Profile: Josie Cadwallader-Thornewill, PIEMA

Published on: 27 Jan 2022

JosieWhy did you become an environment/sustainability professional?

Studying civil engineering, I was frustrated that the curriculum seemed unchanged for decades. I added elements of environmental engineering and investigated the aerodynamics of wind turbine blades.

What was your first job in this field?

Towards the end of my masters degree in sustainability of the built environment, I was offered a position as graduate sustainability adviser for a housebuilding company. I divided my time between construction sites and boardrooms, working towards my PIEMA qualification.

What does your current role involve?

In my first 12 months at Thakeham, a zero-carbon community creator, it published its first sustainability strategy, with targets for reaching net zero by 2025 across the production and operation of every home, as well as the whole business. I am also interim head of zero carbon placemaking and nature in the Future Homes Hub, where I am developing a roadmap for industry collaboration and translating goals into performance metrics. My responsibility is for how places can be well designed, maximise biodiversity net gain, achieve water resilience and respect environmental thresholds.

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

I started as a sustainability manager, working to develop our sustainability strategy. I now spend more time on panels at events, and sharing our approach with government and industry organisations.

What’s the best part of your work?

It’s exciting being part of a company at the top of its game. We were the first UK housebuilder to sign the SME Climate Commitment. Personally, I’m a Sustainability Leader of the Year finalist for the Edie Sustainability Leaders Awards. Being in a position to shout about our efforts is the best part.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

We have made three commitments to net zero by 2025. Scope 1 and 2 business emissions, and making home operations zero-carbon, are significant challenges, but carbon-neutral production is huge! We are developing a process for Scope 3 emissions.

What was the last development event you attended?

The Kelp Summit. It may seem random for a housebuilding company, but we learnt a lot, and will look at kelp forest restoration along the Sussex coast as a project.

What are the most important skills for your job?

Enthusiasm and persistence.

Where do you see the profession going?

We are relevant to every company, particularly SMEs, for translating research and policies into action.

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

I’d like to no longer need to explain biodiversity net gain, and hope zero-carbon homes are mainstream. We are looking at sustainable finance to help the industry identify sustainable projects to finance. For myself, I’d like to buckle down and get my CEnv.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

Find the interconnections between topics – it’s a complex world and you won’t do it justice by over-simplifying it.

How do you use the IEMA Skills Map?

When I was a sustainability adviser I used it to understand what I needed access to to be able to move forwards. As a director, it helps me structure my team’s progress.

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

A driven, positive force.

What motivates you?

Our knowledge, experience and passion are needed. In the construction industry, that means changing how and what we build. It motivates me to work for a company that is rising to that challenge.

What would be your personal motto?

‘Find their passion’. If someone cares about hedgehogs, I can get them to care about invertebrates and biodiversity.

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

I would meet Guy Stewart Callandar and impress on him the importance of the emotional angle of climate change. Scientific opinion disputed his findings during his time and I would see if I could help shorten the time it took for us to realise our impact on the planet.