Experts in the field of engineering solutions to environmental challenges have their hands fascinatingly full right now. A glimpse into the working life of Charles Haine speaks volumes: Charles is a Technical Director in the Environment discipline at WSP, one of the world's largest consultancies, and helps to head their Sustainability & Climate team.
One project might see him help a client to work out what can be added to infrastructure to buffer it against the risk of extreme weather; the next might have him poring through the data of a company's greenhouse gas emissions or interviewing executives to work out what to prioritise in a new sustainability strategy. Add in the inevitable slog of finding and winning work, preparing thought-leadership materials and liaising with a vast team of specialists, and you can understand why "the email flow is tsunamic and there's rarely a quiet moment".
Why do you do what you do?
In the summer of 1991, I had an epiphany when my grandfather passed away. He generously left me a little pot of gold, so I swapped a pursuit of estate management for a Masters that I’d spotted at Heriot-Watt University. The RICS-certified MSc course in Edinburgh – ‘Marine Resource Management’ – made my spine tingle with its mix of marine biology, oceanography, dredging, marinas, O&G exploration and production sector and EIAs. My grandfather was a huge influence on me so I’m proud I took the more active route, following my heart and investing his legacy to me in something that truly filled me with excitement. Since then, I have been determined to have a career that adds positive value to society, contributes to the environment in a meaningful way, and that from time-to-time takes me to the coast, a harbour, or a port-city. (They’re the most intriguing of places.)
I’m now driven by speaking-up about sustainability and climate issues. With age comes an inclination to speak out and make people confront business-as-usual scenarios. Add-in the COVID-19 experiences and there’s simply no time left to tolerate the pillaging of resources, energy inefficiency, wastage, greenwash and polluting activities. We’re running out of time in this decade of action.
What do you think helps make you good at what you do?
Three things spring to mind. I can keep a heck of a lot of plates spinning. You might need to be old enough to remember Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game to understand that adage. I sometimes have to dig deep in terms of personal energy, long hours, and a dogged determination to not fail in order to achieve that.
I also often say that you need to have experienced some difficult places and challenging times (e.g. where you’ve lived, stages of your life) in order to appreciate the good. This will shape where you want to be, and what you want to be doing in the long run.
The ability to put myself in others’ shoes – gained from many a consultancy project, including feisty public stakeholder events – has taught me how to listen to the gallimaufry of opinions encountered in an internet-savvy world and understand people’s motives and sometimes intransigence in order to help take forward decisions in an ocean of complexity. That’s the sustainability and climate challenge too, right there.
What book or resource do you find most inspiring at the moment?
If you need a change in direction, there’s nothing more powerful, and experiential, than keeping a book close to hand. You should pencil-in your own comments, highlight text and take no prisoner with underlining and asterisks.
I’m a horror for finishing books so have a few on the go. Christina Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac’s ‘The Future We Choose’ is explicit on the climate action that is needed and is the most lucid call-to-arms since Jonathan Porritt’s upbeat ‘The World We Made’. Tim Flannery’s ‘Atmosphere of Hope’ gives me exactly that, while Ian Urbina’s ‘The Outlaw Ocean’ is a mind-blowing read on a technical area that means much to me.
You have to have some fiction on the go and Jonathan Coe’s ‘Middle England’ is gripping, and making me giggle, in equal measure, throughout.
What's your breakfast of choice?
Seriously, breakfast is the best meal of the day by far. I remember my top ten breakfasts of all time, and they include the design Hotel Gastwerk in Hamburg and the Elbow Room Café in Vancouver.
If you ever find yourself lucky enough to be hosted somewhere special on a Sunday morning, where you can take your time to sample everything a proper continental breakfast can throw at you, while flicking through the broadsheets, that’s a form of utopia. The key is one of those crazy machines in which you insert your own halved oranges to make fresh juice. There will be a choice of exotic dried fruits and colourful nuts and seeds that you’ve never heard the name of before beside the organic yoghurt. The smell of freshly baked croissants and sourdough will pervade the room and the efficient and well-mannered staff with magically offer you Marmite and a hand-crafted barista style cappuccino. You won’t need to eat until evening because this is the best start to the day you can get.