Career profile: Andy Nolan

Published on: 28 May 2019


Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional? 

I have always had a passion for the environment and the outdoors, and studied environmental science and geography at the University of Bradford. 

What was your first job in this field?

My first ‘proper’ job was working with Keighley Business Forum in Keighley, West Yorkshire. It gave me some fantastic opportunities to work with small and medium-sized businesses, large blue-chip companies, and universities. 

How did you get your first role? 

Luck! My academic sponsor at the university was approached by one of his former colleagues, who was recruiting.

What does your current role involve? 

My job is part of a University Estate Office managing our campuses and facilities. Specific responsibilities include our energy procurement and carbon management programme, waste contracts and transport-related activity. I also have responsibility for estate masterplanning, space management and the university’s farm, and communication and engagement is increasingly important. 

How has your role changed/progressed over the past few years? 

The big difference has been the amount of time I now invest in strategic initiatives. My work is increasingly corporate in its nature, working with colleagues across the institution on things such as fossil fuel divestment and plastics reduction. 

What’s the best part of your work? 

Working with the academic community to support their research and teaching. We do some amazing things at the university and my job is to help us do that core business without losing sight of our corporate sustainability objectives. This has led me to being involved in everything from ultra-low emission and autonomous vehicles to methane capture from slurry tanks. 

What’s the hardest part of your job? 

Managing expectations. Every day there are competing pressures for resources, and shaping consensus can be challenging.

What was the last development event you attended? 

I attended a session called Clarity and Impact. It really helped me understand how to improve written communications so that issues are better understood and better decisions are made. 

What did you bring back to your job? 

I was so impressed with the course that I sent five members of my team on it, and they all came back with new ideas. Their reports are clearer, their recommendations are understood and they’ve found it easier to write technical reports in a way that helps decision-makers.

What is/are the most important skill(s) for your job? 

Listening. There’s usually someone with more expertise on an issue than me within the university. Listening to their views, synthesising them and coming up with a clear plan of action is an effective way to take our key stakeholders with us.  

Where do you see the profession going? 

The days of having to persuade the board that environmental issues are important are fading. Most boards accept they have a duty to do the right thing. This has helped the profession become well established. Successful sustainability professionals are effective at helping business understand the benefits of a broader social, economic and environmental approach. Risk management has established itself as a core area, but adding value to a business is where the emphasis will be placed. 

Where would you like to be in five years’ time? 

If I can continue to make a difference, I’ll be happy.  

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession? 

Focus on your employer’s objectives and work with them to show how you can add value – be strategic in your approach, but don’t be afraid to be opportunistic.  

How do you use the IEMA Skills Map? 

I refer to it when reviewing my own personal development and that of my team. It’s been a useful prompt to give some structure to their development. 

If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be? 

Optimistic, collaborative, fun.

What motivates you? 

Developing others and making a difference.

What would be your personal motto? 

Do the right thing. 

Greatest risk you have ever taken? 

Climbing Kilimanjaro in 2005.

If you could go back in history, who would you like to meet? 

As a Liverpool fan, I have read a lot about Bill Shankly, their manager of the 1960s, famed for his vision, charisma and people management. An hour of his time would be insightful.