My career: Chris Reynolds
Chris Reynolds, energy management and sustainability officer at Guildford Borough Council and director at Step Lightly Limited
Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?
I had a strong interest in the environment as a teenager, so I chose the environmental economics option in my degree. It was always my calling; I just needed the jobs to arrive before making the opportunity for myself.
What was your first environment/sustainability job?
I became environmental coordinator at the Woolwich Building Society on the understanding that I would also continue to manage my existing function.
How did you get your first role?
I could see the landscape was changing and that eventually the Woolwich would employ an environment professional. I was then running the forms design and control function, and let it be known that I’d be interested in the environment job.
How did you progress your career?
I immediately threw myself into becoming professionally qualified through IEMA, and also in developing contacts. One success led to another, though at the time I often didn’t realise this. It was quite lonely to start with, as there were no other internal environment professionals, so it was important to develop external contacts.
What does your current role involve?
I run a team of four who drive the energy and sustainability agenda for the council. As well as council operations, my brief now involves improving the energy and sustainability performance of the borough.
How has your role changed over the past few years?
I love this role for two main reasons. First, I’m given so much support and scope to use my knowledge and experience to bring about positive change. Second, the council’s genuine commitment to improve sustainability is a refreshing change compared with what I have seen elsewhere.
What’s the best part of your work?
I have a great team with wide ranging responsibilities that do not necessarily fit together, such as, energy procurement and community engagement. But, by working well as a team, we deliver benefits that are greater than the sum of our individual parts.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
A gradual removal by central government for councils to set local standards is unhelpful and frustrating. So too is the level of uncertainty over government initiatives, such as the energy companies’ obligation.
What was the last training course you attended?
It was focused on implementing change management. It taught us to look very carefully at the difference between “luggage” and “baggage” – the former is what you need for your journey, while the latter is what you carry with you but don’t need.
What experiences have been valuable for your role and why?
I have found my broad-based experience most useful. The only thing that I did not anticipate was the speed with which the financial year came to an end. I have also learned that all experiences are useful, even those that we might think irrelevant to our careers at the time. Sometimes we don’t value an experience until much later.
Where do you see the profession going?
I think this very much depends on where our general economic model goes in the future. It is clear to me that, for all our successes, we have only been taking baby steps. The recession was a golden opportunity to disconnect growth from consumer spending. It didn’t, and we are consuming our way out of the recession once again. Meanwhile, the growing global middle class will put strains on the environment that far outweigh our baby-step improvements. Something will give somewhere and people’s values will change either voluntarily or through necessity. That will probably be the moment when the sustainability profession comes of age.
What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?
This is a great profession and being committed to sustainability is a great career advantage. But compared with most professions, there is a lot less stability and we are more vulnerable to a range of opinions, prejudices and vested interests. It’s good to have a career vision and plan your journey, but almost all of us will be blown off course at some time.
How do you use IEMA’s environmental skills map?
I use it as a benchmarking matrix to ensure that I and my team continue to develop.
FIEMA, CEnv, BSc economics, postgraduate diploma in management services, postgraduate certificate in lifecycle assessment, NEBOSH general certificate
- 2013 to now Energy management and sustainability officer at Guildford Borough Council
- 2007–13 Climate change and competitiveness executive, Chemical Industries Association
- 2001–07 Group safety manager (from 2004) and environmental manager (to 2004), Barclays Bank
- 1989–2001 various environment roles, Woolwich Building Society
- 1987–89 Business analyst, Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea
- 1983–87 Management services officer, London Borough of Bexley
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