From volunteer loader to consultant, Emma How, specialist technical advisor at Eunomia, tells us how she got into the environment industry
How did you get into the environment industry?
It all began when I went to Ashton Court festival in 1994 and Resourcesaver were there with a truck full of cans parked outside the cider tent. I asked what they were doing and when they explained they were recycling and I told them I’d driven a horse box before – a few ciders down at this point - they got me to sign up as a volunteer. As a bit of a hippy in a floppy hat and floaty dress I don’t think they believed anything would come of it but I was there the next day at 8am…six months later I was a permanent member of staff.
How did you land your current job?
I’d known our director, Joe Papineschi, since the early 2000s when he was chair of the Community Recycling Network and I was a depot manager for Avon Friends of the Earth. We met up again in 2006 when I was working with WRAP on a kerb-sort vehicle design project whilst working as a local authority officer. I’d just accepted a post as senior consultant on Adam Read’s team at Hyder and Joe gave me his card, suggesting that if I fancied a change to give him a call. So in 2009 I did and came to work at Eunomia!
What has helped you get where you are in your career?
Listening, working collaboratively, being honest and trustworthy, being imaginative, being able to see more than my point of view and being willing to help others. Recycling is a small world, things change rapidly and sometimes we just need to think of the bigger picture. As a result, some of my ideas have made it out into the wider world of waste and recycling and whilst I’ve not benefited financially I’ve definitely benefited in other ways and it’s great to see that I have made a positive contribution.
Do you have any tips for people about to embark in your field on how to make a success out of their careers in sustainability?
Get some practical experience, do some volunteering and get a mentor. I started as a volunteer loader on the kerb-sort recycling service run by Avon Friends of the Earth in Bristol in the summer of 1994 – six months later I’d landed a permanent role as a driver/loader. I still volunteer for my local authority at their waste prevention events.
If you have questions – ask them, there are no stupid questions. If you have an idea - talk to your team or your mentor about it, bat it about and see if you can develop it further.
Join at least one of the waste / environment trade bodies – I’m a member of CIWM and the South West Waste & Recycling Forum. I’m involved in the CIWM New Member Group and I contribute to CIWM Special Interest Groups (SIGs) on Waste Prevention, Health & Safety and Collection, Cleansing & Recycling. I’m also on the Executive of the South West Waste & Recycling Forum as their private sector rep.
Waste is a really interesting field - there is always something new to learn so keep up with your professional development – being a member of a trade body such as CIWM is invaluable for your CPD.
Get chartered – it’s still on my bucket list!
Who have been your role-models/mentors in your career?
I’ve got loads. Dick Perry from WRAP - he was my director at Avon FOE, an honest and trustworthy professional; Jane Stephenson, director at Resource Futures because she’s a talented female - I worked with her at Avon FOE and she headed up the recycling consortium; Lesley Rowan, my manager at Mendip, because she’s pushing sustainability up the agenda; Chris Hillyer, who has worked in recycling for years, with a background in education - he’s a really good communicator; Ray Georgeson at the Resource Association -, he is a man with integrity; and finally Allan Swales, the first recycling officer in Monmouthshire - a great character and a family friend of mine.
What have been the stumbling blocks or barriers along the way?
I’ve had some interesting reactions off the back of me being a female truck driver – one gentleman drove into a lamppost when he saw two girls in a wagon – one was driving!
The most rewarding?
Working with the third sector and undertaking practical projects - anything to do with waste prevention and re-use really. I’ve recently been working at Bath and North East Somerset Council in their waste team which has been very rewarding.
What is key to getting the most out of your team/colleagues?
Listening, collaboration and being considerate.
What have been the groundbreaking instances or milestones in the sustainability field that have really changed the way you have to work? And how did you adapt to these events?
The introduction of recycling targets. Suddenly everyone got very interested in recycling, all the local authorities who hadn’t recycled before started rolling out services.
What qualifications have been necessary/most beneficial in your career?
I imagine that to get into the industry now you will need an environmental science degree but I found a way in through practical experience.
Have you had much continuing professional development? Has this been useful?
I recently attended a WRAP one day course on re-use which was really useful.
Could you sum up, in one sentence, what has changed in the industry since you first began your job?
Recycling is now a normal thing done by normal people every day across the UK.
What does the future have in store for your industry – choppy waters ahead? Or a fruitful and secure future?
The future looks great; waste is like death and taxes – it will always be here and will always need to be managed, we just need to continue to be imaginative in how we close the resource loop. From the collector picking up your recycling to the local authority service director and everyone in between, our industry touches everyone and everything and we need to be bold and imaginative - I think we can be and it’s going to be great!