Success breeds success

4th October 2019


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Chris Seekings

The winners of IEMA's inaugural Sustainability Impact Awards were announced at a lunchtime celebration in London. Chris Seekings reports

More than 400 sustainability professionals from around the world gathered for a sparkling lunchtime reception at IEMA's inaugural Sustainability Impact Awards last month.

And what a celebration it was, with attendees treated to an afternoon of food, music, laughter and cheer amid jubilant scenes at The Brewery in London.

The timing of the ceremony could not have been better, with millions taking to the streets on the same day to protest against government inaction on climate change globally.

After enjoying a welcome cocktail, guests made their way to the dining hall for opening remarks from IEMA's CEO Tim Balcon, who was full of praise for the talent on show.

“At these awards we remind ourselves of the thousands of people who work day in, day out to find new solutions in response to the climate and environmental emergency – our work has never been more important and more relevant than it is right now,“ Balcon said.

“Not everyone in this room will be taking home a trophy, but it is a tremendous achievement to have been shortlisted, and I stand in awe at our members' work.“

Guests were served a stunning three-course meal crafted from locally sourced ingredients, before being introduced to the host , comedian and environmental economist, Matt Winning.

A side-splitting act ensued, with Winning – also a professor at University College London – well aware of the difficulty of combining environmental breakdown with comedy.

“The recent strikes are incredibly inspiring and a wonderful thing. For years we have been telling people climate change is going to affect their children, and now it is the children protesting. My only issue with it is that they called it the youth strike and not the minors' strike – wasted opportunity.“

Then it was time for the awards. Nineteen winners were announced throughout a high-tempo ceremony, celebrating organisations big and small, and individuals with careers spanning five to 25 years.

The first award went to Arriva Rail North, with the company's Hearts and Minds Engagement campaign coming out on top in the Workforce Development category. The campaign trained more than 5,000 frontline staff, and saw 400 managers go through a certified two-day IEMA course.

A visibly ecstatic Kyle MacNeil, environment business partner at Arriva Rail North, said: “IEMA has been brilliant, everyone could relate to the framework we were given and it gave us all the information we needed. We are absolutely thrilled to have won, and I am sure these awards will keep dragging people to do the right thing for the environment.“

On to the Sustainable Finance category, in which WHEB Asset Management took home the award for its comprehensive sustainable investment strategy. “There was really good competition today, and I am really thrilled and honoured to receive this award,“ said head of research Seb Beloe. “I had no idea that today's event would be on this scale, and it is fantastic to celebrate the work being done and to give winners a profile. We are moving towards a low-carbon economy, and if you don't understand the benefits of good investment and decision-making you will miss out – it's not just an ethical thing.“

It was then time to celebrate the achievements of Wilson Power Solutions, which won the New Product, Service or Technology category for its Wilson e2 Amorphous Transformer. “We are not a massive company, so being recognised for our work is superb,“ said managing director Erika Wilson. “We are now celebrating our 1,000th sale, it's just incredible – and obviously reducing carbon for everybody.“

The winners were announced at an expeditious pace, and it was soon TAG Farnborough Airport's turn to receive an award for its entry to the Energy and Carbon Transition category. The site was the world's first business aviation airport to achieve carbon neutral status, and a worthy winner. “I am absolutely delighted – there was some serious competition in our category, so this is a bit unexpected, but we are really pleased,“ said environment manager, Miles Thomas, PIEMA. “Reaching the carbon neutral goal was a huge milestone, and these awards raise awareness among other companies, and allow others to see what can be achieved.“

The Environment Agency finished top of the pile in the Construction and Infrastructure Project category for its flood alleviation scheme in Port Clarence and Greatham South. The project delivered a vast array of sustainability benefits in addition to flood risk mitigation. “We are really passionate about this, and it is great for our team to get this recognition,“ said Emma Morrish, Environment Agency principal environmental project manager. “I am very surprised, but collaboration and building partnerships has made our job a lot easier. These awards give people a platform, and show what is possible if you think outside the box.“

It wasn't long before the individual awards were announced, along with the winner of the Best Volunteer Contribution category. David Hoare, associate director at WSP, was honoured for his volunteer work on IEMA's North West Regional Steering Group, helping to engage members with policy, and was clearly emotional at the achievement.

“I am stunned really, it's fantastic,“ Hoare said backstage. “I know it sounds clich√©d, but this really is an award for all the volunteers in the network groups, the various specialist groups, and all the people who put in a load of their free time – what would we do without them?“

Next up was the award for the Future Sustainability Leader category, picked up by Samantha Carlsson, senior sustainability consultant at Hoare Lea. She impressed the judges after being shortlisted for the CIBSE Graduate of the Year and passing exams to become a BREEAM and WELL Accredited Professional. “There were some great people shortlisted in my category, so I am delighted,“ Carlsson said. “I have always been interested in what we can do to save the world. Working at an engineering company in the built environment is one way to do that, and I hope to inspire others.“

Dr Waddah Ghanem Al Hashmi took to the stage to pick up the Sustainability Leader award for his more than 22 years of experience driving sustainability practices at the Emirates National Oil Company. “I feel very privileged to win this award, and it must have been tough as I heard I was competing against over 100 people,“ he said. “We have been doing a lot of work, especially in the Middle East, so it was important to benchmark our actions against what others are doing around the world. This award gives us confidence that we are working against an international benchmark, and I am very happy and very pleased.“

The final award of the night went to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for its entry in the Best Team category, with the winners demonstrating a global reach with its #BeyondPlastic Taskforce. Its overseas embassies have saved more than one million items of single-use plastic annually, with 32 having committed to dates by which they will have declared themselves free of avoidable single-use plastic. “This is recognition of a team collaboration,“ said head of sustainability Alex Hilton, CEnv. “We've got a global network of 100-plus volunteers with 267 posts across the globe, so it is really great to be able to share our success with people across the world.“

The winners took to the stage for one final photograph together, before returning to their seats to continue the celebrations. As the event drew to a close, there was a clear sense of achievement and camaraderie in the air, with everyone keenly aware that they are all working together for a far greater prize than any one trophy.

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