Sarah is an Associate Consultant and the Air Quality Practice manager at Atkins, where she is responsible for managing and delivering technical input to a wide range of projects in the transportation, energy, water and land developments markets, both in the UK and overseas. As well as looking after the 15 strong team, her responsibilities extend to identifying and responding to new opportunities, ensuring revenue targets are met and keeping up to date with policy and guidance, both technical and corporate. On a typical day, she can be found checking the calculations of model input data, undertaking a technical review of a report and responding to queries from clients and regulators.
After studying for an undergraduate degree in Chemistry at the University of Bristol, Sarah spent a year at the National Physical Laboratory in the air quality standards team. Following this, she completed a master's degree in Environmental Technology at Imperial College London and from there moved into consultancy. She joined Atkins’ Environmental Management and Assessment team as a Consultant in 2000. Initially, Sarah was primarily tasked with undertaking site visits, measuring methane emissions on landfill sites, but progressed quickly to desk-based chemical risk assessments for DEFRA and the EU. On the side, she also helped the air quality team with monitoring and screening assessments.
“The variety was great but what grabbed my interest was dispersion modelling. I enjoyed finding out about industrial facilities and their emissions, from dust and odour to trace metals and ammonia. I progressed from building models to checking them, reviewing reports and eventually managing entire projects.
As the team grew over the years, I began to line manage and became more involved in training, resourcing and recruiting. I now regularly consult with clients and regulators as a recognised technical expert. The consultation side is what I like most, as it’s always challenging to communicate clearly very complex technical issues.”
In addition to working alongside talented colleagues, Sarah also cites the variety as one of the best aspects of her role: “Even though I work in a very niche market, in just one day I can be answering questions on a brownfield development in London, a coal fired power station in Kazakhstan, a high speed rail link to the North and a road scheme in Ireland.”
She notes that one of the most exciting, yet initially daunting, elements of her role has been to act as an expert witness; being selected to present evidence at the Public Inquiries into the A21 Tonbridge to Pembury Dualling Scheme in 2013. She recalls that the training she received on how to be an expert witness and write a proof of evidence was fascinating and prepared her well for the day she took the stand. Sarah has since gone on to present evidence at various planning (DCO) hearings and now really enjoys the experience. “There’s a great buzz when you are working as a team to meet deadlines answering examiner or objector questions, and the legal teams always provide challenging perspectives.”
Sarah became a Member of the IAQM and IES in 2007, and is also a Chartered Scientist (CSci) and Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv). She encourages her team to consider IES membership, “not least because of the excellent ‘CEnv in a Day’ programme. It’s a terrific way to really focus your mind on what the examiners are really looking for and how your skills relate to those areas. The IES also arranges a number of relevant events throughout the year, and I find the staff are really approachable and always prepared to help answer any questions.”
"At Atkins, we place a really strong focus on technical excellence, and assist our more junior members of staff in becoming chartered by giving them a structured learning framework and providing them with a mentor. It’s so rewarding see people grow in confidence and ability and I want to help people reach their potential by providing them with the best possible support. I look forward to the next potential CEnv or CSci in our team being featured here!"
In the future, Sarah is looking to become more active in the IAQM and IES by contributing to new guidance and presenting at conferences. She is passionate about sharing knowledge and best practice between disciplines, both internally and (where commercial intelligence allows) externally, to ensure the highest level of environmental protection based on sound science.