A higher standard

Shaun McCarthy OBE, IEMA’s Professional Standards Committee chair, talks about the group’s latest recruitment drive and the importance of rigorous standards

What is the purpose of the Professional Standards Committee (PSC)?
There are many networks of sustainability experts around the world, but IEMA is a properly constituted organisation, and what differentiates it from other bodies are its professional standards. The PSC’s job is to act as the guardian for those standards. We make sure that the right standards are upheld throughout IEMA’s offerings, from the professional qualifications all the way up to the approval of Fellows. We also oversee training, scrutinising the general awareness training and upskilling of people and making sure there is a consistent level of delivery. The committee underpins all the work that IEMA members do every day. A lot of what we do is low profile but very important to the organisation and its members.


Could you give us some examples of the PSC’s work?
The PSC was instrumental in creating IEMA’s Skills Map, which defined the new membership levels that were introduced around two years ago. The Skills Map is important as it ensures that being an IEMA member actually means something. We have also been working with the executive on the process of approving membership applications. The team has increased the turnaround speed by 50% following a root-and-branch review of the processes, introducing more technology and recorded interviews. We are a business, so if someone applies for their membership status to be upgraded, it’s important that they get a fast and professional response. In the past, that hasn’t always been the case, but that has changed – driven by the committee.

We also helped create and approve IEMA’s Code of Professional Conduct and all the processes and procedures that sit behind that, which again need to be very rigorous. If we get a complaint about a member, we need to make sure we have rock solid procedures in place. We were really pleased to see the ‘Click the Code’ campaign generate so much interest. Having a serious document like that differentiates us as an organisation.

“A lot of what we do is low profile but very important to the organisation and its members”

How challenging is it to ensure standards are consistent across countries?
IEMA is expanding internationally, but we are also broadening our scope from traditional environmental management to wider sustainability issues. It is challenging because terminology, standards and legislation are different around the world. If someone in the developing world is applying legislation that we might think is substandard in the West, then there needs to be a judgment call around whether this person is fit to be an IEMA member. Do they understand issues that are maybe beyond the legislation in their country, and get the big picture? Do they understand the connectivity between things like climate change and biodiversity, for example, and the impact that biodiversity has 
on social infrastructure and wellbeing? We are looking for people with specialist skills, but also with a broad perspective.


What work do you have planned for the future? 
We are working with the executive on the assessment of members, and looking to broaden our pool of assessors to reflect the eclectic members that we have from a geographic and subject point of view. We want to have additional contact with assessors, and get them to communicate with each other more. We need to make sure that someone joining IEMA has a really good experience and give them a good introduction to the organisation. 


Tell us about the make-up of the committee.
The PSC is a sub-group of the IEMA Board. It comprises both IEMA members and other experts who are non-members, but we follow the lead taken by the Board.
We are a diverse group, with, for example, an English environmental lawyer based in France and a South African renewable energy expert in environmental management based in Dubai. We also have an Australian expert based in Spain who is proficient in joined-up thinking around sustainable cities – so we have individuals with strong traditional skills, such as environmental assessment, and some with broader strategic approaches.


With such a diverse group, do you often have disagreements?
There are some disagreements, which is healthy because there is such a diverse range of opinions. Some people are very much about environmental standards, and some are more about strategic thinking, the bigger picture and innovation. We need all of those things – there is always a challenge around ensuring people comply with standards, which can be quite rigid, but we need to innovate at the same time. We have had some healthy discussions about some of these issues when arriving at solutions.


And you are recruiting?
It might be the best-kept secret at IEMA, but we have two vacancies on the committee to fill, and are welcoming applications from people from diverse backgrounds with a range of skills. They could have experience in other parts of the world, too, because of IEMA’s international expansion and because part of our mission is to transform the world to sustainability. We will probably look to recruit after Christmas; this will be promoted on the IEMA website and social media. These are unpaid, non-executive roles. The group meets four times a year, using Skype or GoToMeeting. What we really want is a good, challenging group that can hold IEMA, the Board and executives to account when it comes to upholding the standards that define our organisation and give it its uniqueness.


What is your message to potential applicants?
Join us! It is a great place to be. I joined because I bought into the vision of IEMA as a place for sustainability professionals to call home. People joining the committee can help us ensure we offer the best experience for members and construct an organisation people can be proud of. They will be joining an eclectic group that is involved in interesting debate and makes a difference.


And for IEMA members?
The committee is there for members and makes sure people can continually feel proud to be a member. We want to reassure them that, when we bring their peers into this family, they really are peers and up to scratch. We are not going to water down our standards in pursuit of commercial gain or any other benefits. 
It’s important to give recognition to the people on the committee who give up their time for free and fit the work in around their day jobs – I am really grateful to them. 

For further details on the Professional Standards Committee and its members, visit: bit.ly/IEMA_PSC 

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