'Impressive' international experience wins consultant the 2013 IEMA graduate award

12th December 2013


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Christopher Birtles

Coco Smits, a graduate environmental scientist and consultant at international engineering and project management business Royal HaskoningDHV, was named as the winner of the Institute's annual graduate award for 2013 at the Sustainability Leaders Awards in London on 21 November

Recognised for her professionalism and exemplary work on Royal HaskoningDHV’s trans-Adriatic pipeline project as well as her work on multiple international projects, Smits received the £1,000 prize and trophy from IEMA’s executive director of policy, Martin Baxter, and Neil Pennell, head of sustainability and engineering at Land Securities, which sponsored the award.

Each year, the IEMA graduate award seeks to find and celebrate the environment profession’s most outstanding graduate practitioner who is achieving remarkable things in his or her first role. The four judges of the 2013 award selected three finalists, identifying Smits as this year’s winner in recognition of the commitment she has demonstrated to her demanding specialism, Arctic governance, as well as her knowledge and work on multiple international projects.

Commenting on the winner Baxter said: “Smits represents the very best of early-career environmental talent; she demonstrates how the right mix of knowledge, dedication and skills – the kind typical of experienced environment and sustainability professionals – can transform a project’s success. I’m delighted to be able to co-present her with this year’s prize and welcome her into membership of the Institute.”

Through her studies at Radboud and Wageningen universities and internship with Royal HaskoningDHV, Smits has successfully developed a specialist interest in the Arctic region. On graduating from her master’s in social and political science of the environment in 2012, Smits secured a permanent position at Royal HaskoningDHV where she now contributes to environmental impact assessments, audits, strategic studies, surveys and research across key projects. These have taken her to Greenland, Norway, Russia, Albania and Greece. Her multiskilled and multilingual approach to work led to her being nominated for this year’s graduate award.

Smits, who is on secondment to the trans-Adriatic pipeline project in Greece, said she was delighted to have won the 2013 graduate award. “In particular, it has been great to get recognition for my work on Arctic oil and gas, as it is a subject I care passionately about,” she said. “I am really fortunate to be able to work on amazing projects like the trans-Adriatic pipeline, and I am thankful to both IEMA for honouring me in this way and to Royal HaskoningDHV for giving me the opportunity to do a job that I love.”

Smits was nominated for the graduate award by her mentor Charles Haine, director and project specialist, environment industry, at Royal HaskoningDHV. “Smits has all the attributes of a top-flight junior consultant,” he commented. “She has pursued a wide range of initiatives related to her specialist area of knowledge. She is very professional and one of the few graduates who is ready-made to be actively involved in the interface with clients, stakeholders and the public.”

Paul Suff, editor of the environmentalist and a judge for this year’s award, said he was particularly impressed by Smits’ go-ahead attitude. “We learned that she proactively lobbied to attend the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso in January, and while she was there presented a poster exhibition on geopolitics and marine production in a changing Arctic. That’s real dedication.”

This year’s graduate award runners-up were Lee Collier, energy and environment adviser at Linklaters LLP, and Hanna Hayward, London region sustainability adviser at BAM Construction. Both Collier and Hayward received a year’s free IEMA graduate membership to provide ongoing career support, guidance and professional development opportunities.

Collier, an environmental science graduate from the University of Greenwich, was chosen as a finalist by the judges because of his energy and initiative, and ability to take on responsibility for projects and to work at a high level. He was also praised for his technical aptitude, which has helped to improve energy efficiency at Linklaters.

The judges selected Hayward as a finalist because of her dedication and “above and beyond” attitude, leadership skills, rapid development and her ability to handle and understand complex issues across multimillion-pound operations. She gained a first class BSc honours in environmental geoscience from Cardiff University in July 2011.

Further information about the 2013 finalists can be found at iema.net/2013-award-finalists. IEMA would like to thank Land Securities, in particular Neil Pennell, the judges and Edie-Sustainable Business for their invaluable support of the graduate award.


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