My career: Helen Woolston
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Sustainability coordinator, Transport for London
Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?
My degree in biology covered ecology and the study of living things and the impacts of the environment on them, so this was always a passion. During my first role at the British Library, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 was published, which sparked a huge interest in understanding the issues. So I set up the environmental information service (EIS), providing legal and relevant scientific searches for clients.
What was your first environment/sustainability job?
I’m lucky enough that all the roles I have had have been about the environment in some shape or form, starting with the British Library EIS role.
How did you get your first role?
When I graduated with my biology degree, there was a demand for librarians and information officers with a science background. I first trained to become a chartered librarian and got a role as a science librarian at the British Library.
How did you progress your environment/sustainability career?
Having a biology degree and having had a couple of environmental jobs, the big step for me was when I was working for BOC Group. My role covered environmental systems and reporting. My manager there supported me in doing a three-year, part-time master’s degree in environmental management at
De Montfort University while I was working. This was a great opportunity that helped me immensely.
What does your current role involve?
I develop and deliver mechanisms for Transport for London (TfL) projects to understand, assess and report on sustainability issues. I coordinate environmental issues that are relevant across the whole business, such as reporting, adapting to climate change, carbon reduction commitment and staff environmental engagement.
How has your role changed over the past few years?
My role has stayed largely the same, although, due to organisation and personnel changes, it has moved reporting lines and the business continues to grow.
What’s the best part of your work?
Interacting and influencing with a range of people around the business, seeing their faces light up as they get the idea of sustainability during one of my workshops or training sessions.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Accepting that not everyone shares
the same priorities as me.
What was the last development/training course/event you attended?
Use of nudge techniques in behavioural safety and environment.
What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?
For us, it’s about being able to communicate, influence, persuade, make the business case. To predict, develop different scenarios and different tools and mechanisms for delivering different options to reach the same goal.
Where do you see the environment/sustainability profession going?
It’s a wide-ranging profession; there are different influences on different types of roles, such as contaminated land professionals, air quality policy makers, those working in resources or managing materials, and carbon footprint managers. Hopefully, this range will continue and the profession will grow even stronger as we realise that there are many roles or parts of jobs that are relevant and can be included.
Where would like to be in five years’ time?
I’d be happy if I can be doing the same sort of thing.
What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?
Ask to do work experience or internships in different types of roles. This gets you helpful insights into the wide range of environmental roles available, helps make invaluable contacts and provides experience on your CV.
How do you use IEMA’s environmental skills map?
We are using it to develop an exciting new environmental management graduate scheme at TfL.
BSc, MSc, MIEMA
2006 to now environment and climate change coordinator, sustainability coordinator at Transport for London
2004-06 head of
environmental sustainability at London Borough of Sutton
1998-2004 environment manager, head of environment at Engineering Employers’ Federation
1993-98 environmental information specialist, environmental specialist at BOC Group
1988-93 science librarian, head of environmental information service at the British Library
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