Career profile: Tertius Beneke FIEMA CEnv

Published on: 23 May 2019

Tertius Beneke

Tertius Beneke FIEMA CEnv is Group environmental manager for Qatar Airways

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional? 
For me, the profession combined my love of nature, my need to protect this planet and contained enough variety to keep me constantly challenged and engaged.

What was your first job in this field? 
I started out as an environmental specialist for Network Rail in its maintenance department. The aim of the role was to champion environmental management throughout the UK’s south-east rail network and covered some very interesting work, such as managing sites of special scientific interest and creating a small nature reserve at Hither Green railway station. This provided me an amazing opportunity to learn from other environmental professionals in the department. As my first role, their support and guidance was invaluable.

How did you get your first role?
I took a non-environmental position within Network Rail, obtaining consents to install telecommunication masts along the railway. The consents included several environmental aspects and I used this experience to secure my first environmental job.

What does your current role involve? 
I am the group environmental manager for a global aviation company. My main tasks are to create an environmental management system that will give a structured approach to environmental management across the company’s 44,000 employees and eight discrete businesses. To support and enable behavioural change, I have implemented environmental and sustainability requirements in job descriptions, and we are in the process of rolling out related sustainability training for the group. On a day-to-day basis, I work with business units to embed environmental and sustainability requirements into their processes, dealing with issues like supply chain management, resource efficiency and whole life cost / life-cycle thinking.

How has your role changed/progressed over the past few years?
It has moved from being mainly field-based, tactical and hands-on to being more strategic, long-term and office-based. 

What’s the best part of your job? 
Working with people in business units and helping them affect real-world change that reduces our environmental impact – there is nothing better than that for me. Even something as simple as reducing waste makes me very happy.

What’s the hardest part?
Convincing senior leaders and middle management of the importance of this planet and how their role can or should contribute to the protection and enhancement of it.

What was the last development event you attended? 
My last development event was in Doha, Qatar, at the regional IEMA event. I also attend the IEMA Fellow workshops in London on a regular basis.

What did you bring back to your job?
The Fellow event brought to my attention the Islamic Reporting Initiative, created by an IEMA Fellow.

What are the most important skills for your job? 
Perseverance, communication and understanding the pressures that delivery unit personnel deal with. To be most effective, we must integrate our interventions into existing processes and behaviours, so we must be as informed as possible to reduce disruption to delivery and improve adoption and implementation of responsible business practices.

Where do you see the profession going? 
I think the profession is becoming more mainstream. Younger generations expect environmental and sustainability issues to be very well managed as standard. The high-profile surge in renewable energy is providing us with a great platform for change. I believe that responsible financial investment will not be far behind in moving to a decarbonised investment model, which will drive global shifts in many industries. 

Where would you like to be in five years’ time? 
In five years, I would like to still be contributing to the profession. Personally connecting with global leaders on this topic is on my development list – hopefully somewhere close to some good surf!

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?
Connect with your passion and use it to drive your career. We tend to be good at the things we like. I once attended a speech by American former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, where he said “be ambitious and be patient”. This helped me find balance, as the profession can sometimes be frustrating and slow to change.

How do you use the IEMA Skills Map? 
Personally, I use it to drive my environmental and sustainability competencies and personal development. I have also used it professionally in my last two organisations to create environmental competencies for all staff, followed by training programmes to drive behavioural change.

If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Serious, driven, big picture.

What motivates you?
I need to make a difference and leave this planet just a fraction better off than when I started.

What would be your personal motto? 
‘Vasberadenheid’ – the Afrikaans word for determined. I’m not the fastest or the smartest, but I am nothing if not determined.

Greatest risk you have ever taken?
Leaving my home and family in South Africa to work in the environmental sector in the UK.