David Partridge describes the epiphany that took him from engineer to sustainable development specialist
Why did you become an environment professional?
I had an active interest in environmental issues at school. Through my early building services engineering training I was able to see how science could develop sustainable solutions in buildings. Working for a firm which pioneered solar energy really opened my eyes to the possibilities.
What was your first environment job?
It wasn’t until I became an independent consultant 10 years ago that my day job became specifically focused on the environment, but all my previous roles in building engineering had major sustainability elements.
How did you get your first environment role?
I had an epiphany in my kitchen one evening while hosting a dinner party. At the time I was working as a senior manager, but after moving the conversation on to environmental issues for the umpteenth time, a friend suggested that I follow my passion and specialise in sustainable development, so I did. Giving up a good job was daunting, but I didn’t look back and within three months I was working on my first project.
How did you progress your environment career?
Having already qualified in both mechanical and electrical engineering, I went on to study behavioural sciences and then sustainable development through distance-learning courses. I later became a Chartered environmentalist.
What does your current role involve?
Mainly surveying buildings and analysing their impact on the environment through waste, water, pollution and energy. I then apply scientific calculations to provide ways to lower these impacts. My solutions range from high-level master planning to detailed engineering design and include addressing the psychology of occupiers – ensuring positive human behaviour with regard to recycling and energy management, for example.
How has your role changed over the past few years?
Many new legislative drivers have been introduced to encourage organisations to manage their environmental impacts, but I’ve also seen a significant increase in the number of clients voluntarily opting to use my services.
What’s the best part of your work?
Designing bespoke, integrated sustainable solutions and then seeing them finally constructed on-site. There is an enormous satisfaction in being able to measure the amount of water, energy or carbon emissions that will be saved over the life cycle of a completed design.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Fighting the constant battle with “eco-bling” and greenwashing. There is so much rhetoric about renewables and eco-gadgets that provides little value in terms of real sustainable development. It’s sometimes very difficult to influence clients in the right way and still keep your commercial footing.
What was the last development/training course/event you attended?
A seminar on variable flow systems and an IEMA social event.
What did you bring back to your job?
That it’s important to keep up to speed on technical areas that I may incorporate in my designs. With the IEMA social events I always really enjoy talking to the professionals working in diverse environmental fields who attend.
What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role, and why?
I live and die by my ability to communicate and influence decision-makers. It can be really tough knowing how to address issues of sustainable development with some audiences.
Where do you see the environment profession going?
I’ve seen big changes in society, with environmental issues now conventional topics, but with the sad demise of the Sustainable Development Commission there is a real need for environment professionals to speak out, particularly in the current economic climate.
Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
I’d really like to have travelled and seen first-hand the issues of climate change and sustainable development in other countries.
What advice would you give to someone considering entering the profession?
This can be a really rewarding profession, so make good use of events. Stay open-minded, but be outspoken in your views and, most importantly, never stop learning!
MIEMA, CEnv, Chartered Scientist, Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering
2002 – to now Independent consultant in sustainable development
2001–2002 Head of projects, buildings, Deutsche Bank
1998–2001 Project manager in building services engineering, Citinet Services
1992–1998 Designer for building services engineering, self-employed
1989–1992 Infantryman, Parachute Regiment, HM Armed Forces
1985–1989 Trainee in building services engineering, VF Lewis Engineers