Career profile: Duncan Oswald

Published on: 1 Jun 2020

Duncan Oswald

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?

To save the world. I love this planet, but we have made an awful mess of looking after it. We have the solutions we need to build a sustainable future, but there is not a second to lose, so that’s what I spend all my time doing.

What was your first job in this field?

Trade effluent officer for Strathclyde Regional Council.

How did you get your first role?

In the teeth of recession, after applying for 1,500 jobs that I didn’t get.

What does your current role involve?

I am working on climate emergency planning, which involves a wide range of specialisms, depending on the client. A typical project requires a holistic approach to greenhouse gas emissions modelling, energy and resource efficiency, renewables, transport, sustainable construction, land use, sustainable agriculture, fisheries and blue carbon, planning and green finance. I also work on commercial projects, developing circular economy business models. I am managing a long-term project to develop a corporate integrated waste minimisation programme to achieve zero-waste operations across all sites of a major glass manufacturer, as well as a system to eliminate pollution from plastic pellets, and a review of financial green impact rating methodology.

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

Experienced environmental professionals are becoming more in demand as the world wakes up to the reality of the climate and biodiversity crisis. Clients are more aware of these issues.

What’s the best part of your work?

When my recommendations are implemented, resulting in significant positive environmental outcomes. That could be a client changing the way their business runs so it has a more positive impact on the environment, or helping a local authority implement a plan that will make a difference to local people.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Not being able to do everything at the same time.

What was the last development event you attended?

Climate Bonds Initiative Boot Camp.

What did you bring back to your job?

An appreciation for how much money is looking for investment in green projects, and how to connect the two. A sustainable future is not being held  back by a lack of capital.

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

Keeping abreast of developments and explaining their implications in context to clients, using their own language.

Where do you see the profession going?

Towards informed, impartial and professional advocacy, helping everyone to make decisions that make objective scientific sense. The resurgence in environmental consciousness is fantastic, but it’s important it is directed on the basis of objective truth; for example, reducing plastic packaging is great, but not if it results in food waste.

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

Reading that the Keeling Curve has turned down for the first time.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

The more you learn, the more desperate the situation will appear – but you can console yourself that you are doing all you can.

How do you use the IEMA Skills Map?

I find it a useful indicator of competence and experience.

What motivates you?

Doing everything I can to save the planet, working with motivated, dedicated and professional colleagues, clients and contractors.

What would be your personal motto?

If you’re not doing everything you can to make the world a better place, you’re not doing anything at all.

Greatest risk you have ever taken?

Taking a crew of enthusiastic novices to St Kilda. On the way back, they were experienced sailors.

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

Alexander von Humboldt.