The new world order

10th March 2016

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Gemma Tilley

John Barwise talks to chief executive Tim Balcon about how IEMA can help to create a more sustainable future

Tim Balcon is on a mission to transform the world to sustainability and says IEMA is best placed to make this happen. Since joining the organisation three years ago, Balcon has expanded the range of services the institute offers, raised the profile of its members, incorporated the Global Association of Corporate Sustainability Officers (GACSO) into the IEMA family and introduced a governance structure to ensure professional standards support a new framework for sustainability.

To discover what else is in the pipeline, particularly since the Paris climate deal was agreed in December, IEMA member John Barwise interviewed Balcon about the key drivers for sustainability and his ‘global ambitions’ for IEMA and its membership.

Is the deal reached at the climate talks in Paris (COP21) going to work and how important is it for IEMA members?

It’s hugely important. What we have here is an understanding that the science is becoming more credible; it is more plausible and it is becoming mainstream. The size of the challenge is as big today as it was before the Paris agreement. The real turning point is when you have almost 200 countries coming together to agree action – that changes everything.

For IEMA members, and for IEMA, that is a game changer. Our members have the capability to make that change realistic.

The agreement recognises the UN sustainable development goals, going beyond what we might call traditional environmental protection. Do you think there is a wider scope for IEMA members to work in now?

Very much so. We’ve tried to plug environmental management into the world of business, and there are some inspiring examples of success. But when you look at the impact across the world’s economy, we’ve only scratched the surface.

For environmental management to have that impact, it has to be in the context of the economy and how the world works. We’ve encapsulated what the UN has been describing as sustainability, and that provides us with a framework on which professional standards can be developed.

This brings us to the acquisition of GACSO by IEMA. It widens the scope of IEMA and perhaps meets one of your key objectives, to ensure corporate responsibility is a core focus for the institute. What was the purpose behind that, and how is it going to develop in the future?

It was more symbolic than fundamental. IEMA members have been telling us for some time that they’re doing much more than environmental management. But there’s a real key point here. We have not left environmental management.

What we’re doing is protecting and safeguarding environmental management within the language of sustainability. People use the term sustainability very liberally. IEMA doesn’t. It’s very much about addressing the things in the UN sustainable development goals and, at its core, it’s about protecting the environment.

This is linked to this wider professional recognition of IEMA members and Chartered environmentalist status. It has a certain prestige attached to it but, because the Chartered environmentalist has a much wider scope than, say, the work of professional environment managers, assessors, risk managers, auditors and such like, are they losing out by not having their own chartered status?

There are two points you’ve raised there. It’s almost impossible to describe an environment manager as a single entity. So we are broadening our thinking to accommodate the people you’ve mentioned. In terms of the Chartered mark, this is about achieving a level of expertise that’s comparable to accountants and engineers and anybody else who has a more traditional, historical profession.

But I wouldn’t want to lose what we have. It is about evolution. We have to cement what is already in the Chartered environmentalist because that’s really important in protecting that brand and that value. But at the same time we need to then broaden that out, to look at where chartered would impact on some of the other skills that I’ve just mentioned.

This brings us on to the range of services the institute offers its members. And some of those early developments are still very much part of the IEMA toolkit, such ISO 14001. Is this something that the institute will continue to develop as part of its service provision?

The answer is yes. And I think you’ve described it right. ISO 14001 is a really important tool for our members to use. We know that, because every time we put on a 14001 seminar or webinar they are generally over-subscribed.

There are two things I want to say on this. One is that Martin Baxter, our chief policy advisor, has been travelling around the world to assist in developing the standard. What he will tell you is that the feedback from our members has fundamentally shaped how that will look in the future.

Second, 14001 is a tool, but there are many tools that we are developing within IEMA. Two years ago our members were saying they have the expertise but they wanted to influence decision-making in their organisations to shape how it does its work. So we’ve developed a whole raft of products and services. Corporates are more engaged now in the activities that we do. Many are developing their capabilities internally to train their staff and their leadership team on environmental management and sustainability. So we have a training programme for that.

