My career: Sandra Lee

6th October 2014


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Author

Adam Gilbert

Group environment manager, Atkins

Why did you become an environment professional?

I grew up in the countryside and was fortunate to live in the style of “The Good Life”. We grew our own vegetables, kept chickens, rabbits and bartered. The environment became a passion.

What was your first environment/sustainability job?

I was the quality manager at Northamptonshire county council and started working closely with the environmental staff in relation to construction. The Rio Earth summit in 1992 and its output, Local Agenda 21, added to the impetus to look at environment and sustainability in our contracts and in the way we worked.

How did you get your first role?

I was headhunted to my first official environment role at Atkins. The role allowed me pilot ISO 14001 on two contracts and to expand my knowledge and abilities.

How did you progress your environment career?

I received lots of encouragement from my mentor, the head of the QSE team and framework contract manager, and support from the then corporate environment manager. My role working on the highways contract at Atkins allowed me to look at a diverse range of areas, from design to maintenance, and help to find solutions. I used the European Foundation for Quality Management model on a contract, which enabled me to promote and encourage sustainability on this and other contracts over a three-year period. Following that success, I became the environment manager.

However, the opportunity to work closely with environment professionals in all disciplines came up and I spent three years auditing, training and looking after specialists. Moving back to the role of environment manager has proved invaluable in enabling me to link experts in the company. My career has focused on maintaining and developing the environment management system (EMS) in all its aspects and promoting sustainability.

What does your current role involve?

I am a generalist and work with all parts of the business to support them through the EMS. My role involves a lot of influencing. The sustainability initiative I am responsible for covers our UK offices. Participation is voluntary, so explaining and encouraging offices and people to join is key. I am currently reviewing our risk profile to ensure the EMS, training and support systems continue to meet business needs.

How has your role changed over the past few years?

I have moved from an operational role back to a more strategic one. This involved a massive learning curve due to the diversity of businesses and the different ways in which they operate.

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

Meeting staff and making sure they are able to easily access the right information, and supporting them so that consideration of the environment is a natural part of their role. Finding, communicating with and influencing the right people in a way that works for them in a large organisation is the hard part.

What was the last training course you attended?

A biodiversity offsetting course run by the Construction Industry Training Board.

What did you bring back to your job?

Working on an example of offsetting provided a much clearer understanding of its challenges and pitfalls.

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

Being able to communicate and influence at all levels. I have no direct management responsibility but I need to support the business and change behaviours.

Where do you see the profession going?

I would like the environment and sustainability to be regarded by organisations as important as health and safety. The profession needs enthusiastic, knowledgeable and commercially aware practitioners. The profession needs to be influencing policy and making information easily available to senior management.

Where would like to be in five years’ time?

I really enjoy my work. I want to achieve IEMA Fellow status and ensure I have a good work–life balance.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

Be actively involved. Read widely, talk to other experienced people, watch what is happening in the world and bring it back and use it in both your home life and at work. Do not limit your options; there are so many interesting areas where environment is relevant.

How do you use IEMA’s environmental skills map?

I use it with the people I mentor and I am about to use it to help map internal training.


Career file

Qualifications:

MIEMA, CEnv, Chartered Quality Assurance, Chartered Quality Professional

Career history:

2012 to now Environment manager (group), Atkins

2008­–2011 QSE regional manager, water and environment, Atkins

2007–2008 Environment manager (corporate), Atkins

2002–2007 QSE Manager, highways and transportation, Atkins

1990–2002 Quality manager, Northamptonshire county council

1985–1990 Emergency planning support, Northampton county council

1978–1981 CID support, Northamptonshire Police


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