Graduate award shortlist announced

11th November 2011

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Three young environmentalists have been shortlisted as potential winners of the IEMA 2011 graduate award

The graduate award, sponsored by commercial property company Land Securities, recognises the environmental achievements and contributions of exceptional graduate practitioners. This year’s award received a record number of nominations – 20, compared with 17 in 2010 – and the standard remains extremely high.

The judging panel – Dave Farebrother, environment director at Land Securities; 2010 winner Sherry Palmer; Gary Cornell from consultants ERM; IEMA membership services manager James Thorne; Diana Montgomery, deputy CEO at the Chemical Industries Association; Dr Jane Newbold, visiting lecturer in environmental management at the University of Hertfordshire; and the environmentalist editor Paul Suff – met on 21 October to choose the finalists and agreed that the top three have all clearly demonstrated innovative thinking, hard work, professional leadership and exceptional communications skills.

The judges shortlisted Laura Duggan, Heather Poore and Charlie Symonds for the 2011 award. They find out whether they are the winner or a runner-up during the IEMA sustainable business conference on Tuesday 15 November. Here, the three finalists provide some insight into their background and how that has led them to become award-nominated practitioners.

Although the judges were unanimous in their choice for the final shortlist, a number of other submissions were commended. These include:

  • an environmental coordinator who established a biodiversity plan, improved resource efficiency and increased environmental awareness among staff at a shopping centre;
  • a graduate environmental specialist who had made an outstanding contribution to stakeholder engagement on assignment in Gabon, West Africa;
  • an environmental adviser who, within six months, took sole responsibility for all environmental management on a £1 billion redevelopment project of a hospital site; and
  • a sustainability adviser with a fire and rescue service who completely revamped staff engagement on sustainability across 43 sites, to help the organisation achieve its environmental goals.

Laura Duggan

Job title: Environment executive

Organisation: George Best Belfast City Airport

What and where did you study at university?

For my undergraduate degree, I studied business, economics and social studies at Trinity College Dublin. Then I did a masters degree in leadership for sustainable development at Queen’s University Belfast.

Why did you want to work in the profession?

After completing my undergraduate degree, I became increasingly aware of environmental and development issues through my association with various NGOs and I was concerned about the future. I got involved in voluntary work in the environment field before deciding to pursue further studies in sustainable development to broaden my knowledge and gain some essential skills.

I was really excited about the prospect of working at Belfast City Airport because I believe it is important to work with businesses as they have a key role to play in bringing about environmental improvements through their policies and practices, and that airports and the aviation industry, in particular, present a range of sustainability challenges.

How did you feel when you found out you had been shortlisted?

It was a great surprise, but a fantastic one all the same! It is really encouraging to receive validation from highly experienced professionals in the field for the work I have been doing at Belfast City Airport. It has definitely motivated me to continue to pursue my career in the field.

What are your top three tips for recent graduates seeking work?

Try to gain experience in the environmental field, whether it is paid or unpaid. Get involved in voluntary organisations as this can be a way to get experience, open up opportunities and make valuable contacts. Be flexible and open to projects that may crop up and don’t be afraid to stray beyond your comfort zone in terms of previous academic and professional experience. Build up a network of contacts by joining organisations and associations related to the field.

What her nominator said about Laura:

She has played a pivotal role in developing and implementing the airport’s environmental systems.

Heather Poore

Job title: Youth volunteering project manager

Organisation: Global Action Plan

What and where did you study at university?

I gained a BSc (Hons) in physical geography at the University of Sheffield.

Why did you want to work in the profession?

I became soberly aware of the scale and seriousness of climate change while studying at university. It was during this time that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report saying that scientists were more certain than ever that climate change was real. This really brought all the stuff I was learning about in lectures to life and hit home the desperate need for sustainable change.

I knew something had to be done and I wanted to be a part of the action. I had been fortunate enough to study the environment and I felt I had a duty to lead the change, sharing what I had learned with people who may or may not otherwise have been exposed to the importance of the issue. Now I’m working with Global Action Plan doing just that – helping empower people to create change themselves.

How did you feel when you found out you had been shortlisted?

Recognising my achievements has never been my forte so when I found out I was surprised, but delighted!
What are your top three tips for recent graduates seeking work?

Have patience – it is very hard to get work straight away, so think about the type of work you want and be creative about how you can gain experience in the industry. I started with a two-month unpaid internship at Global Action Plan and fortunately it paid off. Attend every event, conference, workshop and volunteering day you possibly can and chat to people. It’s usually the friend of a friend who can help you out. Sign up to all of the environmental news outlets, job websites and newsletters and work your way through them.

What her nominator said about Heather:

She has shown outstanding commitment to inspiring young people to turn environmental messages into action.

Charlie Symonds

Job title: Knowledge transfer associate, sustainable development engineer

Organisation: Stannah Stairlifts/Oxford Brookes University

What and where did you study at university?

I studied industrial design and technology at Loughborough University. I focused my study around sustainable design, recycling and environmental issues in product design.

Why did you want to work in the profession?

Excess packaging, blatant business waste and inefficient products have always seemed wasteful to me. I think there is great opportunity to develop products that have increased form, functionality and personal value to the user while reducing their impact on the environment. As environmental performance becomes ever more critical, I think there will be a growing demand for these products and I look forward to being a part of that movement.

How did you feel when you found out you had been shortlisted?

Fantastic! It is really good to know that the work I am doing is of a high standard and is appreciated by both Stannah and Oxford Brookes University, as well as environmental professionals.

What are your top three tips for recent graduates seeking work?

Fully understand the product life cycle and how impacts in one area can have knock-on effects later. This will help you create more sustainable products over their whole life cycle. Be able to demonstrate leadership in pushing environmental issues and have the ability to explain sometimes complex principles to a non-technical audience. I would fully promote the Knowledge Transfer Partnership as a scheme to anyone starting out on their career or looking to employ a graduate.

What his nominator said about Charlie:

He has almost single-handedly provided the company with a framework for its sustainability strategy for the next five years.

Look out in the December issue of the environmentalist for a review of the IEMA sustainable business conference, including details of who was named winner of the IEMA graduate award 2011.

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