My career: Kirsten McLaughlin

10th March 2016

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Mark Emery

Company environment manager, WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?

Environmental science was still quite a new subject when I started out but I was fascinated by the combination of science, people, places, wildlife and their interaction. I wanted to do my bit to improve the environment we live in.

What was your first environment/sustainability job?

A graduate environmental consultant at a small firm in the West Midlands. My boss there had an accountancy background and I learned the importance of presenting the business and cost benefits of environmental improvements to gain their approval.

How did you get your first role?

I sent my CV to every environmental consultancy in the area.

How did you progress your environment/sustainability career?

I saw an advert for a bursary to complete a masters in environmental management but it meant moving away from friends and family. I took the chance and have not looked back. Towards the end of the course there was an opportunity for an unpaid industrial placement and I got the role. My goal during the placement was to help the organisation develop an environment management system (EMS) and work towards ISO 14001 certification. I was kept on and we achieved certification within ten months. Since then I have worked with a variety of public and private organisations.

What does your current role involve?

I look after the EMS and seek to improve our environmental performance on an ongoing basis. This includes updating documentation, conducting audits, investigating incidents or near misses, providing guidance and support to our business disciplines, maintaining our 14001 certification, analysing data, producing environmental reports and liaising with environmental regulators.

How has your role changed over the past few years?

I went from working in one organisation, helping them with their environmental management, to working in a consultancy, providing support to a number of companies in a whole range of sectors. I am again in a more corporate role but need to take account of the wider issues of sustainability and climate change.

What’s the best part of your work?

The variety; every day is different and I get to work with experts in their fields. I also get to see how other organisations work through my client-facing role. My work has given me the opportunity to work in the UK, Europe and Middle East on world-class projects.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Getting people to buy into your ideas or suggestions when there may be many other priorities and initiatives going on. The important thing is not to lose faith but to think carefully about how and when to put your ideas forward, tailoring it for the audience.

What was the last development/training course/event you attended?

IEMA’s webinar on 2016 environmental legislation. I find webinars very useful as you can dial in remotely while still being at work.

What did you bring back to your job?

To refresh our internal monthly legal update process and think about how best to communicate legal information.

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

Good communication skills and the ability to listen. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand. It helps if you are approachable so that people feel they can come to you if they need help. One of the hardest things to keep on top of is your knowledge and understanding. Environmental management and the legislation around it are constantly changing.

Where do you see the environment/sustainability profession going?

I think we will see organisations needing to take a closer look at how the environment will impact their activities rather than just how they impact on the environment.

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

I want to carry on improving not only our processes for environmental management but also our environmental performance.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

You need to have the right attitude to go out and get the role you want, even if you start by volunteering or taking a placement to begin with.

How do you use IEMA’s environmental skills map?

To identify my professional development status during our appraisal process.



Career history:

2012 to present company environment manager (UK), WSP|Parsons Brinckerhoff

2007 to 2012 senior environmental consultant and EMS manager, Parsons Brinckerhoff

2006 to 2007 environmental specialist, British Standards Institute

2003 to 2004 environmental coordinator, Newcastle International Airport

2001 to 2003 EMS coordinator, Newcastle International Airport

2000 to 2001 environmental officer, Sanofi Aventis Pharmaceuticals

1999 researcher, Centre for Sustainable Development

1998 to 1999 graduate environmental consultant, Galapagos Environmental Management Consultancy


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