Career profile: Alex Herschel, environmental specialist at Guernsey Electricity

2nd March 2018

Environmental specialist at Guernsey Electricity

Why did you become an environment and sustainability professional?

The marine and coastal environment has always been an important part of my life. I grew up travelling around the world while my father set up a shipping business, and also yachting with my parents, who are avid sailors. This passion for the sea, sailing and marine life spurred me on to gain a BSc in zoology with a specialism in marine ecology, and subsequently an MSc in applied marine science.

What was your first job in this field?

My first paid role was as a research coordinator for an NGO in South-East Asia. This included managing monitoring programmes for coral reef biodiversity, working with local communities on schemes for alternative livelihoods, and training fishermen to carry out marine surveys and become marine reserve wardens.

How did you get this?

While studying, I spent every summer volunteering on marine conservation and research programmes. The experience, life skills and contacts I gained stood me in good stead.

What does your role involve?

No two days are the same. My time is divided between developing our corporate environmental sustainability strategy and environmental management system in accordance with ISO14001:2015, and leading on the consent and permissions for a 90MW, 54km offshore interconnector cable project between Guernsey and Normandy, France.

How has your role progressed?

Early on, I was mainly involved in environmental and social impact assessments for international marine infrastructure projects in the oil and gas and renewables sectors. Now my role focuses on assurance and managing environmental sustainability risks and continual improvement. I also act as a mentor and sit on environmental sustainability committees.

What’s the best part of your work?

Working on projects that reduce environmental impact or help the island meet our low-carbon targets and commitments to reduce climate change.

And the hardest?

Balancing environmental sustainability against corporate risks and challenges for energy-generating companies – affordability, security of supply and environmental impact, or the ‘energy trilemma’. Achieving this requires innovation in the way environmental sustainability is built into investment strategies.

What was the last development event you attended?

The 2017 Inter Island Environment Meeting in Sark. This two-day annual event was a great opportunity to connect with like-minded environmental professionals from the other Channel Islands and the UK.

What did you bring back from this event?

I learned about a geographic information system (GIS) study to map the distribution of marine invasive species. This is a significant concern for Guernsey, so the potential to expand this study to include the wider Channel Islands was of great interest.

What is the most important skill for your job?

The ability to analyse complex technical data and communicate it simply to the target audience, be that senior executives, an engineering team or members of the community.

Where do you see the profession going?

Environmental sustainability and risk management are no longer a ‘nice to have’; they now have a priority place in the corporate strategy and boardroom. An increase in commercially focused environmental professionals will help close the knowledge and priority gap.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

Internships or work placements are brilliant opportunities to get experience and your foot in the door. Do your research; identify the organisations you’d like to work for. Avoid generic applications, and tailor your communication before sending it directly to the manager of the discipline you are interested in. Follow up with an email or call, showing keenness.

How do you use the IEMA Skills Map?

The IEMA competency framework is a great tool to inform mentoring, recruitment and benchmarking of environmental roles. I have particularly found it useful in planning my own CPD goals.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Professional, motivated, optimistic.

What motivates you?

My self-proclaimed ‘eco-warrior’ daughters, aged six and seven.

What would be your personal motto?

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been”.

Greatest risk taken?

Jumping into the water at night to help resuscitate a 3.5-metre-long tiger shark caught in a fishing long-line.

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

Isabella Lucy Bird, the 19th-century English explorer and naturalist.

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