Career profile: Sue Smith

02 May 09:00 by


Why did you become an environment professional? 
I grew up in the age of discovery of the hole in the ozone layer and the Montreal Protocol. My interest in the environment grew from those early days into a belief that we cannot continue as we are now and not expect to feel the consequences in future.

What was your first sustainability job?
I started working in administration straight from school and subsequently worked my way up through various roles and organisations to become the personal assistant of the managing director of BAE Systems Munitions.

Six years ago, after working in administration for 18 years, I set myself the goal of following my interest in the environment and changing my career path to an environmental role. BAE Systems Munitions gave me the opportunity to explore a career change and I moved into my sustainable development coordinator position.

How did you get the role?
By expressing an interest in an environment role and capitalising on an opportunity when it arose.

How have you progressed your sustainability career?
Although I’ve had the same job title for six years, my role of sustainable development coordinator has changed as I have taken advantage of on-the-job training, formal training courses and attending events.

What does your current role involve?
My role encompasses the full spectrum of environmental sustainability, from auditing and ensuring compliance with our environment management system and legislation to identifying resource reduction opportunities and working on employee engagement.

How has your role changed over the past few years?
In the early days “environment” was very much seen as something that was vague and many of my colleagues did not really understand what my role was. There is now a much better understanding.

Also, since I started in my role in 2007 it has changed to focus much more on supporting the strategic goals of BAE Systems Munitions through resource management, waste prevention, innovation, auditing and information statistics.

What’s the best part of your work?
Getting a project off the ground and seeing it develop a life of its own.

What’s the hardest part of your job?
There’s still a long way to go for environment professionals to be seen in the same light as other professionals.

What was the last training course you attended?
I’m in my second year of an MSc in integrated environmental management from Bath University. My learning is being sponsored by my employer, and I am completing the course via distance learning.

What did you bring back to your job?
Since starting my MSc I have definitely become more proactive in my approach to my role. I have brought back a sense of confidence that can only be gained from speaking to others facing similar and, alternatively, very different challenges from you.

What are the most important skills for your role?
There are many competing views in any organisation. As an environment professional, you need to be able to stand up, put your point of view across and be prepared to stick by it. It’s also important not to be disheartened if a project is repeatedly knocked back.

Where would like to be in five years’ time?
Working as an environment manager and a Full member of IEMA.

Where do you see the environment profession going?
I think as a profession we must become much more corporate savvy, while maintaining our personal ethical stance – the two are not mutually exclusive.

What advice would you give to someone entering the profession?
Being an environment professional is very challenging and you shouldn’t start down this career path unless you are committed to it. Also, professional qualifications are a must, but nothing compares to getting hands-on experience.

How do you use IEMA’s environmental skills map?
The skills map has allowed me to explore the various ways in which I can develop my environment career. I would recommend it for anyone already working in the field and especially for anyone thinking of entering the profession as a way of signposting your career path.

Career file

AIEMA, BA in social sciences with environment, IEMA-registered lead auditor for ISO 14001, Diploma in environmental policy

Career history:

  • 2007 to now Sustainable development coordinator, BAE Systems Munitions
  • 2005–2007 Personal assistant to managing director, BAE Systems Munitions
  • 2003–2005 Personal assistant, General Dynamics
  • 2000–2003 Administration coordination, Surface Technology Systems
  • 1998–2000 Personal assistant, Ashtead Plant Hire
  • 1997–1998 Secretary, Eversheds
  • 1987–1997 Secretary to commercial manager, Newleco Limited