Like most teenagers I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and rather than follow a pre-determined career path I plumped to study something that interested me in a place that I loved, and see where I went from there. This led me to study ecological and environmental science at Edinburgh University and on to a Masters in environmental pollution control management at the nearby Heriot-Watt University, in their Engineering Department.
Of all the topics we studied I enjoyed the structure and potential of Environmental Management Systems (EMS) the most. After finishing university, and lots of failed applications, I entered a voluntary/benefits supported work scheme with the environmental charity Groundwork in their small business environmental advisory service in Greater Manchester. That led to a short paid stint in the EMS team at the charity’s Blackburn office and that, in turn, gave me the confidence to seek new opportunities.
Since then I have had three employers, all who have taken me on to initiate environmental change and system management in their organisations. First, at the Gleeson Group of construction companies as their first Group Environmental Adviser, followed by Tube Lines, the Public Private Partnership organisation maintaining and upgrading the Northern, Jubilee and Piccadilly lines on the London Underground as their Environmental Adviser and later Head of Environment, and finally to the Houses of Parliament and its World Heritage and Grade I listed estate as Head of Fire Safety and Environment.
I am a Chartered Environmentalist although I prefer to describe myself as a practical environmentalist. I certainly wouldn’t say I’m an expert engineer – thermodynamics was never my strong point! But, I don’t need to be. In my role, alongside expert engineers, I need to understand the processes being proposed; inputs, outputs and the environmental impacts. Crucially though, I need to be able to understand and talk with colleagues, the public, Members of Parliament, regulators and all other stakeholders to engage and influence and make positive changes to the organisation. That’s what I really enjoy – the satisfaction of helping others come up with and seeing through great efficiency savings.
In this vein I’m proud of awards received for organisational EMS I’ve designed but I’m prouder still of my role in supporting the cleaning managers who introduced paper recycling on the Tube that resulted in £1,000’s being donated to local London charities, the train maintainers who introduced the first rainwater harvesting train wash in the UK and the electricians who have installed new lighting arrangements for ‘Big Ben’, working to improve services and save money year on year. It is these and other successes that are responsible for me being recognised as one of Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35 (sadly I’m no longer under 35) and Energy and Environment’s Environment Manager of the Year, and being shortlisted as Shell’s Business Woman of the Future (I lost out to the woman who ran NASDAQ!)
The Houses of Parliament are the most unique place I have worked but I like a challenge! This place is a debating Chamber, an office complex, an events venue, a museum, a place of residence and, amongst other things, even a funeral parlour once in a while. And the hard work of lots of people has led to significant fire safety and environmental improvements across the Parliamentary Estate, including a 62% reduction in false fire alarms and crucially 44% fewer building evacuations, a 17% decrease in carbon emissions, 37% less water consumption and an 11% reduction on waste generated as compared to baseline years.
I really am lucky to have worked with and continue to work with outstanding engineers in some of the UK’s most iconic settings, helping to preserve our heritage and bring it forward into the 21st century ensuring it’s there for future generations to enjoy and benefit from. There is a lot of satisfaction in that.
As for the future generations themselves, I’ve always tried to support those at the beginning of their working lives; creating placements opportunities, mentoring graduate and apprentices and, in the early days, volunteering as a construction ambassador in schools. If you can help support and encourage young people, and especially women, to get involved with science and engineering I really urge you to do so. No other sector can make a greater difference to our shared future.
And my future? I’ve just returned to work after maternity leave for my second child and am using this opportunity to learn more about the real business of my current employer, having grasped an opportunity for a secondment to a House of Commons Committee. After that who knows!