My career: Jessica Fleming

8th April 2013

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  • EMS ,
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Jessica Fleming describes how her career progressed from junior biologist to senior environmental consultant, via working in the US helping to prosecute environment crimes

Why did you become an environment professional?

I was fortunate to grow up in the west of Ireland surrounded by natural beauty. My curiosity was followed by dismay at the prospect of environmental harm, whether by development or pollution. In my career, I derive great satisfaction from attempting to redress such harm.

What was your first environment role?

My first job was with the department of lands and survey in Dublin. I started in the summer of my second year at university with field surveys of wetlands. I spent days walking around Galway or Clare identifying and recording plants and soil characteristics. After I graduated, I was hired permanently as a junior biologist to make sense of the data we had collected.

How did you get your first environment role?

My first permanent job followed from the summer work as a student. It was a matter of getting to know people through experience, so I was fortunate in that respect as jobs were hard to come by then in Ireland in the 1970s.

How did you progress your career?

I volunteered as a teacher overseas which helped me to understand how differently people can live. From there I went to the US and worked as a geologist in the oil and gas sector, which was fun.

Unfortunately, the bottom fell out of the industry and I was laid off. I turned to the growing environment sector and after interning with the US Environmental Protection Agency I got a job at one of their consultants. This was fascinating work. It was the beginning of the CERCLA regulatory programme (environmental compensation and liability act) and I helped to convict those responsible for environmental crimes, including some large-scale waste cases involving the mafia!

Over time, I was promoted into compliance, auditing and permitting. I worked with the US military on its environment programmes and was impressed at the level of stewardship shown towards the land they used for training. I later worked with ISO 14001 and was introduced to NEPA, the US equivalent of environmental impact assessment (EIA). Since my return to Britain in 2004, my career has focused on planning, EIA and environment management systems (EMSs).

What does your current role involve?

I manage projects that require major planning applications and/or EIA. I coordinate the different elements of EIA and ensure that supplementary studies and assessments are meaningful. I also lead our EMS team and implement our environment policy.

How has your role changed over the past few years?

Since returning to Britain, my role has evolved from one of fast-track learning (the environment regimes here are very different from those in the US) to implementation, and then expanded towards management and knowledge sharing.

What’s the best part of your work?

I like enabling projects that I believe in. Helping a client to optimise a design, get planning permission and then build a project is the ideal. Often the reality is different, however, and you come in when something is in trouble. That said, a successful rescue is satisfying as well. I also enjoy sharing information and generating enthusiasm among young people coming into the profession.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Having to stop short of what is desirable in a design or a mitigation plan because funds are not available. The need to compromise is constantly with us as we juggle economic limits with ideals.

What was the last training/event you attended?

I regularly attend workshops offered by IEMA and other organisations on EIA and changes to environmental legislation.

What did you bring back to your job?

Knowledge of how things are evolving in my discipline, which helps us to anticipate what is coming in terms of regulation. It is also good to mix with other people and exchange ideas.

What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?

Probably the legal training I had in America is most helpful in terms of clarity of thought and awareness of the importance of compliance.

Where do you see the profession going?

I see the greater integration of scientific disciplines as environment matters become more important to the success of businesses, economics and government. Environment professionals will need to apply their skills in a much broader range of situations.

Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

I would like to be in a position of influence possibly by writing or through sharing knowledge and experience.

What advice would you give someone entering the profession?

Obtain a sound education in at least one of the core disciplines of mathematics, chemistry or physics. Statistics and thermodynamics have stood me in good stead all my working life, although I do not apply them directly. Students should not be put off by pure science subjects because they are perceived as difficult. Second, have fun and don’t take it all too seriously; you can only change the world a tiny bit.

Career file


AIEMA; paralegal certification in environmental law; BSc Geology; BA Natural Science; MA Botany

Career history:

2004 to now Senior environmental coordinator, the Landscape Partnership
1999–2003 Senior environmental scientist/project manager, URS
1996–1999 Environmental scientist, AGEISS Environmental
1993–1996 Project manager, Dames & Moore
1986–1993 Consultant, TechLaw and US Environmental Protection Agency technical enforcement support team
1981–1986 Geologist, Exploration BlueSky Oil and Gas
1979–1980 Teacher, Voluntary Service Overseas
1977–1979 Biologist, department of lands and survey, Ireland

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