My career special: Good Fellows

9th June 2013


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IEMA Fellows are at the top of the profession. John Barwise talks to five about their careers

IEMA’s membership have consistently topped 15,000 and, for the first time, the number of individuals who have achieved professional environmentalist status has passed the 10,000 mark.

Claire Lea, IEMA’s director of membership strategy and development, says the environment profession is going from strength to strength because employers want their knowledge and skills.

“Increasingly, organisations are needing people with strategic environment management skills to lead on key business issues such as resource security and climate resilience, and to truly embed sustainability into the heart of organisations and decision making,” she says.

The range of environment jobs available reflects a substantial change in the market, as public and private sector organisations adopt new strategies to cut carbon emissions, improve resource efficiency, reduce pollution and minimise waste.

The different levels of IEMA membership reflect what stage an individual is at in his or her career. IEMA Fellow (FIEMA) is the highest level of professional recognition offered by the Institute and is a step up from Full membership (MIEMA). Fellowship builds on the application of knowledge and understanding that Full members must demonstrate and is a recognition of substantial achievement in the profession.

Lea says FIEMA is for highly experienced environmental professionals, who are committed to promoting the goal of sustainable development. To apply for FIEMA status, an individual must be a Full member with at least seven years' environmental experience. There are currently 51 FIEMAs.

Successive practitioner surveys by IEMA reveal that Fellows can expect to earn substantially more than many other environment professionals. Figures from the latest survey of IEMA members show that the median (mid-point in the range) total earnings for Fellows were £65,100 in 2012, while average earnings for this level of membership were £75,894. Equivalent figures for MIEMAs were £46,025 and £53,801 respectively.

But how do you build a successful career as a professional environmentalist? How do you move from Associate to Full and finally to Fellow? Here, the environmentalist charts the careers of five environment professionals who are Fellows, highlighting some of the achievements that have contributed to their success in reaching the highest level of professional recognition.

Richard Campen

Richard Campen is a chartered biologist with a passion for the natural environment. After completing a PhD in biology, he started his career as an environmental education leader with the Peak District National Park Authority (NPA) and worked his way through a number of key posts to become the park’s director of operations in 2007.

But Campen’s enthusiasm for the environment started at a much earlier age. “As a teenager, I always wanted to work in forestry and in an upland part of Britain. And, as a student, I loved plant biology and ecology,” he says. “I consider myself very privileged to have worked in an area of the country that is of such high conservation value.”

Despite Campen’s BSc and PhD being in the natural sciences, he also realised that management and leadership skills are important when working in organisations. So, in 1998, he completed a master’s qualification in business administration (MBA) and later undertook a postgraduate diploma in environmental decision making with the Open University.

“I find that business and environment go together well – surprisingly so,” he says. “A combination of natural and social sciences, together with academic and practical experiences in environment management and business provides me with a diverse range of skills for dealing with complex sustainability issues and different stakeholder perspectives.”

This mix of environment and business skills has proved useful in his NPA career, which has encompassed director of recreation and education, head of environmental education and director of operations. The latter role includes responsibility for trading operations and strategic leadership on environment management and sustainable tourism.

Campen says that the natural environment itself has been a great source of inspiration throughout his career, and says that key challenges remain. “The issues that concern me most are consumption of resources, the loss of biodiversity and short-termism in our thinking and planning,” he says.

“As a scientist and environment professional, I need to be able to communicate with a wide audience. We can never know everything about complex natural processes and systems. This is particularly challenging when people want, or need, predictions for the future.”

In 2012, Campen became an associate lecturer with the Open University, which, he says, provides him with an opportunity to share his experience in environment management and business. “I want to contribute to other people’s awareness and understanding of the complexity of environment issues.”

Paul Leinster

Paul Leinster was appointed chief executive of the Environment Agency in 2008. The agency is one of the largest and most influential regulators in the world, with its key responsibilities being pollution prevention and control, water resources, flood and coastal risk management, fisheries, conservation, waste management and incident response.

Leinster leads 11,500 staff and the agency has an annual budget of £1.1 billion to spend on environment protection programmes. The CEO role carries huge responsibilities, and his colleagues have questioned his sanity about joining the public sector from private industry, but he says the choice was right for him. “The work I am involved in, which at its core is about delivering environmental outcomes that create a better place for people and wildlife, continues to enthuse and motivate me.”

Leinster’s academic CV reveals a lot about his interests in science and the environment – a BSc in chemistry, a PhD in environmental engineering and an MBA from the Cranfield School of Management. But his professional CV says much more about his drive to become a key environmental decision maker in both public and private organisations. After working at BP International and Schering Agrochemicals, Leinster led a major environmental consultancy before joining the environmental services directorate at SmithKline Beecham (now GSK).

Knowledge and networking are crucial to professional ambition, he says. “As my career was developing I participated widely in professional meetings. They provided an excellent network and were an effective way of acquiring knowledge about best practice, as well as technical and professional development. I contributed to society and acquired professional qualifications at the earliest time possible.”

As CEO of the agency, Leinster works with numerous government departments, businesses, trade associations, local authorities, professional bodies and green NGOs. He also chairs the European protection agencies’ better regulation group. Yet, despite the high demands placed on him, Leinster says core environmental issues remain his priority.

“It is vital that the causes and consequences of a changing climate are addressed and the required adaptation measures implemented. And we must also ensure that other environmental issues are not forgotten and are properly addressed,” he says.

Leinster is an IEMA Fellow and enthusiastic about the Institute’s professional qualifications programme as a way of demonstrating knowledge and expertise and bringing together people of similar concerns and interests.

