My career: Sandra Norval

13th January 2014

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Transport ,
  • CPD ,
  • Qualifications ,
  • Skills ,
  • Knowledge Centre


Robert Rowe

Sandra Norval, environment manager at Southern Railway, describes her career shift from accountancy to sustainability

Why did you become an environment professional?

I’m passionate about wildlife and I have worked as a volunteer on conservation projects. Moving into the sustainability profession was the best way I could see do something about the way we are impacting on the natural environment.

What was your first sustainability job?

At DORMA UK I ran a project to investigate what we could do for the environment, while saving money. We almost halved our head office’s energy bills; reduced fuel consumption in our fleet by nearly 25%; and achieved ISO 14001 certification of our environment management system. And we achieved all of this while I was still doing my day job as an accountant.

How did you get your first role?

After starting my degree in environmental studies, I spoke to the finance director at DORMA and suggested we looked at environmental issues to find cost savings. I’d done my homework and took a full presentation to the board to explain the business case and got approval to get started.

How did you progress your sustainability career?

After completing my degree, I became an Associate member of IEMA. At the same time, DORMA created the role of health, safety, quality and environment supervisor and I moved out of finance.

What does your current role involve?

My role is very broad, covering the entire Southern Railway network. I lead a team of volunteer area champions for the environment (ACEs) who are focused on reducing non-traction energy by 25%, diverting waste from landfill, managing water and biodiversity. I also chair a business group for the West Sussex environment and climate change board. I recently chaired an event entitled “Your business. Your environment. Your future”, and talked to local businesses about how they could work together to achieve more in greening their operations.

How has your role changed over the past few years?

I’m now part of Southern’s senior leadership team. I contribute to our business strategy and work across the organisation looking at the challenges we face from climate change and resource scarcity. This means I’m part of the decision-making process, and have a real opportunity to put forward the case for responsible business.

What’s the best part of your work?

The variety of opportunities to drive change. I can be ripping open waste bags one day and speaking at events the next!

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Demonstrating that it is possible to consider things outside the normal life of a train-operating company franchise. Fortunately, the board is behind the environment strategy to “think beyond the franchise”, both in terms of time and physical boundaries.

What was the last training course you attended?

I’m currently studying the University of Exeter’s One Planet MBA, which covers topics including economics, leadership, human factors, collaboration, finance, strategic operations and biomimicry.

What are you bringing back to your job?

Most recently, I’ve been looking at the way we piece together our business cases and how we could look at the value chain in different ways.

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

My influencing skills. Whether coaching ACEs, engaging with tenants or discussing strategy with directors, to truly embed sustainability into the business I need to convey messages in a positive way. This isn’t easy in a heavily governed industry with demands from many interested parties.

Where would like to be in five years’ time?

Working with engaged directors who are keen to be a part of the sustainability shift that is coming.

Where do you see the profession going?

It will expand, with senior roles becoming more common as we become more strategic in our thinking.

What advice would you give someone entering the profession?

Be keen, embrace every learning opportunity, find your unique selling point and never give up.

How do you use IEMA’s environmental skills map?

As well as for my own development, I am using the map to help some of our ACEs build their understanding and plan their path to IEMA membership.

Career file:


AIEMA, Environmental Studies BA (Hons)

Career history:

  • July 2012 to now Environment manager, Southern Railway

  • 2011–2012 Environment management system manager, Southern Railway

  • 2010–2011 HSQE supervisor, DORMA UK

  • 2004–2010 Financial accountant and environment project leader, DORMA UK

  • 2002–2004 Financial accountant, Arrow Generics

  • 1998–2002 Assistant factory accountant, Yoplait Dairy Crest

  • 1995–1998 Area administrator, Shell Gas

  • 1994–1995 Office manager, Concorde Chemicals

  • 1990–1993 Legal supervisor, Pickfords Travel Services

  • 1987–1990 Housing repairs assistant, London Borough of Enfield

Transform articles

IEMA reacts to UK government's Net Zero Strategy

IEMA has raised concerns around a lack of funding for proposals outlined in the UK government's Net Zero Strategy, which was published earlier this week.

21st October 2021

Read more

Almost one-third of Europe's largest companies have now set net-zero emissions targets, but far less are set to deliver on their ambitions.

7th October 2021

Read more

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has today unveiled the most significant changes to its reporting standards since 2016, setting a new benchmark for corporate sustainability.

5th October 2021

Read more

Seven of the UK's 17 key industry sectors are still increasing their emissions year-on-year, and most will miss their 2050 net-zero targets without significant government action, new research suggests.

23rd September 2021

Read more

In February 2019, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 322 on Sustainable Finance was formed.

23rd September 2021

Read more

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published a new 'Green Claims Code' to ensure businesses are not misleading consumers about their environmental credentials.

22nd September 2021

Read more

The UK government must develop regulation to stop the financial sector from providing billions of pounds to companies that threaten rainforests worldwide, WWF has said.

10th September 2021

Read more

Half of the world's 40 largest listed oil and gas companies will have to slash their production by at least 50% by the 2030s to align with the goals of the Paris Agreement, new analysis has found.

9th September 2021

Read more

Thames Water has been fined £4m after untreated sewage escaped from sewers below London into a park and a river.

30th July 2021

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert