Environmental managers – the next generation
The role of environmental managers in UK business has moved on significantly in recent years, not least in response to the emerging climate agenda. According to ENDS’ latest survey of the profession, today’s managers have more responsibility and influence than ever before
The environment has arrived, and with it, the role of the environment manager has come of age. Anyone who ever felt themselves to be a sop to environmentalists, a stop-gap against a crashing wave of legislation or a lone voice in the wilderness can go to work confident that – thanks mainly to the threat of climate change – companies are waking up to the issues, and beginning to listen.
As the role develops within an organisation and environmental functions become integrated into everyday business activities, priorities change and responsibilities are increased. It may even become a new job altogether, with posts such as corporate social responsibility (CSR) director or climate change manager becoming the new facade to corporate environmental management. The old guard of engineers appointed to environmental roles – often by chance and to fulfil a particular need – are passing on the torch to a younger generation of true environmental professionals.
One environmental manager belonging to the former ilk, told ENDS a complicated tale of having moved from a position as a production engineer in the 1980s into managing his employer’s efforts to eliminate CFCs from its products and ending up as environmental manager for the company’s entire UK operations.
The ENDS survey reveals that modern environmental managers have a somewhat different profile: typically young (average age 35 years), enthusiastic, with an educational background in an environmental discipline, and more often than not stepping into a newly created post. Marian Kelly, environmental manager for London Underground, is definitely a member of the new generation. She holds an environmental masters degree, is in her early thirties and a woman to boot.
We received 143 completed responses to our online environmental managers survey, which ran from October through November 2007. This is ENDS’ third major study of the profession, following surveys in 1993 (ENDS Report 225, p 3) and most recently in 2003 (ENDS Report 343, pp 21-24).
The crop of respondents in 2007 work for a broad range of organisations. These include chemical, oil and energy companies – where environmental management roles were first created during the 1970s and 1980s – to areas lower down the environmental impact scale such as light manufacturing, retail/commerce and professional service firms, as well as public institutions and government offices. The single most well-represented industry sector in the survey is the construction/property sector, which accounts for 10% of responses. Those employed by large firms (with more than 500 employees) make up 65% of the sample, while SMEs account for the remainder.
Women constitute about 30% of the total sample this year, up from 19% in 2003 and just 8% in 1993. This in itself also reflects the role’s changing nature as it moves from a make-do position created within the existing internal management of heavy industry firms – out of necessity rather than as a career choice in itself – to an arena where graduate environmental managers troop from universities into jobs that transcend industry sectors.
Marian Kelly comments: "Having joined Transport for London from a waste management company, I’ve found myself in a less male-dominated environment. In fact, while a lot of the people in the asset management side are engineers and better fit the profile of the older generation, on the environmental management side there’s now a slight bias towards women."
In terms of academic qualifications, more than three quarters of respondents hold at least a first degree, while about 50% have a masters or PhD – most in subjects related to environmental management. But overall, a staggering 38% of respondents have never studied an environmental discipline at degree level – indicating the continuing presence of environmental managers brought up through internal ranks.
Chris Coleman, for example, has a background in project management and now runs Virgin Media’s corporate responsibility department, having originally been drafted in to develop the company’s response to climate change.
Nearly a quarter of respondents have achieved chartership status during their career, with 16% holding the chartered environmentalist (CEnv) qualification. This is a significant proportion given that it was not available at the time of our previous survey. The creation of the Society for the Environment, which was formed specifically to manage the CEnv qualification in 2004, has undoubtedly helped raise the profile of environmental management as a profession through the introduction of professional standards of work and training (ENDS Report 366, p 10).
Although it is still early days and the CEnv is not yet widely recognised within industry as being on a par with its chartered engineering or science equivalents, uptake has been good with more than 4,500 environmental professionals registered.
Meanwhile, careers information from our survey respondents indicates the average length of service in jobs with an environmental management remit is nearly eight years, although 19% have less than two years’ experience (see Figure 1).
The average number of environmental posts held to date is 2.4, with a substantial 34% of managers only ever having worked for their current organisation in an environment role.
The statistics reflect a renewed surge in the creation of environmental and CSR management positions. Almost half the job titles of those surveyed were only brought into being within the past three years, with 23% created in the past 12 months alone (see Figure 2).
Overall, 45% of respondents say their organisation is employing more environmental support staff, compared with 35% in our 2003 survey. Only 8% report a decline in environmental personnel this year (see Figure 3).
Added to this, rather than begging for budgetary scraps, a massive 80% of organisations are reported to be spending more on environmental protection.
