My career: Simon Smith

15th January 2015

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Ian Folkard

Environmental adviser Scotland, QinetiQ

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?

I recall stumbling across a copy of EF Schumacher’s Small is beautiful when I was about 10 and being captivated by the cover picture of the Earth in a broken egg so I think I was naturally drawn to environmental concerns. Attending a Jonathon Porritt talk in 1984 also had an impact. I was working in John Lewis at the time but a year later applied for an environmental degree course as a mature student.

What was your first environment/sustainability job?

My first paid work was a six-month contract on a beach nature reserve in mid-Wales.

How did you get your first role?

I used to grab every chance to get voluntary work experience. This was usually a few days a month, but after graduating I had a six-month intensive block of volunteering in south Cumbria. This helped me get my first job but sometimes it’s the odd things that make the difference. As well as environmental experience the centre wanted someone who could run the gift shop and it just happened that my first jobs after school were working in a bank and a shop.

How did you progress your environment/sustainability career?

Although my career path might look structured and planned, it’s really been a case of seeking and taking advantage of opportunities as they arise and where they also fit into my personal life at the time.

What does your current role involve?

In Scotland, QinetiQ manages several sites on behalf of the MoD. Here, the company tests and evaluates military equipment, so much of my work is geared around reducing and mitigating impacts from, say, weapons testing and associated site facilities management. At a practical level this can involve training and supporting others in sustainability appraisal techniques and providing subject matter expertise in, for example, conservation designations and approvals. I also help ensure the ISO 14001 certification is maintained and am involved in environmental management reviews at corporate level, considering trends in audit findings, incidents or energy use and seeking improvements.

How has your role changed over the past few years?

In four years it has changed from fixing problems to focusing more on improving environmental performance. This might be achieved through a series of staff briefings about key issues or capacity building in the company by delivering training.

What’s the best part of your work?

I’m fortunate to work with many people from other disciplines who recognise the importance of good environmental standards. The demands of the job can be high at times but it helps when the sites I work with are in such stunning locations. Landing on St Kilda by helicopter to review waste management or undertake an audit is such a privilege.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Sites get very engaged in the lead-up to external audits but the challenge is to maintain this momentum during the period in between. Also, remembering not to talk in acronyms – our profession is riddled with them.

What was the last course/event you attended and what did you bring back to your job?

One on marine mammal monitoring. Various active (binoculars) and passive (electronic listening) measures are used to minimise the impact of noise on whales, dolphins and porpoises. I learned how to assess whether existing equipment and procedures reflect best practice.

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

Understanding people – you have to know what motivates them. Environmental improvements often have business or personal benefits too, and sometimes it can be more effective to focus on them.

Where do you see the profession going?

The profile of the profession has risen over the past 30 years and there are more job opportunities. This will continue.

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

I enjoy my current role, so I wouldn’t be that disappointed to be doing something similar, as long as I still feel I’m making a difference.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

I can’t recall anyone who has really wanted to enter the profession not succeeding, though it can take dedication and time.

How do you use IEMA’s environmental skills map?

I have used it to assess my own needs, in particular when I was applying for full membership, and I refer to it when focusing on development needs.



Career history:

2010 to now: environmental adviser Scotland, QinetiQ

2009–2010: compliance manager, QinetiQ

2001–2009: area officer, Scottish Natural Heritage

1999–2001: manager, English Nature

1994–1999: warden, Skomer Island, Wildlife Trust of West Wales

1988–1994: various short-term contracts on nature reserves for RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, Nature Conservancy Council, National Trust; voluntary work in the Seychelles and Costa Rica

1982–1985: John Lewis Partnership

1980–1982: Barclays Bank


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