My career: Clare Topping
Clare Topping reveals what inspired her to change her career path and become an energy and sustainability manager
Why did you become an environment professional?
I’ve had an interest in the environment since I was at school, but more recently I was struck by the amount of “stuff” contained in the distribution warehouses near my home and about the impact it has on the planet. I wanted to do something about it and, after being made redundant, I decided to act. So, alongside applying for jobs I thought I could get, I also applied for my dream jobs. My role now is in the latter category.
What was your first environment job?
This is my first official environment job, although I did perform some environment duties for my last employer.
How did you get your role?
While working as an operations support manager, I wanted to give my team a project that wasn’t directly related to their day-to-day roles, so I formed a green team to look at the environmental impact of our site. One of the things we looked at was energy use, which resulted in my joining the company’s steering committee on the carbon reduction commitment (CRC). From there I began to drive energy efficiency across the UK sites and to report on energy management. I believe the changes I instigated and the knowledge I gained were key in my getting my current job.
How have you progressed your environment career?
I went on an ISO 14001 internal auditor course and then took the IEMA Associate certificate. I also became a member of the local environmental business network, which enabled me to network and discuss issues.
What does your current role involve?
My role is as wide ranging as I want to make it. I have responsibility for utility budgets; CRC and sustainability reporting; writing business cases for energy and water efficiency technologies; compliance with legislation; waste management; and biodiversity. The list is endless and changes almost daily.
How has your role changed?
When I first started looking at environment issues, the emphasis was on reporting under the CRC, but that is changing and energy management has become just one of the areas I work across.
What’s the best part of your work?
The variety! From installing energy-saving technologies to improving green spaces, the projects I am involved in mean that every day is different. I also enjoy going around the hospital discussing sustainability with staff.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Trying to get time with people to move projects forward. This is especially difficult in an acute NHS hospital.
What was the last training/event you attended?
A two-day energy management training course at BRE.
What did you bring back to your job?
A reminder of the importance of good quality data for energy management, and an insight into matrices to help us map out improvements.
What are the most important skills for your role?
Organisation is very important, as there are so many different elements to my role it’s easy to lose track. A willingness to ask questions is also important, as well as evaluation skills – there are a lot of technologies and consultancy services on offer. Persistence, patience and the ability to talk to complete strangers are also key.
Where would like to be in five years’ time?
In a sustainability role that has a higher profile in directing policy and operational decisions.
Where do you see the environment profession going?
I think it will split in future. One part will evolve in a similar way to the quality assurance profession. Meanwhile, the other will become integrated into the normal operations of an organisation, focusing on making it viable and sustainable in the coming decades.
What advice would you give to someone considering entering the profession?
For those in an organisation with an environmental department I would suggest volunteering to work on projects or as a green champion. For those in a place where no one has taken responsibility for environment issues, choose an issue you are interested in and start a project that will have a positive impact on the company. I would then suggest either taking a course, such as the Associate certificate, or a free online course to find out more about the field. Anyone new to the sector will be surprised how many transferable skills they can bring across from a different discipline.
How do you use IEMA’s environmental skills map?
As I aim to apply for full membership, I used it initially to assess where I had gaps in my knowledge and skills. I then looked for projects that would help to fill those gaps.
AIEMA, Diploma in economics, PhD in polymer chemistry, BSc Hons in applied chemistry
- 2012 to now Energy and sustainability manager, Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust
- 2011–2012 Operations support manager, Synergy Health
- 2000–2011 Scheduling manager, Synergy Health
- 1997–2000 Chief chemist, Lamda Polytech
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