the army and was planning to pursue a medical career, but this book changed my view of the world. I was awakened to what our species was doing to the planet. I signed up with the Open University soon after to do my degree in environmental studies.
What was your first job in this field?
Technical assistant to the board director of a quarrying and waste management business.
How did you get your first role?
In 2001, I contacted around 40 public and private organisations, hoping to secure an entry-level role in environmental management. I had many replies but only one interview offer, which led to the above role. After only nine months, the company was acquired by national waste and resource management company Viridor. Within 10 years, and after a number of different environmental and operational roles, I became head of sustainable business.
What does your current role involve?
Since 2014, I have been the general manager responsible for a Tier 1 contract partner at EDF’s Hinkley Point B Nuclear Power Station. My organisation provides facilities management services to the power station, including the management of non-radioactive waste.
How has your role changed/progressed over the past few years?
I have moved from a senior corporate level sustainability role into a senior operations role. I spent many years in my previous role trying to encourage my colleagues to adopt more sustainable business practices; in hindsight, I may not have understood the extent of their day-to-day pressures and what was important to them.
What’s the best part of your work?
For me, developing the next generation of managers and leaders – whatever their chosen discipline. I prefer to lead through empowerment and trust, and avoid micromanagement.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
There’s never enough money to do everything you want – but with some thought and creativity you can still find sustainable solutions.
What was the last development event you attended?
An IEMA Fellows evening in the City of London earlier this year. I made some great contacts and was inspired by IEMA’s growth and direction.
What did you bring back to your job?
I was reinvigorated by the passion of the sustainability profession, and brought back ideas on how I might continue to support my own organisation and client by implementing sustainable business practices.
What is/are the most important skill(s) for your job?
Not viewing sustainability as an isolated discipline, focused on the next initiative for the CR Report – sustainability has to become part of the DNA of business. It’s okay to be passionate, but avoid becoming a ‘high priest of sustainability’ at all costs, as you will switch people off.
Where do you see the profession going?
I’m really pleased that IEMA is aiming for chartership. There are some outstanding sustainability thought leaders within IEMA, who are just as valuable to a business as skilled accountants, engineers and lawyers.
Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
Post-Brexit is going to be a very important period for the environment and sustainability in the UK – I would like in some way to be able to influence this at a significant level, to ensure we remain a world leader in environmental protection.
What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?
Don’t focus on a job title – do sustainability alongside something you’re passionate about.
How do you use the IEMA Skills Map?
I used it a lot on my way to becoming a Fellow.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Gets things done.
What motivates you?
The human spirit and the good in people.
What would be your personal motto?
Make a start, don’t procrastinate.
Greatest risk you have ever taken?
A 180-foot bungee jump and a Grade IV ice climb on Ben Nevis – both in my 20s.
If you could go back in history, who would you like to meet?
Sir Ernest Shackleton, to discuss his approach to leadership, which was ahead of its time.