Gary Kass
12 April 2018

A message from our new Chair, Gary Kass

After the IES’s 2018 AGM, held on 11th April 2018, Gary Kass was elected as the new Chair of the IES. Gary was first elected to the IES Council in 2014 and served as Vice Chair between 2015-18. In the following paragraphs, Gary introduces himself, and discusses some of his aspirations for his term as Chair.

In many respects, I’ve always been an environmental scientist. My earliest recollection of what I wanted to do when I grew up was to be a palaeontologist, but it wasn’t just the normal six year old's fascination with dinosaurs. I was equally intrigued by the depictions of the environments in which prehistoric creatures lived: the warm shallow seas of the Jurassic; the deserts of the Permian and the huge forests of the Carboniferous. 

I followed a natural science academic pathway but always with an ambition to use my science for the good of society. I studied Chemistry with Environmental Sciences at Kent University in the mid-1980s when undergraduate courses in environmental science were thin on the ground (and sometimes, dare I say it, a little bit whacky!). I emerged with a solid understanding of photochemical pollution and naively assumed this would be sufficient for me to solve the air pollution crisis! I soon realised that environmental problems are as much a ‘people-thing’, and a ‘technical-thing’ as a ‘science-thing’ and wished I’d studied sociology, psychology and engineering alongside chemistry, physics and biology. 

So integrated approaches, spanning academic disciplines and real-world practices has driven me ever since. My first role was in a government science lab – the old Warren Spring Laboratory – where I worked in the NOx and ozone calibration lab and travelled the UK setting up and maintaining monitoring stations. However, the impatience of youth soon took me away from that and I entered the world of environmental consulting where I worked on projects on land and sea including contaminated land, air pollution, EIA and ecological surveying. I undertook an MSc in Earth Science and Environmental Management, preparing a dissertation on river catchment planning. Again, this reinforced my interdisciplinary and ‘systems’ based approach to tackling complex environmental issues and looking for ways to make sure a healthy environment can deliver benefits for wildlife, for society and for the economy now and into the future...I guess I’d adopted ‘sustainability’ without really noticing!

In the mid-1990s I joined the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) where I headed the environment and energy team for nine years; informing parliamentary debate and scrutiny on a huge range of topics related to environmental science, technology and research and took a secondment into the (then) DTI, as Head of Public Engagement with Science and Technology and then joined Natural England (NE) as it was being formed. 


"The transition to sustainability must, I believe, be underpinned by robust science and evidence drawn from a wide range of disciplines and driven by highly competent and trustworthy professionals"


During my eleven years at NE I have worked on some fascinating issues: the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, Natural Environment White Paper and the 25 Year Environment Plan; and I’m now helping to coordinate the UK’s input to the next State of Environment Report to be produced by the European Environment Agency. In my role as one of three Deputy Chief Scientists in Natural England, I support the Chief Scientist to ensure that the science and evidence that NE uses is as good as it can be and that NE retains and strengthens its position as a leader in environmental science. I’ve also had the honour to hold the position of Visiting Professor at the Centre for Environment and Sustainability at Surrey University which helps me complete the science-policy-practice triangle.

I joined IES Council four years ago and was soon elected to Vice Chair where I’ve had a great apprenticeship working with Noel Nelson (the previous Chair) and Adam Donnan the IES CEO. I’ve worked alongside wonderful colleagues on Council and I’ve valued the contributions from the many Members and Fellows I’ve had the pleasure to meet. 

I’m deeply honoured and really excited to be taking up the mantle of Chair from Noel and I know I’ll have some big shoes to fill over the next three years. The key challenge for me now is to help steer IES in delivering our ambitious new strategy. Council has been and remains highly supportive of Adam and his team’s work in developing the strategy and now the real work starts as we begin to deliver on its goals. Forging strong links with our colleagues in other professional bodies is a challenge I will relish.

I’m particularly looking forward to using my role as Chair to deliver more services to our members as we must always remember that the members come first. We are always grateful to hear from members about what they want from their professional body and I will always strive to make this happen within the practical realities of the IES. 

I see a very bright future for the IES. Our finances are sound and our membership is growing. The range of members services, such as webinars, briefings, reports, CPD support, policy engagement and more are truly excellent and my thanks go to Adam and his expert staff for developing and delivering such a fabulous service. I look forward to helping IES to become even more effective over the next few years as our new strategy beds in.

But I remain an environmental scientist to my core and I will use the position of Chair to push hard for the breadth of environmental sciences to be effectively supported and used in policy, practice and academia to maximum effect. I’m fully committed to the unique role that the IES plays as the premier professional body standing across the environmental sciences. The transition to sustainability must, I believe, be underpinned by robust science and evidence drawn from a wide range of disciplines and driven by highly competent and trustworthy professionals. The recent broadening of our membership boundaries is a really exciting prospect as we look to draw in professionals from an even wider range of backgrounds – from soil science to sociology and from ecology to economics.

As I start my time as Chair I owe a real debt of gratitude to Noel. During his tenure, he has steered Council with skill and dexterity as the IES has continued its journey towards modernisation – the development of our strategy has been a highlight and the expansion of member services is to be celebrated. I’m pleased to note that Noel has been elected as a Vice President, so will continue his close relationship with the Institution. As Noel steps down from the Chair, I want to echo his thanks for the considerable contributions made by fellow Council members and, particularly by the Office. Under Adam’s leadership, the team has continued to go from strength to strength. I’m confident that the Institution will continue to build on these successes and as Chair, I will want to continue to engage with our Members to ensure we are providing them with the support they need and am always happy to discuss interesting ideas and issues.