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ICE member Kate Cairns is an Independent Sustainability Advisor based in the North East of England. She qualified as a Chartered Environmentalist in June 2017 and took some time to tell us about her career and why she chose to apply for CEnv.
I have always been passionate about the environment and followed my BEng in Civil Engineering from Bristol with an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College. Fresh from this, I worked at WSP on research into passive downdraft evaporative cooling techniques (PDEC) to help cope with rising temperatures and the heat island affect in cities. It was fantastic to work with partners in Spain, Portugal and Israel on such an innovative project; to tackle how we can adapt buildings to deal with increasing global temperatures, still a topical issue two decades later.
Later in my life, my professional mission was greatly influenced by a personal tragedy when my little sister, Eilidh, was run down from behind by a fully laden tipper lorry while cycling to work. She died two hours later from catastrophic crushing injuries. I soon learned that my (construction) industry was prevalent in cyclists and pedestrian deaths with a fatality on average once per month under HGV wheels.
Half of cyclist deaths involve an HGV but HGVs make up only 4% of traffic, and twice as many pedestrians are killed by HGVs than cyclists. Tipper lorries, cement mixers and skip lorries are the most lethal; and this is largely due to the massive blind areas all around the cabs.
Having seen the excellent on-site safety culture whilst working at Terminal 5 I set about to change off-site safety culture of the industry launching my See Me Save Me campaign; to eliminate lorry danger through challenging industry, policy and justice.
I went to the European Parliament twice and secured a change to the law (Directive 96/53) in cab design. We also convinced the London Mayor to introduce a Safer Lorry Standard.
I've worked too with industry on a national standard to manage HGV risk (CLOCS – construction logistics and community safety), which is being rolled out across the UK. The CLOCS standard is now included in Northumberland Council's procurement strategy, planning policy and fleet management. I continue to speak at industry events, on national media, TV and radio, and do interviews with trade, national and local press to promote road safety.
With 60% of our children obese or overweight, rising pollution and congestion, active travel is essential in maintaining the health of our populations, cities and planet. Change of off-site safety culture is crucial in assuaging the fears of the public, who say vehicle danger, especially HGV risk, is the biggest deterrent to cycling.
…sustainability has been at the heart of my professional and personal life since the beginning. I hate waste, always strive for efficiency and seek out synergies; in materials, energy, effort or time. I grew up on the beautiful wild beaches of Northumberland and have great respect for the ocean, weather, our planet and environment.
I love my job because of the diversity of tasks, projects and clients; and that I contribute to not only improving company practices but to stretching industry standards in safety, sustainability and responsibility. I work to bring out the best in companies and their operations ultimately to make a greater contribution to society through what it is built and how it is built.
Chartered status gives credit to my ambition and expertise in protecting and enhancing our precious and fragile environment. I strongly believe that engineers should not simply "harness the great sources of nature for the use and benefit of man" but should allocate an intrinsic value to its existence.
By attaining CEnv, I think I've also gained respect and credibility from colleagues and clients. It is too soon to say what this means in tangible terms (as I was only awarded the qualification a month ago at time of writing), but it's reassuring to have the recognition of my expertise and experience through this qualification.
My business helps clients in three areas; sustainable construction, safe logistics and equality and diversity or fairness inclusion and respect (FIR).
I have been involved in developing CEEQUAL, a tool for improving sustainability in civil engineering, since inception in 2000, spending eight years on the board of directors, working as a trainer, verifier and assessor, piloting the scheme on the Terminal 5 project and watching those teams then apply it at the Olympics and other major projects. CEEQUAL has recently been bought by BRE, a company with global operations and I am excited about the potential for it to become ubiquitous on an international basis as it gains recognition overseas, and to work on more projects using it.
The industry is now recognising the business risk of not managing off-site safety including cost, reputation, insurance premiums, driver trauma, as well as the human cost. As an expert in this field, I'm looking forward to helping more companies understand the risk and opportunities for their business and implementing policies and practices to ensure they have responsible, safe and sustainable operations.
Finally, I have just been appointed Chair of the ICE Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) Panel and am excited about the movement in this area and having the opportunity to work with industry leaders to bring about change.
Find Kate on LinkedIn.
Find out more about Chartered Environmentalist qualification.