The Society celebrated World Environment Day 2018 with a stellar line-up of award-winners and stimulating lectures centred around this year’s theme urging people to ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’. We welcomed CEnvs and REnvTechs, future environmental professionals, colleagues and friends to Arup’s London offices and, together with our generous host, we ran an eco-conscious event with no plastics, vegetarian food and minimal paper.
Arup invited early guests to beat the rush hour and experience their Visualisation and Sound Labs as well as their ‘Wild West End’ demo – quite literally a wild and wonderful start! Adding to this multi-sensory medley, Society for the Environment member CIWEM showcased winning shots of their Environmental Photographer of the Year competition over the years.
Paparazzo Phil, the Society’s Marketing Executive who coordinated the event, added to the photo collection by snapping guests as they pledged to beat plastic pollution. For months beforehand, Phil had been working behind the scenes with colleagues from Society for the Environment member IEMA, and their corporate partners, on a campaign encouraging people to #PledgeLessPlastic, and the response was remarkable. By 12 noon on the 5th June, we saw over 6,000 campaign homepage hits (IEMA and SocEnv) and over 2,000,000 Twitter impressions for the hashtag! And there’s still plenty of time to get involved in this (it's not just a single day issue) – check out our website for inspiring case studies and a practical toolkit, as well as links to the extraordinary efforts of Andrew Marlow CEnv MIEMA, who has produced a collection of 9 vlogs for World Environment Day!
Delegates committed to #PledgeLessPlastic throughout the evening. Photo credit: Phil Underwood
Kicking off the main event, Dougal Driver CEnv, the Society’s Vice-Chair and compere for the day, began proceedings with a touching point of pride in his Chartered Environmentalist status, reminding us of the passion and expertise in the room, and updating our audience on the Society’s impressive registration stats, our demographic data and direction of travel. Dougal made his own ambitious and admirable pledge to conduct a programme of research about how home-grown renewable forest products might replace plastic products. He welcomed collaborators for this and, never shy of a challenge, Dougal appealed to the audience to hold him to account on his pledge. He then extended his call for challenge to our speakers, who certainly responded.
Dougal Driver CEnv opens proceedings.
First up, our keynote address was delivered by the eminent Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser at Defra, who, despite his somewhat limited ability to be so (given this position), upheld his aim of being ‘reasonably controversial’. Discussing the scourge of ‘ugly’ and ‘ubiquitous’ plastics, Ian highlighted how plastics themselves are not the problem, rather plastics in the wrong places are the key problem, such as micro-plastics in the sea. We do not yet know enough about the breakdown of plastics into their micro-form nor their negative impacts in our environment, Ian asserted, and, true to his scientific credentials, he called for more research, cautioned against any foregone conclusions and advocated for balanced hypothesis-testing.
Delegates taking in the insight shared by Professor Ian Boyd of Defra.
Ian then turned to the wider picture, locating plastics within the concept of a circular economy. Whilst fervently supportive of efforts to make the circular economy workable, Ian underlined that the only way to reduce waste is to reduce inputs and, therefore, to reduce consumption. Ian closed with emphatic encouragement of this kind of systems-thinking, drawing attention to the potential problems of prohibiting plastics, such as increases in food waste or replacement products with net greater costs to the environment. As a final point of reflection, Ian called for the re-evaluation of waste, which “just happens to be resources with a negative value”, and a re-jig of the whole narrative of waste towards resources.
Following Ian, Dr Costas Velis took up the baton on plastics, simultaneously focusing in on micro-plastics and broadening our horizons to the global stage. Costas took us on an eye-opening journey from the now familiar images of marine litter to the much less familiar – to Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa, and its neighbouring dumpsite, which Costas visited whilst attending a UN Environment Assembly meeting in UNEP’s HQ in Nairobi. In such places, solid waste enters makeshift sewers beside makeshift pavements, travelling to larger and larger bodies of water and eventually into the sea, if not dumped there directly, as Costas shockingly revealed. This is the root cause of marine litter, and helping the two billion people in the world that do not have the infrastructure to deal with waste should be a much higher priority if we are to meet this complex challenge as well as our international agreements and obligations, Costas passionately argued.
Dr Costas Velis discussing his global knowledge of plastic waste.
