My career: Olivia Preston

30th April 2015

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William Collins

Environment risk manager, BBC Workplace

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?

I’ve always been passionate about the natural world, and through my biology degree I learned how ecosystems could easily be thrown out of balance. Working with companies to embed sustainability at the core felt like a powerful way to make a difference.

What was your first environment/sustainability job?

My first proper role was as an environment officer at the Environment Agency, a great practical training ground. As part of a multi-disciplinary team, I developed expertise on various pieces of legislation and different environmental impacts. I had my own set of permitted sites to regulate and audit, and had to respond 24/7 to pollution incidents.

How did you get your first role?

I was lucky enough to be accepted on the training scheme for environment officers. This was a 16-week intensive course of on-the-job and classroom training.

How did you progress your environment/sustainability career?

I decided to step away from being a regulator to work at Bath Spa University, developing its environmental strategy and implementing a new environmental management system as part of the EcoCampus scheme. After the system achieved the highest level, equivalent to 14001, I found myself craving new challenges in a different sector.

What does your current role involve?

It is incredibly varied. I work as part of a large property team managing the BBC’s estate of around 150 buildings. As one of two experts, I provide advice across the business on all environmental issues. On the compliance side, I make sure reporting for the carbon commitment reduction scheme, discharge consents, energy savings opportunity scheme, BREEAM and duty of care audits are all in place. I spend a lot of time analysing data and benchmarking building performance to spot opportunities to reduce impacts. This often develops into improvement projects, which I help to scope and manage.

What’s the best part of your work?

Developing communications and behaviour change projects, and working out how to build messages to maximise stakeholder engagement using marketing tips from sustainability communication experts.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Explaining the parts of my work that people never see. Recycling is one example – through our supply chain we carry out duty-of-care audits on waste contractors, and those working in the field know there is a huge industry built on recovering valuable recyclable materials. Yet some staff still ask: “How do I know it’s really recycled? Are you sure it doesn’t just get dumped in landfill?”

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

The Global Reporting Initiative G4 reporting training programme run by Total Eco Management, which qualifies me as a certified reporting practitioner.

What did you bring back to your job?

A greater understanding of how to use the GRI materiality principles and indicators to define an effective reporting process, and to implement a meaningful sustainability strategy focused on the right areas.

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

Communication and negotiation with different stakeholders using language they respond to is crucial. Not everyone is won over with “hearts and minds”, but if you translate opportunities into financial savings, or as a “unique selling point” against competitors, you’ll have a better chance of influencing. Effective planning and project management skills are also critical.

Where do you see the environment/sustainability profession going?

I see a greater blend of the sustainability, corporate social responsibility and environment management functions, which can sometimes be disconnected, into one professional discipline. The partnership between IEMA and GACSO is a great step forward.

Where would like to be in five years’ time?

In a leadership role setting the strategy in an organisation that has yet to realise the benefits of putting sustainable business practices at the heart of its strategy.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

Join a professional body and network as much as you can. An in-house environment role can often feel quite lonely if you are not part of a wider team. Getting involved in industry events opens up a valuable support network.

How do you use IEMA’s environmental skills map?

It’s a useful framework to see where I need to develop, and it allows me to track my progress.

Career file



Career history:

2011–now Environment risk manager, BBC Workplace

2007–11 Environmental support officer, Bath Spa University

2005–07 Environment officer, Environment Agency

2002–03 Licensing officer, Defra

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