Cara McQuire explains how she moved from primary school teacher to environment officer for Northern Gas Networks

Cara McQuire, environment officer for Northern Gas NetworksCara McQuire
Environment officer, Northern Gas Networks

Why did you become an environmental professional?

I never intended to become an environmental professional; I actually trained as a primary school teacher, but decided that it wasn’t for me after a year in the classroom. I became interested in the environment when I realised how diverse the subject actually is.

What was your first environment job and how did you get it?

At Transco. A job came up in the environment team when I was working as a health, safety and environmental auditor. I had been waiting for an opportunity to move into the environment side of the business so jumped at the chance to apply for the role.

I did take a bit of a leap of faith when applying for the role but thought that my interest in the field would stand me in good stead. It was a promotion too but I had a good understanding of management systems so I knew I would be in with a good chance.

How did you progress your environment career?

My goal has been to acquire all the skills and experience I can in the field in which I work. It feels like fitting a jigsaw together, but the jigsaw keeps getting bigger with the discovery of every new piece.

I have gained either a formal qualification or an understanding of an environmental topic area like, for example, contaminated land. I have also embraced secondment opportunities to expand my understanding of how the business works.

What does your current role involve?

Mainly ensuring that the environmental management system conforms to the ISO 14001 standard. I am responsible for monitoring and interpreting legislation and updating our policies and procedures accordingly. I also make sure we maintain legal compliance.

A large part of what I do relates to auditing the business and contractors’ performance against environmental indicators. I also gather and analyse data on our carbon footprint and find ways to improve it.

When someone in the business needs environment advice and support I am there, and I also look after our waste management contract. Underlying all this is a remit to raise the profile of the environment within the business through communications and forums.

How has your role changed over the past few years?

My role is much more strategy focused than in the past with a definite emphasis on delivering cost savings on our carbon footprint and waste management.

What’s the best and hardest part of your work?

The best is seeing new sustainable ways of working become a reality within the business – for example, ensuring that wherever possible waste is reused or recycled rather than landfilled.

The most challenging part of what I do is marrying commerciality with an environmentally ethical approach. The solution is to make sure that any proposal not only makes environmental sense but it brings the business a cost saving too – a win-win situation.

What was the last development/training course/event you attended?

The IEMA workshop: an introduction to environmenal impact and strategic environmental assessment.

What did you bring back to your job?

I now have a greater appreciation of the impacts that policies and procedures can have on the environment, not just on construction/planning decisions.

What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?

Having the ability to generate ideas; being able to see the whole picture – understanding that some things are not practical or achievable; and being able to communicate effectively to a variety of target audiences.

Where do you see the environment profession going?

More environment professionals will be focusing on renewable energies, resource management (particularly water) and cleaning up the contaminated land legacy.

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

I’d like to continue to expand my knowledge and experience of the environment.

What advice would you give to someone considering going into the environment profession?

Zone in on an area or field that really interests you as early on as possible, before you get into the world of work. Also, I’d have benefited greatly from taking an environmental science degree

Career file:


BSc, NEBOSH specialist/national diplomas, City & Guilds, IOSH

2010 to now:

Environment officer, Northern Gas Networks


Environment officer/manager, United Utilities Operations


Administrative assistant/Network support assistant (HS&E), National Grid Transco


Laboratory assistant, Hazel Wood Foods