Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?
As a young person, acid rain, animal rights and oil spills caught my attention. My geography teacher took us on trips to former coal mining communities that; she challenged us to think about how to support the people as well as the environment. I studied environmental science and geography at university.
What was your first job in this field?
I was a community environment worker in Bradford, helping a deprived community improve their homes and the area. I learned that perfect solutions are not enough – you have to get on with people and work with their priorities, fears and motivations. I also worked on city and regional sustainability strategies and in professional service companies, latterly as global head of sustainability.
How did you get your first role?
I saw it in a newspaper.
What does your role involve?
I focus on creating a more sustainable built environment, looking at how organisations work and advising on technical projects. I lead community planning processes and provide expert sustainability project reviews.
How has your role changed or progressed in the past few years?
Earlier in my career, a sustainability specialist was expected to know a lot about a heck of a lot; there are now many specialisms. My role is often to diagnose the issues, find a team of specialists, engage the right stakeholders, reframe problems and enable collaboration.
What’s the best part of your work?
The people I get to work with – there’s always something to learn – and sharing disparate expertise and perspectives.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Running a small consultancy can be lonely. Finding supportive networks is helpful, and biscuits are important.
What was the last development event you attended?
A mental health first-aid course. What did you bring back from it? Awareness about the issues that people I work with might be dealing with behind the scenes and how to help in a crisis, as well as tips for my own mental health.
What is/are the most important skill(s) for your job?
The ability to relate to people from all backgrounds and professions. The best solutions and innovations are pointless if people don’t want to implement them.
Where do you see the profession going?
The hole in the ozone layer caught the attention of professionals, the public and politicians in the 1980s, and policy, technical and social levers were used to address it. Today’s imperative is climate change and no single sector has all the solutions or all the responsibility. I hope our profession will bring technical solutions to the fore, but also work in the social sphere to find the right levers to bring about change.
Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
Working on really interesting projects and effecting change.
What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?
Perfection is an obstacle to progress.
How do you use the IEMA Skills Map?
I use it periodically to review my CPD.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Integrity, passion, humour.
What motivates you?
My time as a trainee paramedic in West Yorkshire. I saw first-hand the appalling impact that a poor environment can have on people.
What would be your motto?
Sustainability with a smile – take people with you on the journey.
Greatest risk you have ever taken?
Telling my then director that I needed him to make a good case at the Board – it was their decision whether or not a project could have the resources I needed in order to deliver it; if they could not release them, I would have to step back. I got the resources.
If you could go back in history, who would you like to meet?
Mo Mowlam. She helped unpack and progress a really wicked issue – the peace process in Northern Ireland.