My career: Douglas McMillan

Douglas McMillan describes how he went from doing voluntary studies for EIAs to starting his own consultancy business

Why did you become an environment professional?
My grandfather was very charismatic and inspired my love of nature, so environmentalism came naturally to me. Prior to starting my environment career, I worked in diverse range of roles and found that what gave me most satisfaction was delivering a training course well and helping to develop projects in different organisations. I quickly realised that the role of environment consultant and trainer was the one for me.

How did you get your first environment role?
In 1993, as secretary of the International Tyndall School, I organised three international environment conferences in Ireland to commemorate the centenary of the death of John Tyndall. Tyndall first demonstrated the greenhouse effect in 1859 and carried out the world’s first environmental air and water monitoring, hence the events’ environment themes.

How did you progress your environment career?
By doing voluntary work outside my normal job. For example, I assisted local communities by commenting on environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and producing ecological studies. On one such project, I helped to save a raised bog in Abbeyleix that had been drained in preparation for peat moss harvesting. I was able to counter an EIA survey that had found the bog to be of “no ecological value” after my own study identified more than 600 species present. I combined this work with additional environment monitoring as the basis for my PhD, which was a turning point in my career. I have also always sought out further professional training courses in the environment and related areas, such as energy.

What does your current role involve?
I set up my own consultancy company in January 2011, so I am ultimately responsible for everything. Alongside developing new courses and services, I also have project management responsibilities, work to secure new clients, ensure the quality of our services and maintain our management systems.

What’s the best part of your work?
I have a strong independent streak, so being my own boss is great and I get to develop areas of work that interest me. Also, I am proud to have developed a company that actually “walks its talk” – we are the only carbon-balanced company of our type in the country and we offset the impacts of our courses.

What’s the hardest part of your job?
Trying to find the time to get everything done!

What was the last training course you attended?
I recently became a certified energy manager.

What did you bring back to your job?
My first encounter with energy was developing and delivering a course for building energy assessors. My recent training gave me increased confidence and knowledge working in the field. One of my roles now is as a programmes manager for the Sustainability Energy Authority of Ireland.

What are the most important skills for your job?
Being able to understand different personalities to best attune messages; communication skills to put across those messages; and analytical skills to grasp the wide range of technical information I have to deal with.

Where do you see the profession going?
Becoming integrated into core business practices as central to quality control and a must-have rather than an add-on. For forward-thinking organisations, sustainability issues are simply the other side of the “management system” coin and this will become increasingly evident.

Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
In the same role, but employing more people, achieving more improvements and pushing the sustainability agenda. I would also like to be manufacturing sustainable products myself.

What advice do you have for someone entering the profession?
Working in the environment can be very rewarding and stimulating, particularly if you are committed to making things better. Widen your expertise through training in new areas – see the IEMA environmental skills map – and overlapping disciplines, such as energy, resource management and health and safety, as there is a natural synthesis that will become more pronounced in the future. Lastly, ecology is to environment management what physics is to engineering. You must know your ecological principles or you could end up pushing first-generation biodiesels or greenwash!

How do you use IEMA’s environmental skills map?
I refer to it periodically for new business ideas.

Career file

Qualifications: 
MIEMA, BSc in biological science, PhD in environmental sciences

Career history:

  • 2011 to now Managing director, BioLogic
  • 2004–2010 Senior environment, health and safety consultant and trainer, Antaris Consulting
  • 2001–2003 Environmental scientist, Lisheen Mine
  • 1997–2000 Language teacher and volunteer, various environmental non-governmental organisations
  • 1994–1996 Editor of two books
  • 1992–1993 Secretary of the International Tyndall School
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