Cemex UK is one such firm growing its in-house environmental team. The cement company’s environment manager, Andy Spencer, confirms: "Our department is pretty new all round, having only been formed in 2006. But it’s grown in size by 50% since then."
Survey respondents were asked to characterise their organisation’s approach to environmental management. As such, 43% of environmental managers describe themselves as operating within a dedicated department rather than riding on another function’s coattails, a giant step up from the 19% in our previous survey. In 2003, environmental issues were most commonly managed through a multifunction support services department.
This year, as many as 41% of managers describe their organisation’s corporate environmental affairs as being fully integrated into general operational management, which once again represents a substantial increase on the 26% who adhered to this approach four years ago.
The move towards ‘collective responsibility’ or ‘mainstreaming’ of environmental responsibilities into normal lines of business is a further indication of the growing maturity in the way organisations are seeking to manage their environmental affairs.
London Underground is the biggest electricity user in the capital and despite being part of the solution to climate change, local air quality and other environmental problems, has major impacts of its own to manage. "The environment is much more integrated into business planning, reporting and overall management – rather than simply being an add-on," Marian Kelly says.
"It means we’re involved from the planning of a project onwards, through to monitoring performance and making sure the board sees regular reports on environmental performance."
The trend for mainstreaming may also go some way to explaining why there is a lower proportion of environmental managers who work at a site level in this year’s survey. Instead, the majority (55%) operate at a corporate level compared to those employed in a divisional (26%) or site or plant (19%) capacity.
However, most individuals continue to hold management-level responsibility for other areas of the business alongside purely environmental issues (see Figure 4).
There is little surprise that CSR is the most common add-on – for 42% of our environmental managers – given the increasingly inseparable nature of the two functions. For a significant proportion, health and safety, quality assurance and other technical services also fall within their remit.
Richard Naylor, environment manager for leading brewery Scottish and Newcastle UK, explains the recent changes to his firm’s internal approach to environmental management.
"When I started I was the only environmental manager in the company. Now we have a head of environment for the PLC and people with environmental responsibilities in their own European countries, although they may also be in charge of safety. And over the past couple of years we’ve put managers in place on each manufacturing site. Latterly, we tried a role-sharing situation where people had responsibility for environment and quality but that didn’t really work, so we now have dedicated site-environment managers," Mr Naylor says.
The good news is that increased investment and focus on the environment by many employers is allowing managers who have additional responsibilities to devote a greater proportion of their time to these issues. Those employed by large firms spend an average of 80% of their working hours on environmental issues, compared with 70% in 2003, while those in SMEs dedicate 50% of their time, up from 44% four years ago.
In terms of the nature of work, environmental managers have an extremely varied workload. While those employed at plant level tend to focus more on compliance-led issues, environmental managers operating at a corporate level – of which the numbers appear to be increasing – are more likely to enjoy a much broader and strategic scope of work.
Our survey reveals that, on average, respondents spend about 41% of their environmental management time on statutory duties, down from 51% in 2003.
Andy Spencer of Cemex believes the nature of the role has changed dramatically: "If you go back seven or eight years, environment managers were a bunch of people tasked with compliance with what environmental legislation there was, keeping the company out of court and maybe looking at ISO14001 if they worked for a forward-thinking organisation. Now there is an environmental seat on most boards."
Scottish & Newcastle’s Richard Naylor tends to agree, saying: "We’ve definitely moved on from a position of ensuring compliance by installing environmental management systems and implementing ISO14001 – things that seem quite basic now, but were challenging at the time. Luckily we’ve moved on to more of a sustainability agenda."
In fact, environmental management systems (EMS) no longer rank number-one in the survey’s list of "most significant day-to-day duties", overtaken instead by waste management as the core concern (see Figure 5).
On average, survey respondents rated seven out of 22 issues as being crucial in their daily work.
Today’s environmental managers are more likely to be involved in such near-impossible ventures as company-wide or supply chain carbon footprinting. It is interesting to note that ‘climate change and carbon management’ now ranks third overall as a core issue for 59% of managers in ENDS’ survey.
Around half the respondents expect the statutory burden to increase, compared with just 7% who anticipate a decline. Although many of the legislative hurdles aimed at heavy industry and utilities have been jumped, just beyond the horizon new and ever more strict regulations await.
Notably the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) regime – which will impact on almost every business in barely foreseeable ways – and also the government’s draft climate change bill, which looks likely to bring thousands of new sites and facilities into regulated carbon-constrained operations.
The energy question
The changing focus of the government’s attention, as it eyes up smaller or less energy-intensive sectors now that the easy kills in manufacturing and energy have long been made, brings new challenges for industry’s environmental managers. Energy use in buildings – be it day to day, in the construction process or as a question of total carbon footprint over a property’s lifetime – has come out of nowhere, after being plucked from obscurity as the Government’s new cause célèbre.
