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World Environment Day: how the National Trust is reducing its carbon footprint

05 June 2019

Charis Fowler, an Environmental Practices Adviser for the National Trust based at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, tells us about her work to lessen the environmental impact of England's historic buildings. 

World Environment Day: how the National Trust is reducing its carbon footprint
Hardwick Hall. Image credit: Phil Sangwell / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

I help all the Trust’s properties in the East Midlands to reduce their environmental footprint.

My workload is very varied and I deal with anything to do with energy use (reducing it and switching to renewables), water (both supply and sewage), waste (management of our waste, reducing what we produce and increasing the amount we recycle) and environmental compliance.

This all comes under our Environmental Management System (EMS). I work closely with our properties to ensure that the Trust can demonstrate continual improvement in minimising our impact on the environment.

Using my engineering skills to reduce the impact on the environment

I've always worked in the environmental sector, starting my career with the Environment Agency.

The engineer in me loves finding solutions to problems, and I like applying these skills to help reduce our impact on the environment.

I then worked in environmental consultancy on a wide variety of projects in the private and public sector. I moved to the National Trust for a job that seemed to have been written for me, nearly 12 years ago.

This time has flown by, which is a testament to the fact that my role is very varied and interesting.

Amazing locations

I get to work at the most amazing locations. I love the wide open spaces of the Peak District, our small properties like the arts and crafts cottage of Stoneywell, as well as the large mansions, like Belton, with amazing and unusual collections.

I work with really dedicated colleagues, who have a very varied and deep knowledge of a huge variety of specialisms. I regularly have to pinch myself about the locations that I get to call my ‘office’ and the type of work I get involved with.

The Trust is here ‘for ever for everyone’. This influences our decision making and anything we do in terms of interventions in our buildings needs to be reversible.

I have to deal with challenges associated with many of our places being remote (with limited utilities or access) as well as the more obvious constraints around what adaptations are appropriate in our historic buildings.

Biomass boilers and sewage treatment – the day to day work of an environmental engineer

Trench for biomass heating cables at Hardwick Hall
Trench for biomass heating cables at Hardwick Hall

Day to day, I'm helping properties to focus on avoiding creating waste, reducing what we do create, and recycling as much as possible.

I'm particularly proud of reducing our property’s energy use. We've installed obvious things like better heating controls, loft insulation, draught stripping and secondary glazing (where appropriate), but we've also adopted technologies such as LED lighting, smart metering, eco showerheads and voltage optimisation.

The Trust made a commitment to invest in renewable technology to replace fossil fuels, and we have replaced oil boilers as a priority to reduce the associated pollution risks as well as benefit from adopting low carbon technologies.

We now have a number of biomass boilers, heat pumps, solar thermal and solar PV installations at our properties.

At Hardwick Hall, a biomass boiler was installed in 2012 to provide heating and hot water to our new visitor facilities. This was extended last year, so that it also now serves eight cottages, our greenhouse, the Hall and offices.

In the process, we've got rid of 11 oil boilers and two oil tanks. The property is now completely off oil, which is a huge milestone.

I've been helping properties to reduce their pollution risks by avoiding the use and storage of biocides (e.g. pesticides) where possible.

The Trust is also investing in improved sewage treatment and I've recently been supporting Calke Abbey with extending its treatment system – adding a balancing tank and a larger Rotating Biological Contactor to cope with capacity on our busiest days.

Waste management has triggered some of the more unusual requests during my time with the Trust, for example dealing with mercury from historic mirrors and wallpaper containing arsenic!

Installing a rotating biological contactor at Calke Abbey
Installing a rotating biological contactor at Calke Abbey

We need more environmentally-aware engineers

It’s great working for a charity whose aims align so closely with my personal ethos.

We need more engineers who have strong environmental awareness to find solutions that use natural resources wisely and work with nature, rather than trying to control it.

With more engineers focused on this type of work, there will be less pollution, and less environmental damage and impact on the natural environment.

Find out more

If you work in a role where sustainability and environmental protection are key activities, then you could benefit by becoming a Chartered Environmentalist. This qualification is awarded by ICE on behalf of the Society for the Environment.

  • Charis Fowler, Environmental Practices Adviser for the National Trust at National Trust