Sandra Norval, environment manager at Southern Railway, describes her career shift from accountancy to sustainability
Why did you become an environment professional?
I’m passionate about wildlife and I have worked as a volunteer on conservation projects. Moving into the sustainability profession was the best way I could see do something about the way we are impacting on the natural environment.
What was your first sustainability job?
At DORMA UK I ran a project to investigate what we could do for the environment, while saving money. We almost halved our head office’s energy bills; reduced fuel consumption in our fleet by nearly 25%; and achieved ISO 14001 certification of our environment management system. And we achieved all of this while I was still doing my day job as an accountant.
How did you get your first role?
After starting my degree in environmental studies, I spoke to the finance director at DORMA and suggested we looked at environmental issues to find cost savings. I’d done my homework and took a full presentation to the board to explain the business case and got approval to get started.
How did you progress your sustainability career?
After completing my degree, I became an Associate member of IEMA. At the same time, DORMA created the role of health, safety, quality and environment supervisor and I moved out of finance.
What does your current role involve?
My role is very broad, covering the entire Southern Railway network. I lead a team of volunteer area champions for the environment (ACEs) who are focused on reducing non-traction energy by 25%, diverting waste from landfill, managing water and biodiversity. I also chair a business group for the West Sussex environment and climate change board. I recently chaired an event entitled “Your business. Your environment. Your future”, and talked to local businesses about how they could work together to achieve more in greening their operations.
How has your role changed over the past few years?
I’m now part of Southern’s senior leadership team. I contribute to our business strategy and work across the organisation looking at the challenges we face from climate change and resource scarcity. This means I’m part of the decision-making process, and have a real opportunity to put forward the case for responsible business.
What’s the best part of your work?
The variety of opportunities to drive change. I can be ripping open waste bags one day and speaking at events the next!
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Demonstrating that it is possible to consider things outside the normal life of a train-operating company franchise. Fortunately, the board is behind the environment strategy to “think beyond the franchise”, both in terms of time and physical boundaries.
What was the last training course you attended?
I’m currently studying the University of Exeter’s One Planet MBA, which covers topics including economics, leadership, human factors, collaboration, finance, strategic operations and biomimicry.
What are you bringing back to your job?
Most recently, I’ve been looking at the way we piece together our business cases and how we could look at the value chain in different ways.
What are the most important skills for your role and why?
My influencing skills. Whether coaching ACEs, engaging with tenants or discussing strategy with directors, to truly embed sustainability into the business I need to convey messages in a positive way. This isn’t easy in a heavily governed industry with demands from many interested parties.
Where would like to be in five years’ time?
Working with engaged directors who are keen to be a part of the sustainability shift that is coming.
Where do you see the profession going?
It will expand, with senior roles becoming more common as we become more strategic in our thinking.
What advice would you give someone entering the profession?
Be keen, embrace every learning opportunity, find your unique selling point and never give up.
How do you use IEMA’s environmental skills map?
As well as for my own development, I am using the map to help some of our ACEs build their understanding and plan their path to IEMA membership.
AIEMA, Environmental Studies BA (Hons)
July 2012 to now Environment manager, Southern Railway
2011–2012 Environment management system manager, Southern Railway
2010–2011 HSQE supervisor, DORMA UK
2004–2010 Financial accountant and environment project leader,
2002–2004 Financial accountant, Arrow Generics
1998–2002 Assistant factory accountant, Yoplait Dairy Crest
1995–1998 Area administrator, Shell Gas
1994–1995 Office manager, Concorde Chemicals
1990–1993 Legal supervisor, Pickfords Travel Services
1987–1990 Housing repairs assistant, London Borough of Enfield