We were returned to home turf by our final pre-awards speaker. Stephanie McGibbon CEnv first reflected on being reminded by Elaine Rutherford, the Society’s Operations Manager, that Stephanie – by sheer coincidence – was Chartered Environmentalist number 5000! And as Arup’s Director of Environment and a staff manager, Stephanie shared her views on the importance of CEnv, of recruiting people with an appetite to gain the status and supporting them through that process. Stephanie also shared insights gained over 17 years’ work managing voluminous Environmental Impact Assessments and mammoth projects like the Thames Tideway Tunnel as well as personal reflections on the interesting impacts of the 5p bag charge. She concluded that, whilst it’s hard to achieve Arup’s mantra of ‘shaping a better world’, the solutions need not be big, technical ones, but do require initiative and ambition. Stephanie closed by inviting suggestions for the next 5p bag-charge idea and challenging us all to create a culture and an expectation of a better environment and a positive legacy.
Stephanie McGibbon CEnv, Director of Environment at Arup (our hosts for the evening).
Of course, there are a number of people already building that positive legacy – not least our speakers, but also the Society’s Honorary Fellows (HonFSE) who have made a distinguished contribution in this area or to the Society, and often both. Professor Carolyn Roberts, Chair of the Society’s Honorary Fellows Committee, took us into this fizz-popping part of the proceedings, giving deservedly lengthy introductions to our newly awarded HonFSEs (in no particular order): Professor Paul Leinster CBE CEnv, Dr Mark Fletcher and Dr Emyr Roberts.
Dr Mark Fletcher presented with his HonFSE by Professor Will Pope HonFSE CEnv.
Emyr, with the wisdom of his experience holding the reins of Natural Resources Wales, stayed to set out his five-point ‘manifesto’. First, though, he gave heartfelt thanks for his HonFSE award and took the opportunity to single out Dr Peter Matthews CBE HonFSE CEnv, former Chair of the Society, for his continued advice and support over the years. Emyr then shared his reflections and key lessons: that we need a more joined up approach between both environmentalists and environmental organisations, that evidence must underpin all that we do, that we need to make environmental issues and our messaging relevant to the public, and that we need to reach out to other agendas, such as public health and the economy. Finally, Emyr looked at the immediate future of formulating post-Brexit environmental policy, calling for the right kind of land and marine management systems to be incentivised, alongside the right kind of behaviours, in which he rightly framed – and hoped to support – the key role of the Society and its members.
Dr Emyr Roberts with Chair of the Society, Professor Will Pope HonFSE CEnv.
Professor Paul Leinster also distilled his reflections of his past experiences into lessons for the future, but not before highlighting how humbled and honoured he was to be joining the illustrious list of HonFSEs displayed on screen earlier, some of whom he recognised as friends in the room – Dr Jean Venables HonFSE CEnv, again the instrumental Dr Peter Matthews and Professor Will Pope HonFSE CEnv, current Chair of the Society, with whom he studied ‘Environmental Engineering’ at Imperial College from 1975. Whilst Paul clearly had decades of knowledge and experience to impart, he focused on his views of our most recent green-shoots, such as the recent 25 Year Environment Plan. Paul strongly advocated for a statutory footing for such developments and, whilst he signalled that the meanings behind concepts such as ‘net gain’ and ‘public money for public goods’ could be vague, he underlined the importance of these policy ‘hooks’ as the basis from which to hammer home the advantage, eventually moving from mitigation and restoration towards improvement and investment in our environment.
New HonFSE, Professor Paul Leinster CEnv, shows his passion for the environment.
From that note of hope, our WED celebrations turned to our final award of the evening – the 2018 Environmental Professional of the Year. Carolyn once again captivated the audience with tales of enthusiastic environmentalists she’d encountered through her portfolio career, before then naming the passionate professionals that were this year’s highly commended finalists (in no particular order) – Gemma Williams REnvTech, David Hampton CEnv and Mark Gallagher CEnv – and our runner up, James Peacock CEnv. With a concluding drum-roll for our prize-winning Chartered Environmentalist, Graham Powell’s joy overflowed into our drinks reception. Rounds of thanks ensued, with agreement that this year’s WED would be a tough one to beat, but all eyes are already on WED 2019, during which the Society will mark the 15th anniversary of our Royal Charter! We look forward to seeing you there (registration is now open).
Graham Powell CEnv is presenting with the prestigious Environmental Professional of the Year award.
Would you like to keep reading? Find out more about our 2018 Environmental Professional of the Year, Graham Powell CEnv, here »
Alternatively, view the full recording of the awards and lectures below.
Networking opportunities were plentiful throughout the evening, resulting in outstanding delegate feedback.