Where once government-funded posters were mailed out entreating staff to turn off monitors and press releases shouted the benefits of turning office thermostats down by one degree, now every chain in the building process is potentially under the cosh. Companies are being asked not only to minimise direct impacts – a challenging proposition in itself – but also to quantify the environmental impact of their products throughout their entire lifetime, from production, through use to final recycling or disposal.
The chorus of organisations such as the Carbon Disclosure Unit or Business in the Community, alongside stakeholder pressures and the requirements of producing annual environmental reports, as well as the records essential to regulatory compliance, means finding ways to measure intangible impacts has become a necessity.
John Leader, environment manager at construction firm Travis Perkins, says: "Housing developers are asking us questions about the carbon footprints of our individual products. So we’ve taken a block, a brick, a bag of sand and a length of timber and are looking at how we can go about calculating their carbon footprint. It’s a massive challenge – and as always the biggest challenge is getting good, accurate data from our suppliers."
Andy Spencer, who works for Cemex, which operates quarries and cement precasting operations, as well as producing and selling a wide range of building materials, adds: "If you look at the government’s priorities relating to carbon dioxide emissions; energy emissions from construction and the lifetime energy use of buildings are a high priority, so there’s a lot of pressure on construction companies. So we’re being asked for more environmentally friendly products and for information on their whole life-cycle environmental impacts."
Existing buildings are also under the microscope, particularly as they top the list of easy wins for companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint. In offices across the UK, where a paper recycling bin next to the photocopier was once the only evidence of an environmental policy at work, energy management requirements are being put in place and energy use carefully recorded to meet ever more stringent internal reporting procedures.
Dave Farebrother, environment director for Land Securities, one of the largest property companies in Europe, says: "Clearly carbon is a key issue, and while the government is targeting new buildings, we’re working with clients – retailers in particular – to become more energy efficient. As our chief executive is fond of saying, 99% of buildings already exist. While working towards zero carbon buildings might change things by 2% a year, we’re focusing on the 10-20% savings that can be made through energy management of existing buildings."
Unsurprisingly, an impressive 74% of the ENDS survey respondents said they have come under increased pressure to reduce energy use within the past 18 months.
Perhaps a little less of a forgone conclusion – but a clear indicator that footprinting is without doubt the latest environmental fad, despite a complete lack of consensus on how it should be measured – 44% of our survey replies came from managers who have already carried out some form of carbon footprinting exercise. A further 28% report that plans for carbon footprinting are in development.
Cemex is already heavily regulated as a cement producer – one of the most energy intensive of manufacturing processes – but further demands for belt-tightening look to be on their way. Andy Spencer says: "There’s a whole host of new legislation on the horizon – we’re on the verge of the Carbon Reduction Commitment, which could well scoop up a huge proportion of our sites that aren’t already covered by the emissions trading scheme or climate change agreements. It could be 500 sites across the UK."
Energy and carbon issues are also the major preoccupation of environment managers elsewhere. Richard Naylor of Scottish & Newcastle says: "The climate change agenda is not going away. We’re doing a fair amount of manufacturing, but we’re building biomass plants in the UK that will take a significant chunk out of our carbon emissions."
Meanwhile, Land Securities started looking seriously at its climate change impacts at the turn of the century, and was soon gaining plaudits for being ahead of the game. Dave Farebrother says: "We’ve now got 20 years’ experience in mitigating carbon impacts already, which is a point of differentiation with our competitors."
Legislative drivers and hurdles
Mr Farebrother also observes that "as environmental managers, we are facing ever-changing, ever more stringent environmental regulation." Indeed, ‘keeping up with legislation and developments’ is perceived to rank among the biggest obstacles to effective environmental management by survey respondents (see Figure 6).
The environmental co-ordinator at a major British manufacturer and exporter agrees with this finding: "The job only gets more complicated. There’s so much legislation that keeping up to date is a nightmare – or very demanding, shall we say. For example, on REACH, it’s very difficult to say what that will mean for us in terms of its impacts across the business."
Andy Spencer of Cemex adds: "REACH is going to hit us – as is the soil framework directive, mining waste directive, the Water Act… We spend a huge amount of time scanning the horizon for new legislation. We’re certainly not bored."
Government regulations and policy continue to underpin changing trends of environmental management in business. But interestingly, corporate reputation and risk factors are now considered to be the primary driving force for organisations over and above legislation – as Figure 7 shows.
This represents a significant change from our survey four years ago, and provides further indication of corporate Britain’s growing willingness to act without prescriptive direction.
