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Member profile: Elaine McFarlane CEnv FEI

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‘Being a recognised CEnv expert gives you more credibility and authority when interacting with audiences, and it certainly helps you to raise environmental awareness. Gaining chartership also enhances job prospects and opens opportunities.'

When did you first become interested in environmental issues?

During my Master’s degree in Environmental Biology (1999-2001), I studied modules on sustainable development, that was the first time I genuinely took an interest in environmental issues. I built on this at Shell when I took the opportunity to apply for environmental volunteering activities via a scheme called ‘Shell Project Better World’, aimed at building awareness of sustainable development. I applied to this scheme in 2012 and 2016 and was lucky enough to be accepted on both occasions. My first placement was in the Czech Republic where I took measurements in an area badly affected by acid rain caused by Polish power stations burning high sulphur coal, and the second was supporting research into Climate Change in Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire.

Tell us a little about your current job

I started at Shell in 1974 working as a laboratory technician. I worked my way up and I am now a Fuels Scientist in the Retail Fuels R&D team. We are a global team of around 200 scientists and engineers based in the UK, Houston, Hamburg and China, and we work on the development of new fuel formulations. 

I am in the Deployment part of the Retail Fuels R&D team. It is the Deployment team that launches new fuel formulations that have gone right through the development cycle. My role is to support colleagues with technical demonstration tools that complement their presentations and help the audience to understand the complexity underpinning our fuels technology. I also work on Commercial Fuels projects in diverse areas such as Fuels Microbiology and antifoaming.

What inspired you to pursue this career, and what path did you take to get there?

I chose a science route for A-level but with no clear idea of exactly what I wanted to do. I successfully applied for a place to study Biology at University, but at the same time I was applying for jobs. I managed to secure a job as a lab technician at Shell’s Thornton Research Centre and decided to take the position instead of going to University. I was very fortunate to have a second chance at University (first degree) when I was 38 years old and managed to combine study with looking after a young family. It was fantastic to then return to Shell Thornton reinvigorated with new qualifications and skills.

I was subsequently invited to join the Energy Institute (EI) Microbiology committee and as my background at Shell Thornton was in aviation fuels, I was also invited to join an Energy institute technical committee that looks after Aviation Fuel Miscellaneous test methods, which I still chair.

My background and experience, coupled with encouragement from the EI, then led to me gaining the professional affiliations of Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) and Chartered Scientist (CSci).

There are many achievements over the years that I am proud of, from securing my Shell-sponsored placements and various charterships, to being shortlisted in 2016 for Cheshire Woman of the Year for my work with STEM. However, if I had to pick just one, it would be coming runner up in the Society for the Environment’s (SocEnv) Environmental Professional of the Year in 2017.

What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring CEnv?

Take a close look at the application process for Chartered Environmentalist (CEnv) and do a gap analysis, then try to identify opportunities to help you fill in the gaps. Volunteering can be a great way to complement your work-related activities.

Away from work, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy the arts in general and I volunteer at my two local theatres, helping to sell programmes, merchandise and confectionary. I go at least twice a year to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in Stratford-upon-Avon, with the ambition of seeing every Shakespeare play live! I like to read, swim and walk, and make regular trips to the cinema.

And finally, what does your CEnv accreditation mean to you?

As an environmental professional I feel empowered to make a difference and I try to take action where I can. I proactively seek ways to support initiatives and raise awareness of environmental issues. For example, as a follow up to my placement at Wytham Woods I wrote the article for Petroleum Review to cascade information to a wider audience. I have introduced sustainability moments onto EI TMS agendas and have reviewed the test method template to ensure sustainability is considered when writing methods.

I have also written to my Member of Parliament about the Retail sector’s open-door policy, which effectively means that shops are heating pavements in winter and cooling them in summer. This would be a very simple convention to change and save a lot of wasted energy. I couldn’t make a change here, but at least the CEnv letters suggest to the reader that you have a certain credibility and expertise.

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