David Dowson reveals how a combination of luck and good networking has enabled him to forge a career as an environmentalist
Why did you become an environment professional?
It was only through luck that I gained experience in the environmental field, following a long period of indecision post-university. I soon realised that a career in this sector represented the opportunity to perform a socially and environmentally responsible job in the sciences.
What was your first environment job?
Initially I interned with a number of organisations and so fulfilled a variety of roles. I began by writing climate-change adaptation case studies for a public sector partnership and ended by performing an environmental audit of a manufacturing company in collaboration with Keele University.
How did you get your first environment role?
Through networking I learned of the charity Change Agents UK (formerly Studentforce). It recruits graduates for environmental projects. I applied and was successful in gaining employment with Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust in July 2010.
How did you progress your environment career?
It’s an ongoing process. I involve myself in many differing projects in my workplace that span multiple departments and I take every opportunity to attend training sessions, webinars and conferences. I’ve found that I learn a lot by immersing myself in topics, departments or projects and prioritising my workload effectively.
What does your current role involve?
I’m the single internal environmental lead at the trust, responsible for managing carbon and energy to meet government targets as well as promoting a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle among NHS staff. The ultimate aim is to reduce carbon emissions, cut costs and make the organisation more efficient.
How has your role changed over recent years?
Initially, the job had two set aims: installing a monitoring and reporting structure and promoting environmental sustainability among staff. However, due to the size and changing nature of the field, it’s grown to include all aspects of environment management, including recycling, policy making, green travel planning and project management.
What’s the best part of your work?
Seeing a project produce beneficial results through your own hard work and persistence.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Engaging staff at all levels of the organisation, from the ward to the boardroom, to create a sustainable solution to a problem is always difficult.
What was the last development/training course/event you attended?
I’m currently studying for a PGCert in sustainable business management and the last lecture series was part of a module teaching effective communication skills.
What did you bring back to your job?
I now have the tools needed to keep all forms of communication succinct and relevant to the receiver, ensuring they know what they want to know.
What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?
Communication, time management, good analytical skills and a willingness to learn.
Where do you see the environment profession going?
I think the field will grow exponentially in credibility, scope and influence over the next 10 years among all tiers of society. I can’t predict whether this step change will be evolutionary or revolutionary, but either way, with natural systems coming under increasing pressure from a growing human population and unsustainable financial systems, I think it’s inevitable.
Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
I won the Sustainability Star of the Year award from Change Agents UK in recognition of my work with the NHS in March 2011. I’ve been on a high ever since and I’d like to continue succeeding in the profession with the aim of achieving Full membership of IEMA, followed by Chartered Environmentalist status.
What advice would you give to someone considering going into the environment profession?
Get as much experience and training as you can. This informs objective opinion, increases awareness of current developments and enhances your communication skills. An enormous amount of information on the environment is freely available on the internet, so don’t be afraid to use it and to ask a professional if you need help.
BSc natural sciences
MSc wild animal biology
PGCert sustainable business management
2010 to now:
Environment officer, Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust
Intern, Birmingham Environment Partnership/West Midlands Climate Change Adaptation Partnership/
Research assistant, Wildlife Conservation Society, Cambodia