Supply-chain pressure ranks quite lowly as a driver overall, but Andy Spencer is in little doubt of the extent to which it is infiltrating every facet of the buildings and construction sector – for once it seems the government has managed to generate some fire to go with all its smoke. "Government pressure is definitely having an impact," says Mr Spencer, "and if you want my personal opinion, momentum is only just gathering. If other businesses like ours don’t recognise that then they’re in for a short sharp shock."
London Underground faces a number of unique supply-chain challenges related to its operating structure and quasi-public sector status. Many of its day-to-day activities are managed by contractors as part of long-term PPP deals, which means major decisions are made by other companies despite TfL remaining the public face of the Underground.
Ms Kelly says: "It makes for an interesting relationship. Contractors may be deciding on station design or carrying out maintenance, but we’re the ones the public looks to demonstrate we’re delivering on our environmental objectives so we need to ensure there’s a clear understanding of what we want to achieve down the contractual chain."
And answering to the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, rather than a board and ultimately shareholders, means that the environment plays a central role in the Underground’s operations. "It means our drivers are different to the average company. While we still have to demonstrate good performance and financial management, as part of TfL the Underground ultimately answers to the mayor, who is very pro-environment and vocal on climate change and other green issues," explains Ms Kelly.
"Ken Livingstone makes sure the environment is high up on everyone’s agenda, and we have strong strategies alongside goals and targets we’re expected to achieve."
In 2003, ‘lack of influence over staff’ was cited as the second biggest hurdle facing environmental managers, behind ‘conflicts between corporate priorities’. Although it is still considered to be a major stumbling block at least some environmental managers now appear to be in the pleasant and probably unfamiliar position of preaching to the converted.
Travis Perkins’ John Leader confirms that the biggest change he has witnessed over time has been in people’s attitude towards environmental management: "There has been a huge step-change in terms of stakeholder awareness, which is something the media has had a lot to do with, particularly on the climate change issue.
"I now spend a lot less time explaining things, justifying why we’re doing something. For example, establishing sustainability through a chain of custody for certified timber is something that two or three years ago we were still making part of the business. Now it’s business as usual and a lot of the responsibility for it has passed to the buying department."
Mr Leader exemplifies the new generation of environmental manager – not struggling to start from scratch, but overseeing environmental affairs within an organisation where every level of the company has a clear understanding of the need to improve environmental performance, and where measurement and targets are already in place.
He says: "With the amount of legislation today, an environmental manager needs to be a jack of all trades – you simply can’t afford not to integrate everyday environmental functions within the business so that your role becomes that of a coordinator, managing the company’s wider environmental strategy."
Budgetary support remains a worry for some managers, but our survey does indicate that resources generally are increasing for the majority of environmental departments. In terms of other potential barriers, the uppermost concern continues to be ‘lack of management commitment or buy-in’ – a recurring theme throughout ENDS’ coverage of the profession.
For instance, in 1995 we reported that "the work of environmental managers in business is being held back by the continuing lack of real dedication to environmental improvement by top management" (ENDS Report 241, pp 16-17). But, again, this situation seems to be improving with 61% of survey respondents in 2007 reporting they have a representative at board level with specific responsibility for environmental matters.
Virgin Media’s Chris Coleman comments: "In terms of buy-in, the board is keen to support what we’re doing, as it enhances our brand and demonstrates that we’re responding to stakeholder concerns. So it’s becoming integral to what we do.
"We have a budget, although it’s not very sizeable. However, the company has set up a committee of the various managing directors of each business function, chaired by the chief executive – we hope that by doing so, environment and corporate responsibility will be embedded in the organisation, rather than having one team trying to shout a message at everyone."
For Andy Spencer, the increased weight given to environmental issues throughout the company has made his position more challenging, but also more rewarding.
He says: "Our team [at Cemex] looks after any and every sustainability or environmental issue in the business – if a site is getting complaints, legal or compliance issues, and permitting. It’s a really broad brush, one day I’m out advising site managers on compliance with new legislation, the next I’m presenting new strategies to the board."
Many businesses have truly moved beyond compliance to a point where environmental management is considered at strategic level and initiatives have support from above. Chris Coleman says: "Compliance with legislation is really the minimum of what we need to do – we want to go much further. It’s about doing the right thing for the environment and the smart thing for the business."
Dave Farebrother insists that there will always be a need for the role of corporate environmental manager: "People need to realise that this is an issue that is here to stay. It’s not a fad. Carbon, waste, biodiversity – we have no choice but to act, and those that act will be the companies that survive.
ENDS wishes to thank all those who took part in our environmental managers survey 2007