We also need to showcase what our members can do so that people recognise who they are and the value they bring to the organisation they work for.

Corporates are now engaged more in the activities we do. Many are developing their capabilities internally to train their staff and their leadership team on environmental and sustainability. And IEMA has a training programme for that

Given an increasingly diverse range of skills that environment managers are expected to have these days, is it possible to keep up that level of training and expertise?

We have more than 80 approved training providers, all giving us feedback on the kind of courses that their customers are asking for. Our role in IEMA is to make sure that the training they are proposing to deliver is reaching the quality that we would want it to do from an IEMA brand point. And we’re getting a lot of training providers with some quite niche training courses now.

We have an additional product for our education providers so that their courses are accredited worldwide. This means they have a much stronger offer to give to students and individuals. So there’s a whole range of products and services that we have been developing and will continue to develop.

But we also want to tell the market that this is the curriculum, it’s the right training and it’s quality-approved training. That means individuals and organisations can be confident that the training they are procuring will do the job they want to do.

You’ve mentioned already about the level of services that IEMA offers and the wider scope to sustainability. You’re saying the goalposts have shifted and IEMA membership is adjusting to the new paradigm. But are you getting the message across to your members, and to others, about the need for societal change to meet the development goals that we talked about earlier?

The question you are asking is a huge challenge, and we’re excited by the potential of moving our agenda from the 15,500 members and nearly 200 corporate members we have now to a world stage.

We have new networks developing on health, on climate change, on land quality, on environmental impact. Now there’s the challenge that we have with COP21. When you want to transform that intent from Paris into change, then our members are absolutely centre stage in providing that expertise and guidance.

IEMA has the biggest number of competent, qualified, environmental managers and sustainability professionals anywhere in the world. It’s up to us to start to own that agenda. So, it’s a huge challenge and we are excited by it.

There is a big stage out there for IEMA and its members, given the key issues that we’ve talked about, such as resource management, the economy and so on. Are we seeing IEMA adjust to taking on board some of these key issues?

Absolutely. Our professional standards team was significantly enhanced in 2015. And what we want is to have a rolling review of what these professional standards should include. So we will consult our members and listen to what they are having to do and what they would like to do. What we really have got now is a real-time feedback mechanism into IEMA. All of that is in the framework of sustainability. That’s why the UN sustainable development goals are important. Our Vision for 20:20 [established in 2014] was two years ahead of the game.

Are you clearer about how Vision for 20:20 reflects members’ feedback and what they consider to be the important issues?

First, we never stopped listening to our members. We’re crystal clear that the vision is something that has excited our members. It moves them from being the person at the end of a line that an organisation asks for when it gets into a problem with environmental management to changing the way an organisation thinks about the way to do business. What IEMA can do is to give them the badge of recognition that they are part of the new economy. The environmental limits tell us that the economy is going to change. In order for it to change, businesses need expertise. This is the exciting agenda that Paris has thrown on our doorstep. We knew it was happening, our members told us that. So we’re clear on what our vision is.

I just want to finish off by returning to my first point. We’ve seen more than 190 countries signing up to the Paris agreement. We’ve seen the opportunities that are created for business and the environment and for wider society. Will we see, in 20–30 years, a recognition that the work being done now will make that difference to ensure we have a sustainable future for the next generation?

It’s up to us. IEMA members have all the skills and expertise to make the difference. Our membership numbers 15,500 and it’s growing by the month. They are people who can influence governments, local authorities, countries, small businesses, large businesses, non-governmental organisations.

HR directors and finance directors, for example, don’t necessarily want to be that expert. But they need access to expertise, to understand what’s happening so that they can make the changes.

This is why environment and sustainability is such an exciting profession to be in now.

What our members have wanted from the start is to have that influence. Now we have to develop the tools and the expertise to help them so that they can position themselves to make that difference.

So, we’re clear on the vision, we’re clear on our strategy and we’re up for it.

To hear the full interview with Tim Balcon, click here.


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