My career: Martin Bigg

4th November 2014

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David Symons

Professor of environmental technologies innovation, University of the West of England

Why did you become an environment professional?

I have always been interested in the environment around us, our relationship with it and our responsibilities to it. Collecting newspaper, claiming the deposit on bottles, composting, cycling everywhere – these things were normal when I was at school. At university, as part of a chemistry degree, I studied environmental chemistry and researched wastewater. The limits to growth, a report for the Club of Rome, introduced me to the issues of sustainability. I had started to become green before I recognised it.

What was your first environment job?

After university, I was keen to apply my skills in the real world. My first job as a works chemist gave me responsibilities for people, plants and pollution.

How did you get your first role?

My interests in environmental standards, regulation and control developed with my career in the chemical industry. Responsibilities for various agrochemical and pharmaceutical plants honed my knowledge and skills in hazard analysis and assessment of environmental performance. Working with the regulators after a serious incident encouraged me to become a pollution inspector.

How did you progress your environment career?

In the Inspectorate of Pollution, I was fortunate to gain experience of regulating a wide range of processes before being asked to establish the pollution regulation regime for local authorities. This gave me an insight into very different industries, standards and ways of regulation. I spent time in and with government departments, trying to reconcile the politics of the day with the needs of industry and the environment. My drive was the integration and simplification of regulation and inspection. My commitment to open reporting of emissions was reflected in the introduction of the pollution inventory. At the Environment Agency, I maintained the momentum for the development of wider pollution prevention regulation.

What does your current role involve?

As professor of environmental technologies innovation, I teach and support research on environmental technology. I’m also director of the environmental technologies innovation network (iNet), leading a £2.4 million joint programme across several European universities. My IEMA roles involve providing strategic direction.

How has your role changed over the past few years?

The changes to my role reflect the wider changes to protecting the environment and promoting sustainable development. I have moved from a strict directional approach in industry and working as a traditional regulator to adopting a more collaborative approach, working in partnership as a regulator and academic.

What’s the best and hardest part of your work?

I love working with such a diverse range of committed individuals and organisations. Finding time and prioritising everything that I want to do is the hardest part. Sometimes I have to accept that I am not going to achieve an environmental commitment or change despite my best endeavours.

What was the last training you attended?

In the past week, I have learnt about flood risk resilience planning, cemeteries and crematoria, education for sustainable development, low carbon business opportunities and evaluating environmental performance.

What did you bring back to your job?

I share my learning, passion and enthusiasm with everyone.

What are the most important skills for your role and why?

I believe that it is important to have and be able to share a vision, objectives and principles. It is also important to look at issues from other perspectives.

Where do you see the profession going?

I would like to see it learning from the challenges and growing in self-confidence and respect. In particular, I would like to see it become a mainstream profession sitting comfortably alongside other professions, such as accountancy or engineering. My ambition is that the capabilities and competencies of the profession are embedded in the core skills requirements of most businesses and other organisations.

Where would like to be in five years’ time?

Making a difference and securing a sustainable future.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

Go for it, give it the most, make the most of it and enjoy. You owe it to the future.

Career file


Career history:

Now professor at University of the West of England; chair of IEMA council and board member; project lead, World Bank and International Finance Corporation

1996–2011 Environment Agency, including head of industry and waste regulation, head of industry regulation and national policy manager

1990–1996 head of integrated environmental management, Inspectorate of Pollution

1988–1990 head of local authority unit, Department for the Environment

1987–1988 principal pollution inspector, Inspectorate of Pollution

1985–1987 manager, Fine Organics

1980–1985 chemist, May and Baker

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