My career - Rachel Quinn

4th November 2015

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Duncan Mackay

Senior environmental adviser, Skanska Construction

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?

I started working in the construction industry as a site secretary in 2005. I had an interest in environmental and sustainability issues and quickly realised that, although a construction project could cause big impacts on the environment, it also provided lots of opportunities to improve sustainability. This really interested me.

What was your first environment/sustainability job?

Compiling evidence for BREEAM assessments. This was a useful role as it gave me a really broad brush of understanding of all the elements that go into assessing how sustainable a project is.

How did you get your first role?

It was a matter of right place, right time. Site administration included some environmental work, such as waste recording and collecting data for carbon footprinting. Doing this work meant managers noticed I was organised and efficient; these are good transferable skills relevant to all aspects of construction.

How did you progress your environment/sustainability career?

In 2009, after a year of BREEAM work and environmental support work, I took the course for IEMA Affiliate membership. I followed this up in 2011 by doing the Associate course. I have worked in different areas of construction - buildings, civil engineering and utilities - and this has given me a lot of experiences, including in water and contaminated land management, materials, carbon footprinting, and ecology.

What does your current role involve?

Project environmental/sustainability management, which includes pre-construction work, such as commissioning surveys and working with the design team to interpret findings and eliminate or mitigate potential impacts; and, during construction, auditing projects regularly to ensure the teams are complying with legal, client and company requirements. I am a Construction Industry Training Board-qualified trainer and also act as the regional corporate social responsibility (CSR) representative, organising volunteering opportunities for staff.

How has your role changed over the past few years?

It has developed from mainly being about onsite environmental compliance to including pre-construction work to improve sustainability and eliminate or mitigate impacts. The training and CSR aspects have also come to play a much larger part.

What's the best part of your work?

The variation. Every day is different and you are constantly learning new things, whether it is researching the latest debates in the potential human health impacts from use of pesticides or learning about techniques for remediation of contaminated land. My favourite days involve site visits. I love seeing how projects are taking shape and how my early interventions have preserved trees and wildlife that may otherwise have been damaged.

What's the hardest part of your job?

With multiple projects and multiple tasks, it can sometimes be difficult to prioritise and keep everyone happy!

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

I have just started a CIRIA advanced course on contaminated land. I am also taking an online course on sustainable cities run by the University of the West of England.

What did you bring back to your job?

These courses will increase my technical competence and understanding of emerging trends.

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

You can learn technical skills but you can't learn how to get on with people. In our field, we are often trying to win hearts and minds and convince people about the benefits of going green, so the communication skills are essential.

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

At Skanska, we have a "Deep Green" vision for our projects, where the construction process and our product performance has a near-zero environmental impact and thereby future-proofs our projects. I want to be part of this development.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

Seek out opportunities, even if they do not seem directly relevant to what you want to do as you never know where it will lead you.

How do you use IEMA's environmental skills map?

Earlier this year, IEMA ran a tutorial day for Skanska environment staff seeking full membership and introduced the skills map to us. It is in a simple-to-use format and is very useful to identify the competences that I need to build into my professional development plan.


BSc, AIEMA, Certificate in ecological consultancy

Career history:

2006 to now senior environmental adviser, Skanska Construction

2004 to 2006 site secretary, Robert Half International (for Kier Western)

2002 to 2004 project worker, Gloucestershire County Council,

2000 to 2002 project worker, Matson Neighbourhood Project

1998 to 1999 administrator, Manpower UK

1996 to 1998 careworker, Social-face Recruitment/Cotswold Chine Home School

1988 to 1990 claims processor, Sun Alliance Insurance


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