Rachel Quinn

Rachel Quinn, one of the inspiring speakers at our Catalyst Bootcamp tells us about her Green Career pathway in the Construction industry.. with some useful tips…

Job title: Senior Environmental Advisor, Skanska Construction

IEMA Associate
Certificate in Ecological Consultancy
BSc (Hons) Psychology

Why did you become an environment/sustainability professional?
I began working in the construction industry as a site secretary in 2005. I had an interest in environmental and sustainability issues and quickly realised that a construction project could both cause big impacts to the environment but also afforded lots of opportunities to improve sustainability. This really interested me and and luckily I was given the opportunity to develop with the company who had employed me.

What was your first environment/sustainability job?
Compiling evidence for BREEAM assessments of our projects. This was a useful role as it gave me a really broad brush of understanding of all the different elements that go into assessing how sustainable a project is.

How did you get your first role?
In the words of my ex boss – ‘I want you to do this because you won’t take no for an answer – you are tenacious and will get the evidence from everybody!
Seriously, it was probably a matter of right place right time. Running all the admin for site included some environmental work anyway (e.g. waste recording, collection of data for carbon footprinting etc..) Doing this work meant that managers noticed that I was organised and efficient; these are good transferrable skills relevant to all aspects of construction.

How did you progress your environment/sustainability career?
Following a year of BREEAM work and environmental support work, in 2009 I sat the course for IEMA affiliate membership. I followed up by doing the course for associate membership in 2011.
I was lucky to benefit from being mentored by senior colleagues with lots of years of experience in the field. I have worked in different ‘types’ of construction – buildings, civil engineering and utilites work. This has given me a lot of different types of experiences e.g. water and contaminated land management, materials, carbon footprinting, ecology etc.

What does your current role involve?
There are 3 major aspects to my current role

Project environmental/sustainability management.
This is split into: Pre-construction.
Involvement in development of the project during the feasibility and design development phases.
Commissioning relevant surveys (ecology, arboricultural, ground investigation, , archaeology, air quality etc.. ). Working with the design team to interpret findings of these and eliminate/ mitigate potential impacts where possible
Looking at ways to improve the sustainability aspects of the project (within the budget!)
Liasing with the client, local residents, neighbourhood groups and other interested parties through the consultation process to develop a project which meets requirements, minimises impacts where possible through the construction process etc..

During construction Auditing projects on a regular basis to ensure the teams are complying with environmental legal, client, and company requirements.
Acting as an advisor to the project team – ensuring sustainability targets are met and improving practice

Training of the workforce. I am a CITB qualified trainer and deliver both external and internal environmental and sustainability training courses to our UK staff. In this capacity I support one of our UK objectives to ensure that 100% of our staff receive appropriate environmental training.

Corporate social responsibility work (CSI). I act as the regional representative, organising various volunteering opportunities for staff in order to meet with our CSI objectives. These have included reclamation of waste land for community allotments, careers days and curriculum enhancement work with young people and supporting long term unemployed people with ‘back to work’ experiences.

How has your role changed over the past few years?
It has developed from mainly being about environmental compliance on site to much more pre-construction work to improve sustainability and climate/ mitigate impacts. The training and CSR aspects have also come to play a much larger part. I think this reflects how the Company and the industry as a whole are changing. There is much more of a recognition that everyone in an organisation plays their part in the green agenda and that we need to invest in our communities and in our future generations.

What’s the best part of your work?
The variation – every day is different and you are constantly learning new things – for example, researching the latest debates in the potential human health impacts from use of pesticides to learning about techniques for remediation of contaminated land. My favourite days are when they involve site visits – I love seeing how projects are taking shape and how my early interventions have preserved trees and wildlife which otherwise may have been negatively impacted by our work.

What’s the hardest part of your job?
Keeping all the balls up in the air! With multiple projects and multiple tasks it can sometimes be difficult to prioritise and keep everyone happy!

What was the last development/training course/event you attended?
I have just started a CIRIA advanced course on contaminated land, which will also cover recent changes to assessment criteria used to assess contamination levels.
I am also attending an online course on sustainable cities run by the University of the West of England.

What did you bring back to your job?
These courses will increase my technical competence and understanding of emerging trends – this will benefit both my day to day work and the training I deliver.

What is/are the most important skill(s) for your role and why?
I think the most important skills are to be able to communicate well with people, to be enthusiastic, pro-active and a leader. You can learn technical skills but you can’t learn how to ‘get on with people’. In our field, we are often trying to win hearts and minds and convince people about the benefits of going green, so the communication skills are essential.

Where do you see the environment/sustainability profession going?
It’s an interesting period for the profession, where we are in an uncertain political climate in terms of commitment to emissions reductions pledges and the overall green agenda.
Concurrently, there are many legislative changes in the pipeline which will continue to challenge businesses to deliver meaningful outcomes. The recent overhaul of ISO14001 is one example, with increasing emphasis on embedding sustainability into the strategic planning process. Additionally, public awareness and scrutiny of sustainable issues is only increasing as a result of renewed media interest. This pressure to outperform spurs us to proactively push boundaries, presenting our profession with exciting challenges in the coming years.

Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
At Skanska, we have a ‘Deep Green’ vision for our Projects, where the construction process and our product performance has a near-zero environmental impact on the environment and thereby future proofs our projects.

The construction industry has a lot of exciting tools such as Building Information Modelling which I believe are going to help our Deep Green vision and make enormous improvements to our environmental and sustainability credentials over the next few years.

I want to be part of this development and from a professional development point of view, I would like to be managing a team who will be working alongside our construction colleagues to make sure we can get the very best from these opportunities.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?

Johan Karlstrom, Skanska

Johan Karlstrom speaking to Skanska colleagues

I would say to people just starting out in the field to seek out opportunities, even if they don’t seem directly relevant to what you want to do, as you never know where it will lead you. When I joined Skanska in 2006 as a secretary I never imagined that 9 years later I would be an environmental professional!

I would also encourage people to get out in the field and soak up the expertise of others as much as possible – you learn far more from hands on experience and conversations with experienced people than from sitting behind a desk.

Rachel Quinn is one of the many inspirational speakers talking at the Catalyst Bootcamp on 22nd – 24th August. This is an extract of an interview which first appeared in The Environmentalist. For more information and to book VISIT CATALYST BOOTCAMP

Skanska is a world-leading development and construction group who have been building for a better society throughout the UK for more than 40 years. www.skanska.co.uk