Stephanie McGibbon

Stephanie McGibbon is associate director at Ove Arup and Partners, a global firm of designers, planners, engineers and technical specialists. The company works extensively in the built environment, and corporate responsibility and sustainability are at the heart of its projects.

McGibbon’s primary roles include project director for major environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and adviser on sustainability in “eco-city” master planning.

“My job gives me the opportunity to have a positive influence on the environment and to witness real change. There is wonderful variety in managing assessments across a diverse range of disciplines and an incredible mix of projects,” she says.

She has a BA in geography and an MSc in city and regional planning. McGibbon started out in local government planning at the City of Westminster and the London Borough of Hackney. In 1995, she worked as an English language teacher in Japan before taking a job in the Caribbean as team leader, managing the introduction of a planning system in Nevis.

McGibbon completed an environmental law degree in 2004 and an MSc in development management a year later. She has worked at Ove Arup for more than 12 years. Her EIA work encompasses a wide variety of UK and international projects, from mixed-use regeneration projects to major infrastructure projects. “I came to be doing this via a background in geography and town planning, finally joining Arup in 2000 where I’ve been ever since,” she explains. “I enjoy the project basis of EIA and the rigour of working to the EIA Directive.”

In keeping with Ove Arup’s sustainability principles and her EIA work, McGibbon also runs workshops with clients and local stakeholders to identify and prioritise sustainability objectives. She says it is a chance to discuss the concerns people have about the state of the environment and the challenges ahead.

“Globally, climate change is an ever-more pressing issue, particularly with the crossing of the 400 parts per million CO2 level,” she says. “Closer to home, we need to plan better for a changing society; people are living longer, family structures continue to evolve and there is a need for more adaptable housing, and more of it.”

McGibbon believes that political fortitude is needed to embrace the change needed and says that IEMA membership helps to sustain her motivation. “Being a professional environmentalist is about being part of a wider network with like-minded people. It’s also the chance to work with inspiring people who have a passion and drive for what they do.”

Emma Nicholson

Emma Nicholson is a self-confessed late developer as far her environment management career is concerned. But she is a quick learner. In 2011, she founded Women in Sustainable Construction and Property (WSCP) and last year was selected by the Society for the Environment as a “chartered environmentalist rising star”.

“When I left university armed with a BA in English, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I worked in public relations, journalism and interior design,” she recalls. “My career path could have gone in another direction but I applied for a role as a trainee construction project manager, based on my experience of working on residential buildings.”

Nicholson describes the job as like being “thrown in at the deep end”, but she quickly learned to work with different disciplines, as well as leading and overseeing projects. She took a master’s qualification in construction project management to develop new skills.

“I have worked across many different sectors over the past 13 years, from leisure and retail to commercial, education and heritage,” she says. “I have learned to enjoy sharing views and debating topical issues, and started to develop leadership skills. I worked on various committees as a member of the Chartered Institute of Building [CIOB] and, in 2010, became chair of the CIOB sustainability strategy group.”

Nicholson also become a Fellow of the CIOB and a chartered environmentalist in 2010. She has been the CIOB’s representative reporting to the business department and contributed to the final report from the Low Carbon Construction Innovation and Growth team, published in autumn 2010.

In 2011, Nicholson worked as venues sustainability adviser at London 2012, a role that involved developing key performance indicators on issues such as biodiversity, waste management and carbon footprinting, as well as developing environment management plans, auditing schedules and zero-waste-to-landfill plans.

Of WSCP, Nicholson says: “With a shortage of women in the construction and property industry, we needed a network to promote women as leaders and have a platform to share our knowledge and skills.”

Nicholson feels professional environmentalists can help overcome the many challenges caused by climate change and pollution. “Back in the early 2000s, I didn’t come across much evidence of sustainability in the construction sector. I hope that I can make a difference through sharing knowledge on environmental issues, and through my work with IEMA as a steering group member and Fellow,” she says.

Thomas Tang

Thomas Tang is sustainability director at AECOM, a provider of professional technical and management support services with clients in more than 140 countries. The company specialises in engineering, construction management, planning and design, and has a strong commitment to ethics and sustainability.

Tang leads corporate initiatives on sustainability, corporate social responsibility and management training, as well as delivering client projects and conducting research. Working with more than 8,000 people in 20 offices across Asia, Tang is responsible for leading the company’s programme to reduce its operational footprint with regard to materials, energy and water.

He has set up a network of office champions to build sustainability into the work culture and reduce the company’s corporate footprint. “Much of this work would not have been possible without the support of my colleagues and my chief executive and company chair, who have supported me throughout this endeavour,” he says.

After graduating as an industrial chemist in the 1970s, Tang completed his PhD in material science and master’s in business administration in the UK, and he became a chartered chemist in 1985. He started his environmental consulting career with ERM in the UK, before moving with the firm to Hong Kong as company director.

The move into senior management and leadership was an important development in his career. “Growing the business was exciting, as was seeing others develop. This was my earliest phase of learning how to lead and provided an important foundation for my later leadership development,” he says.

Tang is vice-chair of the Hong Kong general chamber of commerce’s environment and sustainability committee, which helps other organisations understand environment issues. He has also helped to develop a leadership development programme on corporate governance, business ethics, sustainability and social responsibility linked to “action projects” with rural communities in China and India. In addition, he worked on the C40 cities climate change leadership programme and chaired the sustainable mobility B4E working groups.

As a Fellow, Tang recognises that what professionals do can make a difference and is keen to share his experience with others: “Obtaining my FIEMA membership has inspired me to guide and mentor others. I would like to spend more time with my younger colleagues to fulfil this. I would also like to be recognised as a thought leader in my field.”


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